The Melody Tales
His fingers wavered around my neck.
Hold me closer, Charlie. Tight and close. Only will then it’ll be better. Press harder, a little more, I wanted to tell him. No, not there, a little down. Too subtle you are, Charlie. We should be synced in one. This sure will need a lot of efforts. If only he could hear what I said when he held me.
“Ouch! That hurts,” said Charlie as Uncle Francis held the guy’s fingers together, placed them on my neck and pressed them.
Uncle Francis said, “That’s a good sign.” “That means you are getting close and concentrating.”
“But is there no other way, Uncle Francis? I mean an easier one. It seems so easy when I see others do it.”
“What did you think kiddo? You’ll land up here one day and play like Santana. It takes years of practice and patience.” “You don’t master the guitar in a day.”
“True story,” I told myself.
“The brat won’t last more than a day, trust me you don’t wish to do this.” Francis told Elina. But on her fervent insistence, he agreed to teach Charlie.
A retired headmaster, Francis was the neighbor of Charlie’s aunt Elina. He had always been a strict disciplinarian with zero tolerance to mistakes and irregularity whether he was in school or otherwise. The neighborhood always remembered one slogan when they saw him—handle with care. However, when it came to music, Uncle Francis was the most kind-hearted soul you could find. His rigid persona transformed into a hippy soul the moment he got his hands on me or my other six-stringed friends. Music—the only thing which brought out the lovable Shrek in him and set him apart from his other ogre-like traits.
“Now son, you need to remember two rules—first rule, practice till you hear the sound right and second, go back to the first rule.” Pretty much what Mr. Miyagi said in The Karate kid. That was the most important lesson if you had to learn from Francis.
I still remember the first time Charlie held me. He was so nervous that he almost banged me against the wall while lifting me. Luckily, I wasn’t hurt much. But what he did not know was I was Francis’ favorite. I enjoyed the affection as well. Who wouldn’t? And Francis had almost lost his cool then, but all that he did was scare the chap with his stern look and cautioned him, “Easy boy, easy. Treat her gently.” After a couple of more lessons too, Charlie couldn’t hold me as right and I got bumped a bit several times at numerous places. That was perhaps the last time he held me as far as i remember. Francis never let him play me again. He was scared for me.
With time, Charlie began to learn the nuances of playing and explore the other attributes of strumming. Francis gave him one of my good friends, since he didn’t have a guitar of his own. He used to get it each time for class. He was curious I must say, but seemed lazy enough not to master what was taught. Francis had his patience tested like never before with this guy and knowing Francis for so many years now, I really admired that in him. He wanted Charlie to do well and also he wasn’t the one who would accept defeat so easily.
“There, Wow! You heard that Uncle? I finally got the chord right, I finally did!” “Yes, Yes”!! and he strummed again.” “After so many days, finally!” “Woohoo”!
“Now play what I taught you earlier, all of the chords together in this scale.”
“But I didn’t practice the others.”
“No excuses my boy, I am not teaching you further if you don’t play the entire scale.”
I still remember the look on his face. It was a perfect example of agony and ecstasy. After weeks of struggling he got this chord right, but he almost forgot the others taught to him. More so nobody acknowledged his efforts for the perfected piece. And expecting a compliment from Francis was like praying for rains in a desert. Charlie was saddened by this. However, my friend and me were happy that he was getting his act right. Somewhere underneath we rejoiced that the melodies came out well. Now he knew how to hold us properly, tune us as and when required, points where he should hold us close and tighter, points where he should be gentle, how to slide the pick through our strings; Francis’ efforts were showing. And of course, the very fingers which wavered initially now caressed and moved around the strings with ease. It felt just as good when you let a child run his fingers through your hair.
A few weeks passed by. After this incident, Charlie didn’t turn up for class and there was no news from him either. Francis initially thought the boy must be sulking since he refused to teach him any further and must have probably quit. But he didn’t give it much a thought. “These kids want everything instant these days”! He said. Then again after a few days when he tried to contact Charlie, nobody answered his phone. From his worried face, I could guess he was thinking, “I wasn’t too harsh on the kid as much, was I”? It was almost a month now. And one fine day, Elina came to us asking for Charlie. That’s when Francis knew something was majorly wrong. Together, they left for his house.
That same night when Francis came home, he took me and played his favorite song, Layla. Once, twice, thrice, and so on. He played the same song for like two hours. I wondered if all was okay. Although whenever he was sad, he used to pour himself a couple of pegs and strum something till he fell asleep with me in his arms. But that wasn’t the case today. He was perfectly awake and appeared more grim than sad.
Then he took me, and carefully brushed through my body with a piece of cotton dipped in some spirit. It smelt good. He checked my strings with the tuner once again to see if I was sounding alright. He kissed me and placed me in my case with a letter. He had never done any of this before. I could feel something being tied to my case, once I was in. Then I was lifted and carried. Though I did not know what was happening I could figure he was taking me somewhere.
“Hey Francis, its 11’o clock in the night. All okay?” Elina asked. I could hear their conversations.
“Sorry to bother you, Elina. Could you please give this to Charlie?”
“But Francis, this is your favorite…
“I know. But I want him to have her. Please Elina, it’s a humble request.”
The next morning I found myself in Charlie’s hands. I could see in his eyes that he was thrilled to have me. Apparently, I was gift-wrapped and there was a ribbon tied to my case. Both of us were puzzled by what was happening around us, how we were in each other’s company till he read the letter.
Hey there Kiddo,
I would be lying if I said I was not worried when you did not turn up for classes. First I thought maybe you got fed up of the routine and wished to discontinue, but only when Elina came asking for you, I figured there’s more to your absence than just missing classes.
I hope your mother is doing okay now. Your sister told me about her ailing condition when Elina and I visited the hospital. You had left for home then to freshen up. Of what I heard from her, I must say, boy you have managed to touch my heart. She told me why you wanted to learn the guitar. You wanted to play the songs that your late dad sang for mum. She said only your music could calm her down and put her to sleep each night whenever she experienced anxiety attacks. And that you stay up nights and practice and why you didn’t come all these days since you were busy with mum. I couldn’t be more proud of you son. Music is nothing if it’s not healing. I am glad you have done so well for yourself. Both as a student and a son.
Also, in your last class (which was almost a month ago), you played the chords really well. I was impressed to see that. I just did not let you know about it then so that it did not go to your head. What I did not know was you would stop coming from that day. I missed having you around; nobody to even scold kiddo. I know I am a bit strict and stern as a teacher, but your efforts won’t go unrewarded.
I want you to have my favorite guitar. It’s a little old now but it has been the best one I ever had. You do know how I didn’t let you play it earlier. But now, I am sure you’ll take care of her just as the way you have taken care of your mum. Keep up the good work son and come meet me next week. We have to learn more songs.
And that’s how I ended up with Charlie. He’s become a big fella now, has his own band and all. He goes for tours and all and comes back only after months. He has a lot of my new-generation kids with him; all swanky and sleek, a few electric ones, some beautiful acoustic ones, some limited-edition ones. He takes a few of them with him at times. It’s like a big family staying all together in Charlie’s house and I am like the head grandmother stationed on a wall watching over the others at work. He says he plans to open a music school in the name of Francis in the future. As for me, I am played only on special occasions now, considering that I have become older now and I need more care while being handled. What hasn’t changed is Charlie dotes on me just as much as Francis did, when he had me. I guess may be a little more than that.