Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Seraphic Melody

My name is Sheeban Nair. I am thirty two years old and have lived all my life in Kerala – except the one time I made a trip to Goa with my friends. If you are wondering about my strange name, I have to agree with you – I find it strange as well. I have hated my name from the time I learned to write it. In Kerala, there's an unwritten rule that a baby's name is 'created' by joining together parts of his/her parents' names. My mom and dad go by the names Sheeja and Balan and hence I am stuck with Sheeban.

I do have another name. Phalgun Nair. I chose it myself when I applied for my first job. I have loved tales of Arjuna ever since I was five years old and Arjuna was my superhero. If you still didn’t get the connection, Phalgun is another name for Arjuna.

I applied for the job of a salesperson at Melody Corner Music Store a week after I finished my studies.

"So you are a graduate looking for a job? I do have an opening. You have to be on your feet from 9AM – 7PM, be helpful to customers and be punctual. I hate it when my sales people turn up late. If you agree to all that, you can join work from Monday. I'll pay you a handsome four thousand rupees a month and bus fare. What's your name?"

"My name is …..Phalgun. Phalgun Nair."

It felt good to christen myself with my superhero's name. It has been twelve years since then and the new name has been lucky for me. I've been promoted twice and am now entrusted with managing the English section. I attend to customers, advise them of the latest releases, make recommendations to my owner about the fast moving items, chat with the teenagers who come in daily to listen to the latest songs but don’t any – that’s my typical day at work.

By now you would have guessed that I talk a lot. It's not really true. I do think a lot, but don't usually talk unless talked to. That is an important lesson I have learnt in my line of work – the lesser said the better. Some customers do not like talking beyond the customary with people like me behind the counter. During my initial days at work, innocent enthusiasm had provoked me to be friendly and talkative to customers. Some unpleasant experiences later I am a changed man now.

We were closing up the shop on that Friday when an old man and his wife entered the shop. They were dressed modestly. They could easily pass for the average middle class couple who could merge with ease with the folks of my town. They had an umbrella and two cloth bags full of vegetables with them. They looked very uncomfortable amidst all the cassettes and the posters. They were sent to the English section by the owner. They quickly walked over to me and the lady pressed a small piece of paper into my hands. The paper was torn off from an old notebook and had the following written on it.

1. Bryan Adams – Waking up the neighbours
2. Jon Bon Jovi – Destination Anywhere
3. Take that – Back for good
4. Meat Loaf – Bat out of hell
I was surprised to see the list. This old couple did not fit the usual demographics of my customers. Most of my customers were typically 14-25 years old. Most of them either chewed bubble gum or wore high heels or had a rip in their jeans or had funky haircuts or at least knew the name of the artists and albums by heart. I did get an occasional 30-40 year old once in a while with music taste fit for a teenager. But this was downright weird. An old couple with a list of albums that a teenager would die for was not something I see everyday. I decided to wait and watch before I talked to them. I handed over the three albums to them and wished them goodnight.

Things returned to normal the next day. I was busy with my regular customers and the occasional love-birds who use the store as a meeting place. I also had two new customers today who were amazed at the huge collection of albums we stocked. I do not like to boast, but there was no dispute over the fact that Melody Corner was the biggest music store in Trichur. We had all the popular and not-so-popular music collection that could cater to all the music demand in the town. I am proud of working here. I could be happier if I were paid a little bit more. But that's another story.

Five days later, the old couple came in at the usual time. They came straight to me and handed me the list. The list had more items in it.

1. Alanis Morissette – Jagged little pill
2. Celine Dion – Falling into you
3. Nirvana - Nevermind
4. Ace of Base – Happy Nation
5. Gary Barlow – Open Road

While I was packing the audio cassettes for them, the lady wandered over to the Bhajan section and started browsing. The old man was in a hurry to leave and kept on nudging his wife and pointing to his watch. The old lady smiled which made her diamond nose ring glisten. It was the sort of understanding smile you get to see only on couples who have been married for a really long time. A smile that could a thousand words that your tongue wouldn’t know how to. After five minutes of fiddling, the old lady half-heartedly settled on two Bhajan cassettes. They paid for the purchase and were out of the shop in five minutes.

