Mr Xavier’s Guitar- Guest Post

So here is the next guest post by the author of Encounters, Sumana Khan. Lets read what she has to tell us about music.

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It’s funny how some people just peep into your life…you know they kind of stand at the doorstep, have many conversations, and before long, ways part; leaving you with a warmth that will remain inside for a long, long time. That’s how I know Mr Xavier.

My first job had taken off – but before it could touch cruising altitude, it dived and crash landed. It was a small, vibrant team and most found their way out without any problems. I stuck on – mainly because I had no clue about ‘what next’. In such ‘no clue’ moments (of which there are many) – my policy has always been ‘no movement is movement’. Yeah, I’m the greatest worshiper of inertia. So far, I’m alive…so that’s good. It was weird, a bit depressing even – the silence that had befallen the once boisterous workplace. I think only a few of us remained; perhaps 3-4 of us; we moped around quietly in our corners.

I think Mr Xavier was hired around that time, mostly in an administrative role. He was an elderly gentleman (maybe in his late fifties) with a quiet, unassuming demeanor – a small man with hair neatly slicked backwards, wore specs with a largish frame. I almost always remember him in one of those sleeveless sweaters – maybe the a/c in the office troubled him. On most days we’d exchange a polite hello and make small talk about Bangalore. I think he stayed somewhere near Frazer town…so we’d talk about BTS bus service and stuff like that. He had a deep bass voice – clearly meant for a choir – it rolled about the quiet office whenever we spoke.

It so happened that one afternoon, as I sat intently programming a query, the power went out. It usually took a couple of minutes for the backup to kick-in, and it was only then that I realised I was alone in the office. Well, I mean Mr.Xavier was out there in the reception area – but my other colleagues had left. I figured I’d leave too – but it was pelting rain outside – and that meant the buses wouldn’t stop. The backup came on, and I decided to finish my SQL. I heard Mr.Xavier sniffling – poor man, the weather and the a/c must’ve aggravated his sinus, I thought.  I brewed a cup of tea for him, got myself a coffee and went to the reception.

Mr. Xavier quickly wiped his eyes and without looking at me, he said a thank you. I figured he was running a temperature and asked him to leave for home. Of course he was in no shape to take a bus. Maybe I should dash outside and engage an auto for him. Or at least go to the medical store round the corner and get him some Crocin. Mr.Xavier shook his head…as if shaking heads would stop me from doing what I wanted to do. ‘No, I am fine. Sit, have your coffee,’ he said. His voice shook. It was only when he spoke that it hit me – Mr.Xavier had been crying.

I fidgeted. Should I leave him alone? Seeing anyone cry makes me uncomfortable…but seeing an elderly man cry is absolutely unnerving. For how long had he been crying? Sit, he said again.

I sat on the sofa facing his reception desk, fidgeting some more. I eventually asked him if there was anything I could do to help him. He shook his head a couple of times. ‘I lost my son.’

At first it did not sink in – the ‘lost’ part. And when it dawned, it turned my insides. I did not want to listen to Mr Xavier. I did not want to see his face twisted in so much pain. I did not want to see his dripping, bewildered eyes. I did not want to hear the tremble and quake in his usually comforting voice. No, no. I was 25. All this happened on another planet. In my world there was only music and stories and turbulent romance.

But Mr Xavier continued. It had happened a couple of years ago. Mr.Xavier’s son – my age, or slightly younger – had met with an accident while returning home one night. His friends had shifted him to a hospital – but he could not pull through. Mr Xavier’s boy never came home. He was a brilliant boy, Mr Xavier told me. Very intelligent, was training under a CA if I remember correctly. He was obviously the pride of the family.

Mr Xavier spoke and spoke. He relived the night he got the call over and over again. He spoke of all the ‘what if’ scenarios. He spoke of sitting in the police station. He spoke of one inspector who treated the bereaved family with much kindness. He spoke of his wife, his younger daughter (and probably another younger son). He said he was sorry to have unburdened on me. ‘You are still a child,’ he said shaking his head. I wanted to tell him to talk as much as he could – but I did not find my voice or words. As a father, he had to hold it together at home. Yes, he’d lost his son – but he still was a father – he still had his two other children. His wife had almost collapsed – it was only now that a dull sense of normalcy was returning. The daughter was in her second year pre-university. Life had to go on. Mr Xavier had come out of retirement to become the breadwinner again. Even so – how difficult it is for a man to grieve. Society and culture puts so much burden on men – as if they have lesser tear glands and steel hearts that can’t be squeezed when faced with such terrible situations.

When we left for the day – the mela at the bus stop did not bother me. It usually was the case on rainy days. The footboard travel did not bother me either. These problems all looked too trivial. I’d grown up a lot more in those few hours.

