If I ask you what could be a big deal about watching someone play with some Goat Hide and a few strands of malleable metal alloy, you’re gonna shrug and brush me aside and rush home before they find out you can’t speak Marathi. 

But pause to think about it.  Jobi here thinks it is, and has lost 6 sleepless nights; Rs.800/- in phone bills; and is damn near in the verge of losing two of his most cherished possessions – his sanity and a friend. Yes. That friend would be me.

As far as I know, Jobi has never wanted anything really bad. But that was until Thursday last week. For, now he has set his mind on something, and wants it bad. Very Bad.  Really very Bad. He is suddenly a transformed man. He has felt a desire. His focus is made. His target is locked. And trust me, for I know Jobi well, its wise to step back. All his experiences, learning and philosophies from his rather long and eventful life will now crystallize into two basic categories. Hook and crook. And he will do either or both to get what he wants. What’s worse, make accomplices out of close, well meaning friends.

But first, let’s rewind to Thursday.

Jobi sounded frantic when he had called. It was past midnight, and I, was just slipping in between the mattress and the cold quilt.

“I am worried” he said in almost a whisper. This sounded serious. I got into reverse motion and slipped out from under the quilt.

“Jobi! Whats the matter?”
“Bad scene machhan, where are you?”
“Home”
“Oh good. I’m at Bandra”, why did I detect a spot of relief? “Machaan can you come meet me?”
“What!” 10 second pause. “What is the matter? This better be serious enough!”

Jobi had a bad reputation when it came to objective assessments of situations. Oftentimes, he has excelled himself by misreading common situations and creating dramatic interpretations. And on many occasions he has categorized a situation as crisis and raised the red flag, causing widespread angst and BP among those around him, while in reality, all we may be dealing with is several notches low, if not out of scope altogether, on the emergency meter.

“What is the matter? Why don’t you tell me? Why can’t you take a cab?”

“Just come will you?” he muttered under his breath in a no-nonsense, edge of patience tone, hearing which you know immediately he means business.

The next minute I was biting my nails on the way to Bandra. Jobi was lighting a GFK at JustAround The Corner when I spotted his larger than normal head.

“Dude, what’s wrong? Why are you sitting here in JustAround The Corner at 12.55 am and lighting a cigarette?”

“Why, is this non-smoking?” He didn’t quite get it. He didn’t quite get what a supreme sleep-sacrifice I had made and what a superlative expression of camaraderie I had exhibited by showing up right there to sit in front of him at that hour to confront exhaust fumes spewing off his nostrils.

He let out a long stream of smoke and selected his words slowly. “I wanted this from the time I was 11 years old. And I’ve waited for…for…well I’ve waited for a chance since then”.

Did you notice that? That’s right; he is very touchy about his age. That’s Jobi for you. But the tone he used, makes me now reflect on the sorry state of my vocabulary. I don’t know a word to define it. It sounded bitter. It sounded fierce. It sounded sorrowful. Mournful. Angry. Helpless. Desperate.

The uncommon cold wind of Mumbai ruffled our hairs. And he now looked like a little boy lost in a fair, trying to put on a brave face.

I paced my words spreading them out over a minute. I had my palms open, facing each other and moved them up and down like Bharka Datt.

What, Jobi, is the problem?”

Jobi lit another cigarette, took a puff and placed it on the ash tray. And then fixed his eyes on mine.

A floodgate opened. Words and emotionally crafted sentences gushed out. He spoke for 15 minutes non stop. The ash of the cigarette lengthened and hung precariously.

Jobi went on. And on. And on. And on. None of it made sense to me yet. I knew he wanted to be heard and to be understood. But I didn’t know what the problem was yet. Here and there, I could make out words like Sindhubhairavi, Hindustani, rendering, 1982, sruthi, Violin, Subramaniam, and something about Amjad Ali Khan and Sarod, sole stirring (that’s what I heard) and about getting skin eruptions of geese and stuff.

Soon he paused to take a breath. He had stopped breathing a while back. I took advantage of the pause. I patted his arm.

“What do you want from me, Jobi. How can I help?”

“Ok….Tell me, have you heard V.G.Jog?” he asked like a court magistrate. And like any man accused, I became defensive instantly.

“Never! Where does he jog normally? Nana Nani Park, right?”

“Dude, don’t test me.” He shifted gears and spoke slowly like George Bush Sr. does to a deaf man. ”V.G.Jog! have you heard him play?”

“What?”

“The violin”. I could hear teeth grinding under great force. “Machhaan….” This time his tone sounded like an appeal.

“Ok Ok….No, I don’t. I haven’t. What about him?”

“Ok never mind Jog. How about Amjad Ali Khan?”

“He plays violin?”

“No. That’s L.Subramaniam”

“Didn’t you just say Amjad Ali Khan? You think I didn’t get the name of the artist right? I am not THAT tone deaf!”

“Dude! Dude! Stop! Are you making fun of me?”

“No, but would you mind very much coming to the point man! Its 1.20 am and you’re still wasting time warming me up for the shock”

“Ok. I;ll give it to you straight. Get me tickets to the concert on Thursday next. At NCPA, Zakir Hussain and Amjad Ali Khan are playing together! Do something. Do anything. Kill someone if you have to, I don’t care. But if you are a true friend, you will put a ticket here” he said pointing to his open palm.

My eyes rolled. The left eyeball which was closer to Jobi rolled more frantically, and threatened to pop out and roll about JustAround The Corner. What a terrible thing that would be! And what a spectacle – pardon the pun – I would make looking for it, groping the stony floor of JustAround The Corner. “Hey! Are you eyeing my wife?” “Oh! hahaha! in some funny way, I am afraid I already have! i spotted my left eyeball rolling under your wife’s chair out of the corner of my right eye!” “You want a black eye, pal?” “Huh? Err..sorry, just that my eye popped out! Oh no no no!!! I mean…heh heh..I am sorry. Ah there it is! just around the corner over there!” “Ok, you asked for it….!” PAM!!!! PIFF!!!!

A waft of smoke assaulted my face breaking my reverie. Jobi was back to speaking with passion in his eyes, like his life depended on it. You just know when someone means something. I know the chappie. Very few things really rock his boat. But when something does rock it, it rocks big time. If you are in the same boat, you would fear drowning in all that buzz and energy that manifests in the air around him.

“I’ll do what I can man, sleep well” I said in an assuring voice and dropped him off at his flat.

I woke up late the next morning. Called various people. As the day progressed, things were looking terribly bleak.

11ster held some hope. Dash held some hope. I had called all my Parsifriends to check if they can do something about a ticket to NCPA. “We’ll see! We’ll See!” was all I heard.

It’s Wednesday night now. And the concert is tomorrow night. Pressure is building up on me. I can suddenly tell how it feels to be the stretched leather on the Tabla or the tight string on the Sarod. And Jobi is gonna drum and pull on it tomorrow if I don’t think of something fast.

Anyone know Zakir Hussains number? Or Amjad Ali Khans? Oh… the number of the Tanpura player would even do!

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Note: This is Part-1 of a 2 part post. Part 2.
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