PS: This story is about a singer and her struggles. It's about at what lengths a woman goes to fulfill her dreams. What price she's ready to pay for her ambitions. So I don't want my readers to get scared looking at the length of the post, I am posting this story in 3 episodes, each episode having 1000 words. This is the first part of the story.
"Have you sinned? Do you regret them? Do you want to atone?"
As soon as I read this sign board outside an astrologer, I wanted to burst out laughing. Of course I have sinned. Who can go through half a century of her life without sinning? But the question is, do I regret it? Of course not. I don't do regrets. In fact, if I find myself in the middle of the same situation, I'd do it all over again. However, I might do it with more finesse, more style and more enjoyment.
Although the astrologer is of no use to me, his board did give me something to ponder on. Something to remember: those old days of struggle; those days when I didn't even know from where my next meal was going to come.
My entire life flashed before my eyes.
I hailed from a small town of Gujarat but I had big dreams. I loved singing. My days used to start with lyrical prayers as my father was a Pandit in the village's temple, and would end with sweet lullabies for my younger brother who adored my voice. When I turned 16, my parents wanted to marry me off to the son of a Pandit from the neighboring village. I didn't want to marry that wimpy, poor man. I knew if I married him, I’d be lost forever. I tried to plead before my father. I wanted to take advanced training for singing. I didn't want to spend rest of my life in a small village, slaving in the kitchen and breeding children. I wanted more; much, much more than what my parents were planning for me. So how was I wrong in eloping alone on the day of my marriage to Mumbai? I didn't want to live my parents' dream. I wanted to live my own dreams that I had painstakingly weaved each night.
Not wanting to remember my early days in Mumbai, I start climbing the sloppy road. Furrowing my hands in the front pockets of my jackets, I stand on the edge of the road to gaze at the range of mountains. It's cold enough that I can see my breath, feel the dampness inside my shoes and feel my nose going numb. I suddenly feel the urge to smoke. I bend down and take out the cigarette that I had hidden inside my sock. I also know that if my husband smells cigarette on my breath when I return, there would be hell to pay. But sometimes, some things are totally worth.
Lighting up the cigarette with the lighter I carry around at the pretext of keeping it handy for lighting the candles when the electricity goes out, which happens quite frequently in this small village of Uttrakhand, I take a deep drag. Although I hate to admit, that billboard made a deeper impact on my soul than I would like to admit. Sin — that word was creating a bitter taste in my mouth. And regret — that word was making me restless. Fidgety.
As I keep looking at the mountain's peak far away while savoring the tinge of tobacco in the cigarette, I am inexplicably drawn toward my past.
How smart I had thought myself to be for outsmarting my parents for Mumbai, the city of dreams. How apt I had thought Mumbai to be for me! The city of dreams for the fulfillment of my dreams. My first job in the city had been as a maid in the big industrialist's home. The industrialist had been around 50 years, quite old in the eyes of a 16 year old. He had a pot-belly and flabby hands, result of his over-indulgence of gastronomic pursuits. For days, he had leered at me when his wife wasn't around. He would follow me in every room I went to clean when his children were off to college. One day, I had had enough. If I was going to be subjected to sexual harassment, why not gain something from it? I named my price and my advanced classes for classical singing started. During day, I would work in the house as a maid, go to the evening classes for riyaaz and spend my few nights here and there with the industrialist to make sure my classes continued.
Three years later, I had Sangeet Visharad. Now I was qualified to sing hauntingly beautiful songs that the entire world would die to listen. My dreams were within my reach. Or so I thought.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
The new struggle for getting a "break" in the music industry started. I had left the work at that industrialist's home as I didn't need his help anymore. I had saved more than enough to quit working for a year and concentrate on music. I was 20 and ready to set the world on fire. Daily I'd visit music studios in the hopes of finding a good music director who would believe in my talent. Who would believe in my passion. A week passed by. Then a month. Six months passed but not a single job on hand. The directors would ask me to sing and when I sang, they would get impressed. They would ask me to wait for their calls and I would. But none ever called.
Just when I was getting desperate, a miracle happened.