That night I had a strange dream. I was walking around in a new locality and it was dark. Suddenly, I found myself outside the old couple's house. I was looking in to their living room through a window. Their music system was blaring out the Metallica song

I tuck you in

Warm within

Keep you free from sin

'til the sandman he comes

Sleep with one eye open

Gripping your pillow tight

Exit light

Enter night

Take my hand

off to never never-land

The old man and the lady were in a trance. They were banging their heads in the air and their eyes closed. I stood there watching them play the same song for over two hours.

I woke up with a bad headache. I couldn't sleep again that night. My mind was working out all the possibilities to solve the mystery behind the old couple with an unusual taste in pop and rock music. Maybe they genuinely liked the songs – they could have easily heard them in MTV of Channel [V}, result of the influence of the hugely popular Cable TV nowadays. Maybe they listened to rock when they were teenagers and are now trying to catch up with the recent releases. Maybe they lived abroad for awhile and moved to Trichur recently and that’s why they are different. Maybe one of them is doing a PhD on music and wants to research on different types of music and their effects on human beings. Maybe. But maybe was not good enough. I wanted to know. My professional boundaries stopped me from questioning them about their seemingly misplaced taste in music.

The old couple became regulars at our shop. They would come in every 3-4 days and always with a list of the famous pop and rock albums. They always came at around 7PM. Never at any other time. They came in, bought the cassettes and left as soon as possible. Except for that day in September. We were out of the Sussana Hoffs album. It was not a very popular item and I hadn’t bothered to restock. But it was in their list that day and the couple were visibly upset that we didn’t have it. They enquired whether they could get it from any other shop. They came in everyday to check the album’s availability until I ordered it for them. They were easily my most persistent and demanding customers. Or maybe they were just huge fans of Susanna Hoffs. Were they really?

I dreamt that night as well.

After a few months, I mustered enough courage to talk to them. I tired to find out a little bit more about them everyday. At the end of six months I knew that the old man was a businessman and dealt in timber and furniture – that explained how he was good with numbers. He could always add the cost of all the cassettes in his head before my owner could punch them in his calculator. The lady was indeed his wife and she was a housewife. They lived near the Devi temple which was a fifteen minutes' walk from the store. I made notes about my discoveries after their each visit. And at night, I tried my best to solve the jigsaw.

Their shopping visits lasted for two years. My guess is that they would have bought at least 350 cassettes from our shop in that period. No wonder the shop owner was always quite happy to see them too. Then all of a sudden their visits stopped as abruptly as they had started. Weeks passed by without any sign of them.

I missed them. I missed the lists they used to bring along. I missed the way they used to talk to each other without words. I consoled myself with a different reason everyday – maybe they have moved town, maybe they don't like music anymore, maybe their research is over, maybe their music system is broken, maybe the business is not doing well anymore and they are bankrupt. Maybe. Another maybe.

Maybe the old man passed away. Maybe he had a heart attack. Maybe the lady was diagnosed with cancer and they were in a hospital this very minute. Maybe they had an accident on the way to the shop. There was news last week about an old couple who were hit by a train while they were trying to cross the rail lines near the Devi temple. Was it them?

I couldn't sleep. I was always thinking about them. I was obsessed about finding out more about them. I went to the library everyday before work to look up old newspapers. I checked the obituary section in all the newspapers, read about any accidents or any unusual occurrences in the town. I didn't find anything.

I didn't even know their names. Even if there was a news-item on them, how would I recognise them? I didn’t bother. I felt that if I kept looking for answers, I would eventually find them. I spent my evenings after work walking near the Devi temple with the hope that I would see them pass by. I kept up this routine for three months. I always kept an eye out for anyone who entered the store in the evening. I made myself believe that if I willed strong enough, they would come back one day and all will be back to normal.

Six months passed by. I was helping out a regular customer when I saw the familiar list being handed over to my colleague. Trying to pacify my commoved heart, I looked up expecting to see the familiar kind faces of the old couple. What I saw was a young girl chatting away merrily with my colleague. I looked around before my mind could start spinning some more stories – and I saw the old lady browsing around at the Bhajan section! She was alive and well! All the silly ‘maybes' I had cooked up flashed in my front of eyes.

