Shishir 2018, Short Stories -Antara Roy Oruganti


Must be the jazz

By Antara Roy Oruganti


I moved into the city only a few days ago. A small town girl, and like most small town people, I am trusting; at times much too trusting. Having grown up in a protective environment, I have seen very less of the world. I am also the emotional type, the type who is overjoyed to receive a stranger’s smile, overjoyed with small, helpful gestures, secretly hoping to form lifelong friendships. In short, I have led a gentle and passive life. So far.


Some of us small town people are funny, and overly sentimental. That’s just the way we are. It is a special charm, a rare and exotic quality in these times of rush and suavity.


Naturally, I feel lost in the city; the city that seems so immense and endless. Everywhere I look, there are tall, imposing structures, raging drivers on wheels, and a sea of strange, busy faces. Busy, unbelievably busy! Especially during the mornings, this sea of humanity seems incredibly busy, as though it wants to get someplace at superhuman speed. The red light at the signal is a bane to their ever busy lives. Two wheelers and four wheelers hesitantly stop at the traffic line, keeping the raging engines and themselves under control. Most often, before the red light even turns to green, there are many who race ahead. Jumping the signal, breaking the signal, in a way, unleashing their ungoverned souls. There are many in the city who don't wish to follow rules, who don't believe in red or green. It fascinates me, this disregard for and breaking of rules; it brings alive the dormant fire in me.


‘What?’ my colleague at work laughs. ‘You find this city big and overwhelming? Arre yaar, Bangalore is nothing. In fact, it is like a small town! You should go to Delhi or Mumbai!’


I could not help but gape at her in wonder. So, Bangalore is a small town to her. To me, it seems so vast and stupendous, so enigmatic and incomprehensible. It could be that I fear losing myself in the labyrinth of roads and lanes, in the complex web of cold, unfriendly gazes, and that’s why I perpetually walk with my arms folded in front of me. Much as I yearn to make friends, I also wish to stay away. Perhaps, I am not ready yet for new bindings, for new beginnings. Perhaps I am helping myself grow, in silence.


But there is hardly any silence to be had. The small town that I come from is replete with silence. And here, now, I am beginning to thirst for it. First, there is this room that I share with a family. I did notice that the room is in a busy neighbourhood, but I had not the slightest inkling that it could get ‘this’ busy, especially on Friday evenings when the pub downstairs blares music to the benefit or exasperation of all around. If it happens to be a song I like, I croon along, and if not, I try to ignore it. And then there is always the sound of traffic to distract me, that ceaseless roar and rumble of vehicles, commuters struggling to get past each other, to reach their respective destinations, to achieve their personal goals, or to do whatever they have set out to do. Whatever it is they may be doing, it invariably looks urgent and pressing. And yet, their urgency fascinates me, their pressing, desperate spirits ignite my quiet spirit, lending sparks to my calm sensibilities.


One evening, I step into this very pub, the one right below my room. It is the first time ever that I step into a place where they offer intoxicants. Forbidden ground for me; grandma would not approve of this at all! To my amazement, the waiter hails from my home town, and we fall into friendly banter. He says his father worked in the army, but he did not have the heart to become a soldier himself, and so he completed his high school, and came out into the world. I ask him if he likes music, to which he smiles and says, ‘Yes Ma’am, I like Guns ’n’ Roses.’ Just then, pop music blares out loud from the gigantic speakers.


‘What about this kind of music?’ I ask.


‘Ummmm…no..Ma’am,’ he squiggles on his toes, contorting his face in a funny way.


We would have talked more, but the pub fills up with a deluge of customers, and he rushes to attend to endless orders. I sip on my vodka, and let it slide down my throat, and burn my innocent belly. My virgin flesh responds to the alcohol, and what with my head feeling like in the clouds, I feel renewed and flushed with new life. I look around, exhilaration running through my veins. It is a young crowd, charged up for a fun night. A group of young men stand close to their table and dance to foot tapping beats. But suddenly, the music is turned off, and an announcement comes blaring out:


‘Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you, tonight, the Floyd Santimano Jazz band.’


I turn around, much surprised. I hadn't noticed there was a small stage behind me.

