Passion and Respect Faces Fear and Intimidation
Alex Brown, Year 11
I have been teaching young Indian children to sing for many years now. Music is my passion in life and empowering these children with the ability to voice sweet notes warms my heart. My life’s dream has been to create a small young choir filled my most talented students and have them sing my own melodies, which I spend all my free time perfecting. My dream is so close to being achieved, however, my all-powerful employer has other, much less innocent, uses for my talented youthful vocalists.
His name is Sethji, hence how I was given the title MasterJi, however I am in no way the master of anything other than my music. He wears rich gold chains that sparkle in the dim lighting; he has a confident and sinister attitude and will always get what he wants whether it be by horrific intimidation or terrible violence. Luckily for me I have only ever experienced the first, as for those who I know have experienced the other… I have not known for long. My few experiences with Sanji have been brief encounters, however I believe this man is involved in the mafia, and not a man an older, or as I like to say ‘experienced’, music enthusiast like myself should be involved with. As for his establishment, or profitable business as he calls it, I am kept mostly in the dark and banned from ever exploring further than my room and immediately adjacent areas. Two bodyguards, Mustafa and Punnose, will routinely arrive to collect the children and provide me with my puny salary, just enough to get me through daily life. Seeing any of the children I had once tutored seemed an impossibility, that was until a few days ago.
His name was Raju. He had very little vocal talent, certainly not a candidate for my dream choir. Sethji had sent his bodyguards, paid me my meager salary, and with that I had never thought of seeing the boy again. I had been strolling through a different part of town one morning when I found myself in a small market full of vibrant stalls and busy customers. The area had an Adagio vibe, reminding me of a movement from Beethoven’s 5th symphony. I heard a faint voice singing just off key, less than an octave flat. It was not the singing that drew my attention but after some time the realisation that the song was one of my own.
I found Raju leaning against a wall singing faintly in the general direction of the crowd. A feeling of sickness grew in my body as I scanned him up and down, seeing deep scars, bruised limbs and eyes scarred and burnt. He had a misshapen container at his feet with just a few rupee scattered inside. I attempted to speak with him, however he was all consumed singing the tune, and the hum of the busy market made my voice insignificant. I grasped his shoulder to which he screamed and aggressively pushed my hand away. I began to receive strange disapproving looks from bystanders so I left questions unasked and the dark thoughts remained unenlightened. My encounter with Raju was frightening and gave me a disturbing insight into Sethji’s need for the children.
In the last few weeks I have been tutoring two boys, one shows a complete lack of talent, however the other is a boy like no other. His name is Salim and his talent above all else is astounding. From the beginning his natural talent was overwhelming and this combined with his drive to learn and succeed has lead to him being the best student I have had the honour of teaching. I have developed admiration and respect for Salim and I feel as though he reciprocates these emotions making each lesson a blessing and my job a dream. Each week my student improved on a scale that I had seen never before. I met with Sethji to boast of Salim’s great talent and requested that he should stay with me and become my apprentice, to which Sethji laughed and simply requested I teach Salim a particular song with an evil smirk on his face and proceeded to confirm the date of collection, responding as though I had never said a word. That date is today.
I am finishing my final lesson with Salim and his friend Ram. I have been teaching Salim one of the most difficult singing items that I know will truly test his limits. This is the song Sethji recommended and is called “The Bahajans of Sudras”. Each note Salim hits with timing and passion never ceasing to astound me. As the song comes to an end with a heart-wrenching diminuendo executed to perfection, I am once again brought back to reality, realising that Ram and most sadly Salim will be taken from me in just a few mere hours. I explain a lyric of the piece to the boys, “My eyes are hungry for your presence, Lord Krishna”.
Ram suddenly queries, “Why are his eyes hungry?”
I reply, “Didn’t I tell you?! Sudras was completely blind.”
The moment I spoke these words the truth hit me like a train. My thought process became Allegro, Sethji’s smirk as he recommended this song… my sickening encounter with Raju… Sethji is planning to cripple my pride and joy and use him for street money. I must do anything I can to stop this from happening.
Both boys had left my room and had been up the hallway towards where Marman and Punnose sit and smoke heavily. The Ram and then Salim quickly came running stealthily past my door towards the toilets. I felt a rush of adrenaline as I realised they were attempting to escape even without my warning. I heard the two bodyguards thudding towards my door and at first fear that they are in immediate chase of the boys when suddenly they turn into my door. “Here MasterJi, we have your payment for the boys with generous extra for the talented one,” Mustafa states as he walks into my room, “But where are they?”
Before I have time to respond the Punnose exclaims, “They must be trying to escape! Come Mustafa, we must find them!”
I quickly realise that for the boys to escape I must delay these men.
The guards begin to hurry for the door. Before they can exit, I launch myself at Mustafa’s back and in his shock I am able to pull him to the ground. He yelps in pain as bones hit hard concrete floor but I yell louder as the pain is amplified by the huge frame of Mustafa landing heavily on top of me, crushing me as flat as a uncooked poppadum. Punnose grabs a glass bottle that once held vintage Aryaa wine and proceeds to smash it full force over my head. I am left in a daze as the glass shatters all around me. Time becomes Adagio. Mustafa stands up in rage cradling his right arm and begins to kick me hard in the guts. With each crippling blow my sense of reality lessens. I see vaguely the Punnose hurriedly pulling Mustafa away and down the hallway. I feel myself descending from bravado to lento. The all-consuming pain lessens and a river of warm blood trickles down the side of my face, making a vast lake on the floor. I weakly think to myself that I have finally done what is right and have brought meaning to an otherwise meaningless existence. I do not know if I will wake up or if I bought Salim enough time, but as I close my eyes I know inside they have escaped. I feel the rare warmth of a smile spread across my bloodied face as the corrupt world fades to deathly black.