Symphony of India

If you close your eyes and imagine the words ‘Symphony of India’ what are the sounds that come to a truly reflective mind? Is it the clamor and clutter of the Mumbai traffic or the raucous festivities of Ganpati and Diwali? Is it the cacophony of your neighbor bargaining ruthlessly with the machiwalli or the melodious sound of the junna purana sammanwalo who saunters into every by-lane on Sunday mornings with a 1940’s handcart?

Is it the chirping of little sparrows at sunrise that you wake up to if you’re privileged to live in Dadar Parsi colony or the cawing of crows at sunset in vibrant Vellore? Is it the babble of newly born babies or the bellowing of going-going gone grannies?  Is it the exhilaration of the first cry of an infant or the explosive silence of the flat line on an ECG monitor?


Sound has such an emotive impact on our lives. The way my mother rings the door bell I can tell its her, and when I ring the door bell at my home in Rustom baug I can tell whose going to open the door from the flapping sound of the sapaat or the grating sound of the indigenously designed home-made walker being pushed by my 95 five year old aunt. Hearing the sound of a car engine, I could tell which family member is arriving and that’s a great feat considering we have 200 people in the family. If you notice, everybody calls you by your name but only one person can make it sound special – this is music to your ears.


But there is another Symphony of India that every Parsi above the age of 75 is familiar with. It’s the country’s first fully professional orchestra, offering a series of concerts in Mumbai over the course of two seasons each year, in September and February, successfully running at the NCPA since 2006.


Since I have been in a process of self-evolution after having married the most culturally artistic mind in the world I arrived at the Jamshed Bhaba auditorium 15 minutes ahead of the start of the show as instructed by my wife. Having stepped into this august gathering of erudite members of the community I figured I had just brought down the average age of crowd to 74. The audience was a beautiful mix of familiar faces from all walks of life gathered here to unwind. Jal uncle, our very own 75-year-old music and cinema aficionado from Cushrow Baug, was our gracious host for the evening. 


Being a novice, I was instructed to keep my phone on silent. ‘Even the light should not show if it rings’ my wife instructed like a connoisseur would. I pretended to turn it off and slipped it into her purse. Fortunately for her it didn’t ring through the show.  


We took our seats in a house-full auditorium as the sweet scent of Talcum powder and the fragrance of Dior perfused the theatre.  I was asked to read the little brochure to gain insight into the pieces to be performed that evening. To figure out the names of these composers was a nightmare – Prokofiev and Shostakovich were our heroes for the evening. What happened to the good old Mozart, Bach and Beethoven? Alas, they were scheduled for another evening. 


The stage was beautifully set up with Violins, Violas, Cellos, Double Basses, Flutes, Piccolos, Oboes, English Horns, Clarinets, Bassoons Horns, Trumpets, Trombones, Tubas, the grand piano and an even grander Harp! Over 80 musicians of various sizes and shapes walked in and delicately took their seat as the whisper in the audience gradually faded to silence. Zane Dalal crisply strutted in to present to the audience anecdotes, historical notes and nuances of the pieces we were all about to hear. 


Our conductor for the evening was Rafael Payare – a frizzy haired short little fellow whose antics on stage would give Jackie Chan a run for his money.  Despite having dropped his baton down a couple of times he maintained an elegant composure. So did the violinist whose cell phone rang while he was playing.


Events like these have a certain aura about them and there is some degree of etiquette that needs to be maintained. The following are observations of a fledgling and by no means are intended to offend the seasoned scholars.


Observation number one – never clap. Because if ever you do, it’s always going to be at the wrong time. When you think a part of a piece is over, you’re so excited and you want to cheer, it’s actually never over. Once a couple of amateurs in the crowd realized their folly I could see them sticking their hands under their thighs so tightly that there’s no way they would come together (and just incase you were thinking, yes I’m referring to myself).


Observation number two – the conductor has eyes at the back of his head. Just when the tranquilizing music is putting everyone to sleep and old parsi gentlemen have begun resting their burdened heads on the intricately bordered sarees of their loving counterparts; the conductor will suddenly step on the gas and jack up the sound and there is an almost synchronous startle in the crowd which is a sight to behold. It’s like a community epileptic attack. Its unfortunate that the conductor doesn’t have his mouth at the back of his head as well or else you would see the smile on his face.


Observation number three – Silence, I discovered is something you can actually hear. Since the clapping between pieces had stopped everyone used that time to cough, sneeze and clear throats –occasionally to burp and rarely even to fart. All the sounds that 1100 human beings above the age of 75 years have kept within themselves for 12-15 minutes of a piece out of sheer love and respect for the performers, detonates in the 5 seconds of silence between movements.  This to me was the real Symphony of India.


As the concert came to an end to a standing ovation for the performance I returned back having experienced an extremely memorable evening. It inculcated within my soul the love for Western Classical music. Music, I believe, is what feelings sound like and our community is so fortunate to have this love ingrained in our DNA. On another festive day like today let’s just say – thank you for the music.


Happy Navroze to you and yours.