A friend of mine once called me tone-deaf. I like to think he’s wrong (for heaven’s sake, he was asking me to identify the difference between two adjacent notes on the guitar; pardon me if I don’t have your super-alien-guitar-ears!), but the fact remains that I have absolutely no talent with musical instruments.
I’ve tried a few: guitar, drums (abandoned in favour of jazz dance classes), casio, a few desultory strokes of a violin. All quickly abandoned, all things that I sometimes feel… if I’d just practised more, tried a little harder… all maybes and what-ifs and could-have-beens that I really prefer not to think about.
But one instrument stands out, and it’s one I’ve never laid a hand on. It’s the instrument that rests so innocently, yet so grandly, on a chest of drawers off our dining room.
My mother’s veena.
My mother learns. She’s a beginner. She’s on the basics, and lately she hasn’t had much time to attend class and practise. But I remember the months when she did. Everyone has a lullaby, conscious or not, and mine has become the notes my mother played, patient and tender and ever approaching purity, into the hours past midnight as all three of us slept soundly.
I love the veena because when my mother plays it, when she drops her eyes to it, there’s a love and reverence and a tiny bit of awe that seeps into the air from her eyes. There’s contentment, and forgetfulness, and when she plays the basic notes over and over and over again, I see her losing herself. I see her at peace with herself.
I love the veena, even having never laid a hand on it, because it makes my mother happy.