Leaving home around 6:15 for a 8:00 PM concert in Delaware, K and I enjoyed the greenery en-route. The sun was out, temperatures mild and everything was touched by joy. At least in my mind. Navigating the narrow one ways that was downtown Wilmington, it was easy to see parking was going to be an issue. Slowing down in front of the Grand Opera house, we were both amused by the sight of desis in every conceivable hue of sarees and desi attires. I cursed myself for not picking that salwar. I knew I would have a grand time people watching. Parking a distance away, K and I circled around looking for a place where we could grab a bite to eat. One would think Saturday evening would be prime business time but No! downtown Wilmington businesses shutter down at 5:00 PM!
Resigning ourselves to sitting in the concert hall with growling tummies, we walked up to the box office, picked our tickets and got lost in the crowd of brightly dressed Bengalis. This concert by Ustad Zakir Hussein and Pandit Shivkumar Sharma was one K and I had looked forward to for a long, long time now. I was excited and curious to see how the fusion would come across as. K had been to an earlier concert by the duo and was beaming with anticipation. Guided by the able volunteers, we were about to take the stairs to the balcony when the wafting smells of something masala hit our noses. Exchanging glances, we made our way guided by the smell of food. True to their enterprising selves, a couple of people from Spice India had set up a booth vending samosas, Kuti rolls, sandwiches and biryani. Opting for the veggie Kuti roll, samosa and one sandwich, we picked a corner that was a bay window converted into a ledge lined with cushions we perched ourselves on.
The building itself looked beautiful and the rich maroon carpets added to the feel of a mughal palace. Only that it was not. Wrapping up dinner and congratulating ourselves on finding food, we picked our way upstairs tummy sated and minds primed for music. As we found our seats, we were happy to see we had a decent view of the dias and did not have too many people in front of us. Setting down, I admired the gorgeous sarees and salwars. K pointed out some that I might like. Exchanging notes on how ethno centric these concerts were, we talked some about similar Sruthi concerts in the past. This crowd was predominantly non south. Sounds of Hindi, Bengali and Gujarathi permeated around us. We did not see one known face in the sea of desis in front of us.
8:00 PM came and went and K was getting anxious. Just as we gave up on waiting for the maestros to arrive, we heard everyone shushing and heard the clear voice of the program anchor on the mic. She introduced herself and did a lovely job of introducing the stars of the day. Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma was resplendent in a pink and gold kurtha with milky white curls that crowned his head. His hands glittered with rings that sparkled in the muted lighting. Ustad Zakir Hussein was in a deep blue kurtha and his black curls were the envy of K. Bowing to the audience and greeting us, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma walked us through the agenda for the concert and then let his fingers do the talking. With just a 15 minute break in a concert that spanned two and half hours, we were treated to music that teased, came at us in waves, built up speed and reached a crescendo that was unbelievable. The chemistry between the two maestros added to the effect. While the santoor tapped out routines playfully, the tabla followed suit. Pandit would stop midway and so would Ustad. Their games felt so natural and added to the experience of being in live concert. Walking away after what I called the finest musical experience I have had till date, I was in awe of the bonds that these two masters shared. It was evident in the way each read the other and kept up beautifully. K and I held our collective breaths at the final crescendo hoping and praying they would not miss a step. And they delivered. Unbelievably.
Reaching our car after a leisurely stroll through the broad sidewalks, I was lost in thought all the way home. I regretted not having been to a single concert in Madras in spite of living at a stone’s throw from Vani Mahal. I felt like I had missed out on years of being touched by music. I sobered up and realized it is better late than never too. So, till the next time we get to attend a concert, I will savor the delightful experience this was.