Sa re ga, re ga ma, ga ma pa …” my squeaky voice would follow his deep baritone. Without glancing at the clocks, our neighbours could tell it was four in the evening. Such a stickler for time was my music teacher, Janardan Pandey. He was known as Mass Saa’b. He taught Indian vocal and instrumental music to both boys and girls. Since the fee was not too high, he was popular among those living in the fringes.
A tall, gaunt man, with thinning grey hair and thick tufts of black hair coming out of his ears, Mass Saa’b was always tense. Mass Saa’b was single. He never married. As an orphan, his childhood had been brief, dark and difficult. He grew up on the border of hunger and poverty. Some kind man had taught him music in lieu of gruelling farm work. His students were the children he never had. If any of his students complained about being beaten up by their parents, Mass Saa’b would admonish and counsel the erring parent.
Once he turned up rather late at our doorstep, breathless. He wanted to know if my father was all right. Relieved to know all was fine, Mass Saa’b explained in broken sentences that he had seen someone like my father in Gumshuda ki Talash (Missing Persons) on Doordarshan. We spent hours giggling and miming his panting query (Who, with a sane mind, would bother to see such a programme of all things?). Mass Saa’b spent all his earnings on buying food for beggars and dogs in his vicinity. They were his extended family. He would cook frugal meals with his limited income but he never dined alone.
One day, I visited him late in the evening to invite him personally for my wedding though the card had been given to him earlier by my brother. In a small room, I saw him sitting on the floor, cross-legged. In sordid surroundings, reeking of an overflowing drain nearby, he was trying to put together torn pieces of a wedding card. The card was mine. Maas Saa’b sheepishly explained that the dogs had torn it to shreds.
He didn’t live long, for want of money pushed him to take more tuitions. With increasing demands on his time, he had little time to cook or eat properly. His health suffered. When stones were detected in his gall bladder and kidney, he would joke, “I am rich, I have precious stones tucked in my Swiss bank safely.” He was found dead one morning, with his band of loyal beggar friends and dogs surrounding their deliverer, silently grieving. Their Messiah was gone.