And before I know it, sweet and smooth melodies of jazz start drifting in the air, and my mind eases up, blissfully intoxicated. The group of boys, who were dancing close by, for some reason or the other, clear their bill and leave.


I glance at the band members. The keyboardist, who is perhaps Floyd Santimano, is intent at his playing, his fingers moving about the keyboard like melted butter over toast. I marvel at his deftness; how divine, and how blessed to be able to play music in this way!


The music feels like life itself; I so connect to every rhythm and note. And I sip more of the vodka. My spirit is on fire.


The music and the vodka work on me, and everything begins to make sense; my new troubles in the city, my inabilities to understand its rhythm, my inability to strike gold, and find true friends. Everything begins to glow with the spark of a new found fire. I feel like a galaxy of bursting stars, and my troubles seem but all too brilliant and beautiful.


I walk towards the rest room, or rather, I float towards it. Close to the door, a couple is all cosy and cuddled up. Hey wait, did I see that right? There were two boys, and not a girl and a boy. I stare without meaning to, and they throw murderous looks at me. I rush into the ladies corner.


The next working day, when I tell my colleague what I had seen, she just rolls her eyes in disgust!


‘ what yaar? You small town people are so ridiculous man!’


‘Small town people? I mean, Shalini, they were two boys trying to kiss, and what not!’


‘Have you never heard of homosexuality? Are you so naive? And by the way, Bangalore is the gay hub of India,’ she declares proudly. I was again left gaping at her.


In any case, coming back to the evening at the pub, I step inside, and yet again I'm taken off my rocker. There’s a girl with red, bleary eyes, looking acutely distressed. I offer to help, but she politely refuses. She sniffs, and rubs a hanky all over her face, and rushes out. Did all the soulful jazz music make her cry, I wonder.


But then I notice she has left behind a pouch or a bag of some sort. Looking closely, I find it to be a large sized white coloured cloth holding some stuff inside. I carefully cup it in my hands, making my way out to hand it over to her. The texture of the stuff inside feels strangely crispy. In that instant, that same bleary eyed girl dashes in, and it startles me to see her again so quickly. And I don't know how or when but the cloth with the strange stuff inside slips away from my hands, and the mysterious contents lay scattered all across the smooth white floor. I glare at the peculiar looking stuff, the curling twigs, or leaves, or whatever they are.


‘What the fuck!’


I see that the girl is extremely peeved.

‘Fuck! Fuck!’ She utters the word like a sacred chant.


‘I’m…I’!’ I say, instantly bending down to pick up the leaves.


‘Fuck! No! Don’t touch that! Please!’


And instantly I move away. Whatever it is, it is very sacred and holy to her. Just then, as though the surprises for the evening are not enough, there is an unusual uproar outside. Suddenly the pub seems to come alive, and not in a good way. Hurried footsteps, the banging of doors, the music abruptly stopping, and then, a siren.


‘Fuck! Police! Run!’ she says, and vanishes behind the door. The girl reminds me of the character in the fairy tale: Rip Van Winkle, who keeps on appearing and vanishing.


Before I have time to think, or react, the door is pushed open. In walks a lady police officer, rather delicate looking. I smile and try to appear as welcoming as I can. She glances at me, with a glowing pride on her face. She mumbles something in her language, and calls out to some others close by. This time, it is a few nimble footed men, who breeze into the room, and pick up the stuff from the ground. They sniff at the stuff, as though they are sniffing at fresh apples just fallen from a tree. They glance at each other, their faces like pictures of triumph.


‘Come, madam,’ the delicate looking lady says. ‘We need to go to the police station.’


‘But…but…I didn't do anything!’ I say desperately. ‘It was …was ..the other girl.’


‘Yes, Madam! I know, but you come.’


‘Hello…I mean…excuse me? I’m innocent!’


But my cries drown in the noise and confusion, and here I am, being taken to the police station in a rickety and bumpy jeep.


As we speed along the streets, the police crack jokes with each other, and every now and then burst into fits of laughter. Meanwhile, the city appears glorious with its neon street lights, and in spite of my fears, I secretly relish the sense of adventure that comes from sitting in a police jeep at such a late hour.