Everything fell into place. Why did it not occur to me that the old couple were buying the cassettes for their teenage daughter? I thought of everything else but the obvious.

The old lady looked me at and smiled. I went over to her and talked to her. I told her how glad I was to see her. I asked about the old man. Old lady was all smiles and chatted with me till her daughter pulled her away to pay for the cassettes. I waved goodbye to the lady. At that moment, I felt an unbelievable happiness and a peaceful feeling overpowering me.

That night I slept hugging my five year old daughter. How did I not see the loving parents who lived behind the masks of the old husband and wife?

GWBE: I call the old couple mom and dad.


Shanks_P said...

Nice smiple story ....

Some how my mind weaved up a tennage bed rideden gal who was asking her parents to get the music albums, half way of the story. In the end, teenage part was a good guess, don't know where that 'bed ridden' part came from ..... enjoyed reading it!

Anonymous said...

truly amazing.....what a beautiful piece of story telling ..great... .. for your levels of creativity, the world needs better stuff than business consultancy

keep up the good work

Ms.N said...

beautiful story !

Rinchen said...

How could even I not see the loving parents behind the old husband & his wife indeed!

Awww.... very nice story indeed.

Anonymous said...

Nice one..Who wrote this? Was it u or Phalgun Nair??

Zabil said...

:-) for the albums you have mentioned.

destination anywhere! brilliant. I thought not many people knew about that..

Take that - Nobody Else had the single back for good :-)

a trip down the memory lane with a cutely woven story.

chaos said...

brilliant :)

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Bedridden gal, eh? Makes sense!

Thanks for reading it Anon1, Ms. N, Rinch, Anon2 and Chaos.

You know who was my pop-rock guru during NITC days right? Mrs. AZ, who, I am sure was heavily influenced by you! So I owe you indirectly for introducing me to such lovely songs. :)
But this story is much before that of course.
Destination Anywhere is one of my all time favourites! Lifts me up even now.

Jomy G Joy said...

Hey Priya, that was a nice one! A sweet little story! Keep writing...

Joe said...

Very nicely written. At the very first moment I read about the old couple purchasing Bon Jovi and Meat Loaf, I thought it must be for their grand daughter visiting them on vacation.

Melody Corner used to have some people who knew about artists and would suggest some according to the customer's choice of music genre. The owner's younger son, whom I used to call Govinda as he looked a lot like Hindi actor Govinda, was also very helpful in that case. But these days they don't have any such helpful/music-savy staff and I prefer Music Park (in M G Road) over them. I don't go to Melody Corner any more.

rakuboy said...


Anonymous said...

I hope the book turns out to be as good as this one.

Anonymous said...

I hope the book turns out to be as good as this one.

Nikhil Narayanan said...

And that was some story!

Rarely do I manage to read long posts, this one I enjoyed finishing.



Girl With Big Eyes said...

Thanks for your kind words Jomy, Joe, Rak, Vishy and Nik - more importantly, thanks for taking time out to read it.

I still visit Melody corner on my Tcr visits, somehow feel like a part of my growing-up-years is rooted there. Same with Current books and Pathans.
Good to see someone from Tcr here.

Hope this will motivate you to buy my book even though I will send you the promised free copy. :)

VKM said...

so finally after a loooong time, a "rooted-in-my-native-kinda-post"...
nice one..although i had guessed everythin correctly right at the start :) (I think i can identify your writing style to the extent of figuring out where the story is headed!)

i hav spent more time "outside" melody corner (on the side alley near the sports shop, where they have their display panel with the latest hindi cassettes and the yesudas & SPB hits etc) than inside it and true, it is one of the fixtures of the growing up years in Thrissur.

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Awwww it's not good that you can predict my stories :)
I'll try to be more secretive next time! :P

How I wish I could go back in time and walk along those familiar places with the same awe I had felt 10 years ago. It's just not the same anymore.

Mahesh Pillai said...

I stumbled upon your blog a few days back and I have kept coming back ever since.

Eagerly awaiting some new posts.

IMHO, the blog title should be "Girl with a beautiful mind"

Have a nice day :-)

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Hi Mahesh,
That's a compliment! And a very sweet one too. Thanks. You made my day!