A Zakir Hussain Table Cassette

Dear Soumi,
I hope I remember right that it’s your birthday around this time. I wish you a fun filled birthday and a life full of happiness.  I thought of writing to you today and not miss the moment.
My son came up to me today and held out something and said – “Amma why did you give it to me to keep, I do not understand the value of this?”
The thing he held out was a cassette, an old relic of forgotten times I must say. He has never heard a cassette being played out though he has seen a cassette player at his grandparent’s house. This cassette happened to be a Zakir Husain tabla: series two from the maestro club with Side A: Teentala and Side B: Ektala. What meaning does this cassette hold for a 9 year old?
Well that brought a chapter out from the memories of a mother from an almost forgotten but much cherished time from her past. And I told him this story.
It was a cold damp afternoon in Baroda – Vadodara. To escape from the rain we had gotten into a music store. We all in the hostel loved music, music of all sorts, bollywood numbers, ghazals, classical music, you name it. We shared our interest in Gulzar penned songs.
Now we – from what I remember, in we it was me and you Soumi, who had gotten into this music store and our other friend Anubha had stepped into some other store around to pick something else. So we were roaming around the various familiar aisles – Kishore Kumar, Mohd Rafi, latest releases and other unending compilations while keeping a tab on the rain situation to figure out when to head out. Suddenly one of the store helpers came running in a possible bid to keep us around to make some sale and also have ‘fans’ swooning for this celebrity who was going to walk in.
Oh my God! She told us Zakir Husain was going to be in the store in some 10 mins and we could get an autograph from him if we stick around. “Why don’t you pick a cassette from our classical section and get it signed by the maestro himself?”
We looked at each other in disbelief. We quickly scrambled for what was available. Soumi picked something and I found this cassette that you have now and we were standing and waiting, we know that Anubha must be waiting downstairs for us by now. But the store lady said 10 minutes right, so why not just wait. Of course it took more than that when finally the great one did arrive.
Oh well it was worth the wait. This handsome, more than life, figure floats in with this curly flowing hair almost like a halo; a flowing silk robe/kurta. He looks around. Not many fans eh! What do you expect, when it is a rainy dingy Sunday afternoon you chose to walk in for a promotional at a music store! The store attendants point to us saying – look there are some girls who want your autograph! Soumi holds out her cassette, he asks her name. And on hearing her name he said,  “Soumi! Kemon aacho?”
And more words in Bangla – he had lived some part of his life in Kolkatta and knows Bengali well. He also said that Soumi was a lovely name and something else about the meaning of the name or something else (which I forget). For there we were, our heads spinning with excitement – Zakir Hussain for real, signing autographs for us, talking to us, no crowds stealing the glory of the moment!
Now I gave the cassette to my son as a keepsake because he expressed interest without any nudges from me to learn tabla while we were in Bangalore. He went for a few lessons, refused to practice and the days moved on. I once asked him months after we moved back to the US, should we look for a table teacher for you? “Nah, not now Amma.” 
“Then why did we bring the tabla all the way here if you do not care to learn how to play it anymore?! I might as well have given it away to someone.”
“No Amma, I want to keep it with me but do not wish to go for lessons.”
Enjoy your special day and keep writing and photographing!


The Author Of The Letter : Smita Namboodiri, is a college friend of our resident editor and photographer, Soumi Haldar. Smita has a photographic memory and is a mother to two lovely children.