And here in the police station, I am happily surprised to find the members of the jazz band. I smile and wave at the lead member, Floyd, as though I’ve known him for many years. He is gracious enough to smile back, though a little hesitantly.


They make us all sit and wait in a bleak room, facing others who look like they have been up to some mischief that night.


There is a dark, swarthy man, fidgeting endlessly with his mobile phone, and intermittently scratching his head. And another one who appears to be out of his senses, striving very hard to keep his eyes open. Every now and then, his head pops to one side, and lands on the other man’s shoulders. The other man, after having rudely shoved him away, goes back to his phone. And this time the sleepy man falls on to his other side, on yet another man. Now, this man is blessed with a ferocious face. I wonder why anyone would ever want to go and fall on his shoulders! As expected, an unpleasant scene occurs. A brawl erupts, and the delicate looking police lady appears on the scene again. She lashes out a few stern words, and all goes hush. Appearances are definitely deceptive, I think to myself, marvelling at the lady police officer who looks the picture of softness, but is quite the lioness when the situation calls for it.


But we? We look like honest, good people. Why are we here?


‘Hello!’ says a deep voice from near me. It is Floyd, his face flushed, exhausted, but friendly.


‘Hello,’ I greet back.


‘So, how come you are here?’ he asks, with a mischievous smile. I smile back, and narrate the whole story. To my surprise, he laughs and waves it off.

‘Oh, they’ll just ask you a few questions, and let you go. Though be ready to part with some money. It’s Saturday night, you know! The police wanna have fun too.’


Although I would like to ask more, I pretend to have understood everything. You see, gentle reader, I don't want to look like the village idiot, and that too in front of a jazz musician!


‘Oh..yes, of course,’ I say, acting savvy and cool with the ways of the world.


‘May I ask what brings you here?’


‘Well,’ he says, shrugging his shoulders. ‘There’s a new law that says that bands can’t play after a certain hour in the night. We just overstepped the line by a few minutes.’


‘Oh that’s terrible!’


‘Yaa!’ he laughs, and flashes his light, easy smile.


I am surprised, greatly surprised. He is much too relaxed. His entire band is under threat, they could all be arrested, and thrown behind bars, and here he is, cool as a salad cucumber.


‘Is it all the jazz?’ I can’t help asking.




‘Is it playing all that beautiful jazz that keeps you so cool and calm?’


‘Aha! I never thought of that, but now that you’ve said it, well maybe.’


And he laughs again. I notice that all the band members have a calm, composed feel about them, as though they have attained nirvana. And all of them laugh easily. In fact, they laugh a lot, at the slightest of pretexts. And yet there is a glowing fire in their eyes. Inspiration and composure- that’s what music is all about, anyway, isn't it?


‘I think I should also learn some jazz,’ I say.




‘It seems to have a calming effect on me.’


To this, he laughs again.


‘Are you new to the city?’ he asks, much amused with me for some reason.


‘How did you know?’


‘I just know. Would you be interested…..’


But his words are cut short. The police call us in. One by one, we are interrogated. I spell out whatever details I know about the bleary eyed girl I had seen in the rest room, and then after what seems like forever, I part with some of my hard earned money, and the delicate-looking lady announces in a rather sweet way:

‘All right, Madam, you can go now.’


It is the first time she smiles at me, the crisp paper of money warming in her palms.


It is four in the morning, and the sky above is still dark. There is a chill to the air, and other than a few vehicles plying about, the city appears blissfully asleep.

My spirit is still on fire. This is the way I want to live for the rest of my life!


‘Hey listen,’ a familiar voice sounds from behind.


‘Oh, hello? Is everything over?’


‘Oh yes!’ he laughs his sweet, casual laugh. ‘So, I was wondering if you could drop by today evening?’


‘Where? Same place? I thought playing in that place got you into trouble, no?’


‘Oh, no, not there, not at least for a while. But we are playing in a friend’s place, more like a private party. Come over if you’re free. Maybe I’ll tell you about the secret of my calmness,’ he winks mischievously, and laughs again, all the while, walking backward, and vanishing into the shadows.


It’s the jazz, I think, and laugh to myself.



Based in Bangalore, India, Antara has published her work iin The Literary Yard and Spark The Magazine.


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