“As Tansen sang on, the surrounding air got warmer and warmer. The audience started perspiring. Leaves and flowers in the garden dried and fell to the ground. Water in the fountains began to boil. Birds flew away to escape. The lamps lit up and flames appeared in the air. People fled from the court in terror. As the Emperor got up and stood, listening with awe, a rose that he often held in his hand drooped and died. Now Tansen’s body was hot and feverish, but absorbed in Deepak Raga he continued to sing vigorously.”

–The myth of Tansen. Court

of Akbar, 16th century.

He adjusted the slightly torn strap and rested the harmonium next to his waist. His eyes scanned the faces of those sitting in front of him, faces that purposefully concealed any signs of interest or appreciation. He cleared his throat and began with a commanding alaap. Apart from the child who seemed fascinated by how the musician’s fingers floated on the harmonium keys, the urban family, fixated on its food, paid no attention to the performance.

Someone whispered, “Mirasi hain!”

While someone replied, “Faarigh karo inko!”

The head of the family interrupted the performance and asked the musician, rather harshly, to leave them alone. Slightly embarrassed, slightly annoyed, the musician protested to let him complete the performance. The head of the family signalled ruthless rejection.

The musician politely walked way, humming to himself, while the family continued their discussion on the latest fashion trends. The eyes of the child didn’t leave the musician until he disappeared into the dim-lit street.

Lakshmi Chowk, Lahore, 2016.