This post fits bang into the “mundane” aspect of our blog title…but it also deals with the greatest foe we each must duel on the long and winding road to freedom — voila, Monsieur EGO!
I made my debut as diva at the age of four. Garbed in virginal white, I stood brave as a soldier on the auditorium stage of our lovely school in Bangalore, run by British, Scottish and Indian nuns. I resisted the urge to flee backstage as the curtains rose and the spotlight focused on my terrified little face—and, according to my mother, burst into a faultless rendition of an old hymn known as Immaculate Mary.
Other kids followed my opening act with a variety of performances—for an audience comprising a vast throng of parents who clapped and cheered decorously at the end of each piece. This was Parents Day, and obedient kids that we were at the time (I changed radically), our chief desire was to impress our anxious elders.
I was also the top athlete in my class: high jump, long jump and the hundred meters sprint. Never a team player, I did not succeed at playing basketball or any sport requiring cooperative effort; today I suspect my debut on that dark stage spoiled me—after that, nothing would do but to shine as the lone star in my own constellation.
I met my sports nemesis in high school—a pleasant non-intellectual girl with massive calves and a most determined mother, who just happened to be our Games Teacher. Together they decided to topple me from the 1st place I believed was my right—and succeeded. (Decades later, my “nemesis” died in an accident on her way home from a wild party in Bangalore’s burbs; I cried when I heard she’d been on the verge of divorce and had left behind a child; I had really liked her.)
This humiliating sports defeat was only the start of multiple ego-bashings. No one warned me that humans with humongous egos suffer the most—or I might have lain myself down on the nearby railway tracks and sacrificed myself to a huffing puffing mechanical monster on its thunderous way towards Delhi or Bombay. Teenage angst is a terrible thing.
At the time we owned a gorgeous Steinbeck piano that none of us bothered to play. One day our maid grimly announced that evil spirits had taken possession of this instrument—for delicate rustlings, she claimed, emanated from its mysterious interior.
Mice, said practical Mum, and promptly summoned the lanky piano tuner to confirm her diagnosis. He cleaned up the insides and warned that the mice would be back if we did not regularly use the instrument—evidently these vermin dislike the pounding of ebony and ivory. Mum gave us an ultimatum: the piano would go if one of us did not play it every day. We did not, and one day came home to an empty space where the piano had stood. That’s when we freaked out and said we wanted it back. Mum tried to buy it back, but the new owners would not part with it, thrilled to get a Steinbeck so cheap.
A contrite Mum offered to buy us any musical instrument we fancied. I chose a guitar from the shop of Goan guitar-maker Lewis. Guided by a cool neighbor who played in an up-and-coming local rock band, I learned the simple chords to Have You Ever Seen The Rain (Credence Clearwater Revival). I picked up whatever I could from whomever I could. Much later I met a brilliant young quantum scientist-in-training who taught me some great songs on the guitar. (My heart broke when I later heard he’d committed suicide in America—for the love of his life had deserted him.) One of the songs he taught me was Janis Joplin’s Bobby McGee.
I was a dark and twisted teen with equally dark and twisted heroes:Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison—each a rock star who had OD’d before hitting 30. I too wanted to crash and burn before I was “old”—which meant over 30. Anyway, I fell instantly in love with the lyrics of Bobby McGee…two runaways chasing that elusive rainbow that leads to happiness…and, over the following decades, must have sung it a thousand times—in India, America, Europe and even in the Far East.
By the time I hit 30, I was married in Manhattan and disliking mainstream life. I listed all the things I would rather be doing (than working for corporate lawyers). Two things stood out—singing and writing. Since I lacked the training, skill, and thick skin required to make it as a musician in the Big Apple, I chose to write seriously. Strange how that seed has taken root: today I write seriously and play music purely for fun.
Cut to Christmas Eve 2009, Tiruvannamalai, in south India: friends invite me to sing at a local restaurant…and guess what I end up belting out to a happy crowd of revelers…Me & Bobby McGee! Click on this link for a look…twenty pounds over my ideal weight, tanned to a crisp, but still a shameless wannabe diva, hey?
Note: Perceptions of family stories (such as my piano tale) generally differ. Amy, my talk therapist in Manhattan, explained it this way: Every sibling has a different set of parents—meaning that in large families, each child—depending on their own entry into the family—has divergent views of circumstances, character, etc; the important point to remember is that each view is valid.