After that day, Mr Xavier and I had our tea together almost every afternoon. Some days he’d talk a lot about his son. But most days he’d talk about his daughter or something else. I remember once we had a detailed discussion on rasam. He insisted that without a pinch of garlic, it is no rasam. I swore by hing and mustard seasoning. By the end of the unresolved debate, at least I was very hungry.  When Titanic was released, he told me his daughter has gone bonkers over Dicaprio. He said day and night, night and day he heard only ‘my heart will go on’ and that it was quite a relief to sit in office. I laughed. He asked me if I’d watched the movie. I said no and kind of changed the topic. There was no way I’d tell Mr Xavier that a friend and I decided there was no point in watching a ship sink, so we watched The Full Monty instead.

One restless day, there wasn’t much work to do and I prowled about the empty office like a man-eater. Mr Xavier must’ve got bugged with the stomping and asked me to work on some physics problems for his daughter. I think I made the office boy buy a notebook and in no time, it was filled with motion physics equations. Mr Xavier laughed. He said I could make more money selling exam notes. Maybe you should write a book, he said. So we chatted about books and music and instruments.

So what if you can’t sing? You must learn at least one instrument, he said. You won’t understand now, but if you can make music, you will always have a balance in life, he said. Any new idea excites me (even now) to ridiculous levels. After a detailed discussion, (so intense that it seemed the world would end if I did not have SOME instrument in my possession by that evening) – we settled for the guitar. Mr Xavier laughed so much when I suggested saxophone. He chose the guitar over the piano – because guitars were more accessible and portable. So will you come with me to buy the guitar? We can go right now, I urged. Leave it to me, he said. Guitars can’t be bought like tomatoes.

Ten days later, as I sat in front of his desk for the usual afternoon coffee, Mr Xavier, the smooth operator, brought out a guitar that he had hidden behind the table. Oh what a delightful, hysterical surprise it was!  He’d asked someone in the Bangalore School of Music to get it made. For once, I was absolutely speechless. They’d packed the guitar in a neat cloth case with a pocket to hold a couple of plucks and a tuner. The guitar is tuned, Mr Xavier told me, with the widest smile I’d ever seen on his face.. He’d even brought one of those slim books with large representation of the chords. First you learn to read the music. Then you practice the chords. Now, it is up to you, he said, still smiling. That evening, the bus ride was something. Someone even offered me a seat – and that was unheard of.

I bought some books, and did practice…in secret…since my previous disastrous engagement with vocal music is legendary in the family. I’d return from work and sit on the terrace, read the chords by street light and go plink plonk.

Eventually my firm closed down. I got a job that took me to another end of Bangalore. Soon work expanded to fill every waking hour. I kept in touch with Mr Xavier sporadically – greeting him on Christmas mainly. Travel finally cut me off – from Mr Xavier and the guitar. I did take up the guitar years later. The new teacher said Mr Xavier’s guitar was perfect…just needed to be restrung. But the personal bereavement in my life meant I would not touch the guitar for a long, long time.

It’s been over fifteen years since I met Mr Xavier. I bet his daughter has found her Dicaprio and Mr Xavier is a proud grandpa. We often view courage as something heroic – involving saving lives or taking lives depending on which side you are. But this …what Mr Xavier showed…is courage. Grief is the worst acid – it can corrode your soul and just suck you in. Losing a child is unfathomable. Yet, even that darkness – to bring a smile on someone’s face – that’s courage for you.

I’ve got to finish this business. I’ve got to make music. As a good friend tells me, I owe it to Mr Xavier. And Mr Xavier if you are reading this – Thank You.

ABout the Guest

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Sumana Khan was born and raised in Bangalore where she pursued a career as an It consultant. She currently lives in the Uk and is a full time writer and student. She holds a Master of Letters in Creative Writing from University of Glasgow and is pursuing her M.S.c in Psychology. her website is http://www.sumanakhan.com. ENCOUNTERS is her second book.

P.S. Also read my review of her book Encounters :

https://captivatingmode.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/book-review-encounters/

Book Review: Encounters

‘Encounters’ Someone’s Always Waiting by Sumana Khan is a series of anecdotes that has some deeper meaning. It is a collection of five fantabulous stories that will give a solitudary peace. Sumana has a quality of showing mysticity and suspense in her work just like the poetry of S.T. Coleridge. I know this is a short story or rather say novellas or maybe novelettes which can’t be compared to a poet but what I feel is, it has an essence of mystery in it.

Cover- The cover is the most appealing element of the book that has a wonderful picture of a man standing alone on a boat in a lake and has shadows of trees when we look at the water. The colour scheme perfect suits the cover.

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Title- Sumana has chosen a perfect title ‘ Encounters’ as all the stories are about Encounters only. Also, the subtitle is really deep and thoughtful, ‘Someone’s Always Waiting..’ It creates an aura of imagination in one’s mind.

Stories at a Glance

First LOve– It is the very first story of the book. The second line at the start is bit obscure with repetitive words which makes the start weak. But as the story progresses the interest is build up and you are left imagining yourself in the story where a forensic expert undergoes hallucinations about a man named VRka whom she has met once. This piece brings chills to your spines and has a great effect on your mind. The animal imagery is used preety well. The story takes a turn at social issues, abuse, murder, mystery, science fiction.

The Storyteller– This story has a yet another essence of life. It has a story within a story concept which ends up into a fantasy concept. The elements of mystery can be very well seen in it and at times a feeling of eerie arises in the mind. It is about an agarbatti salesman( unusual character) who encounters a man who is a storyteller and tells about his story. This is not a normal storyteller as it has deeper meaning hidden in it. This piece mainly highlights the Tsunami that hit the area in 2004 which led to huge destruction and loss of lives.

Reminiscence-A normal yet extraordinary story of a man and his wife, Radha who are old and tried to manage their life by performing daily chores of their life. This story makes us learn how to value small things in our lives. The end keeps you stunned so mind it, it is not a simple husband wife story. It has an element of paranormality in it.

Happiness Clinic– It is a story of a retired accountant who is in search of himself and when he finds the biggest purpose of his life, he is shocked to discover a strange fact about himself. He feels what as if, what has happened actually was in his mind. The name Happiness Clinic has a special significance which leaves in an awe.

Best Friends Forever-It is the last story of the collection and my favourite story precisely speaking. It has so many twists and turns that all your predictions are proved wrong. This is an imaginative piece that has elements of gothic fiction, subconsciousness, confusion. It is a roller coaster ride of events that doesn’t scare you but leaves you in a bitter sweet remorse mode.

Characterisation- Sumana has beautifully portrayed her characters in all the five stories. All these characters are different from each other and have their own speciality. The author has played with her characters and a strong sensitivity and attachment could be felt with them. They are the pillars in developing the plots of these stories.

Style- The author has used vivid imagery, impeccable descriptions, jargons in her stories. The use of first and third person narrative could be seen. Some sentences are really deep.The language is simple, lucid and sometimes obscure.

Negatives- I would say the author has done her work perfectly as she has all the traces of binding an audience but the editor seemed lacking in the race. Some of the sentences are unclear and obscure. They have fragments in it which makes it heckneyed. There is a pattern in mistakes. Almost at all the places, tense errors could be noticed. Moreover, The use I’d creates confusion as the reader doesn’t come to know whether it is I would or I had.

For instance: “Thirty two and single- that’s how I’d be described.”  ( confusion of I’d)

In Flesh and blood. ( fragmented sentence)

The tears came. ( fragmented sentence)

~ FIRST LOVE

Favourite sentences- There are many sentences that took my heart so that need an honourable mention with claps*

“Such rib racking cries are like a storm,” ( right word at right place) ~First Love

“Swarms of mosquitoes and flies rise in a static buzz and hover my head like a satanic dark halo.” ( What a description!) ~ The Storyteller

“The mind is like a closet…This negativity takes over our personality…it spreads like a dark ink drop blotting on a tissue paper.” ( phantasmagorically magical)

“Let sunshine illuminate every dark corner.” ( Healed the soul)

“So when you are told it is all inconsequential, you are only destined to be a wife and amother- it is heartbreaking.” ( A harsh truth!)

~ Happiness Clinic

Video –https://youtu.be/VUcCmlKh2dA

Others’ reviews- http://prernanayak.blogspot.in/2016/05/review-encounters-by-sumana-khan.html

https://kavipriyamoorthy.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/encounters-by-sumana-khan-book-review/

http://luciferhouseinc.blogspot.in/2016/05/encounters-review.html

Availability- https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27774874-encounters—someone-s-always-waiting

https://www.amazon.in/Encounters-Someones-Waiting-Sumana-Khan-ebook/dp/B018KCH3OU

http://www.flipkart.com/encounters-someone-s-always-waiting-english/p/itmeczmbccvzegjr?pid=9789385523182

http://cinnamonteal.in/books/encounters-someones-always-waiting/

About the Author

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Sumana Khan was born and raised in Bangalore where she pursued a career as an It consultant. She currently lives in the Uk and is a full time writer and student. She holds a Master of Letters in Creative Writing from University of Glasgow and is pursuing her M.S.c in Psychology. her website is http://www.sumanakhan.com. ENCOUNTERS is her second book.