The tranquility of breaking dawn is a paradox for it truly makes one aware of the faintest of sounds. Aditya rubbed his sleepy eyes and looked out of the window, for the first time conscious of the dim strains of the tanpura and the slow melodious ring of her voice floating in the early morning mist. He sighed, thinking that it was time to allow her to spread her wings. Maybe her talent did deserve merit, he thought, as he closed the account books, which he had been peering into all night long. He marked off the last item from the to-do list, for the big decision was already taken.
In spite of so many years in a foreign land, Ipsita had not given up her dream to become a playback singer. The youngest and prettiest of five sisters, she was married young to a handsome and promising NRI, when her aging father was on his deathbed. Initially, she had relented and even told Aditya that she could not marry him because she wanted to audition as a playback singer. But Aditya, mesmerized by her beauty, convinced her that she could come back to Bombay after a few months in the States, and then try her luck. He promised to get her the best Hindustani music teacher in Chicago, so that she could continue her riyaaz. He diligently kept one part of his promise for there was hardly a day when Ipsita did not practice under the guidance of her Guru, but it had taken twenty years for Aditya to be completely true to his word.
For two decades Ipsita had put her dreams on the back foot, making way for more pressing responsibilities of motherhood, and as a socialite wife, but she unwittingly instilled a part of these dreams in her daughter. Nishita’s childhood fairytales had been stories of the world of glamour and the dazzle of Bollywood, as her mother spun the yarn about the great riches, glories and fame of stardom. Nishita grew up imagining herself a part of this glitzy world and now she wanted to see it for real.
“Pops, when’s our next trip to India?”
“’Cos, this time I may just not return with you guys.” Nishita smiled sweetly.
“You are finally marrying your chat buddy in India?” Aditya played along.
“Maybe yes!” Nishita smiled playfully. “But before that I want to explore a career in modeling.”
When Nishita shared her teenage diva ambitions with Aditya, her mother took the opportunity to push her own desire to take one last shot at becoming a playback singer. Aditya had been able to rein in Ipsita’s ambitions, sometimes with generous showering of love and gifts, and on other occasions with a matter-of-fact approach by stating family and supporting his business venture as her primary calling. But now the tables had turned as he wanted to help his daughter in her professional quest. The time seemed appropriate for Aditya from a business perspective too, for his enterprise in Chicago wasn’t doing very well, and he wanted to reap the benefits of his previous investments rather than making new ones. All said and done, they were finally moving back to India.
Dreams have an audacious capacity to obscure reality, slowly glossing over the truth, giving leeway to the probability of the false being almost true. Ipsita had been stuck in a time warp where she imagined a world she had once known by virtue of her mother being a part of tinsel town as a junior artist. Her teenage friends from the movie sets, who had continued to linger around, had made their own mark in showbiz; Lolita was a well-known theatre artist doing art movies, while Anushka was a sought after fashion designer. Ipsita had been in touch with her friends, often entertaining them at her home in Chicago while they were on foreign trips. She now banked upon them to help her meet some of the big music directors.
“You know they still remember you. They ask where is that shy girl you used to hang around with − the one with the most captivating of voices.” Lolita had told her once about the inquiry from the music director duo of her new movie. Some still recalled her as the lead singer in the choir at Aakash Vani, the radio station.
However, when Ipsita contacted Lolita and Anushka with the news that she was coming back to the city that was now known as Mumbai, and she wanted have a get together to discuss her prospects as a playback singer, she sensed a trail of reluctance on their part. It was good that she did not see the smirk on their faces, or the jokes that they later made about her “still young at heart” aspirations, for it would have shattered her spirit. Or, maybe it would have been better had her heart been broken just then!
Ipsita landed in Mumbai with a purpose − to make her presence felt among the who’s who. To publicize her intentions to join the music industry, she started to entertain. The first few weeks in their newly acquired beach house was a flurry of activity, where Ipsita introduced her beautiful daughter to the Page 3 crowd, and sang at her own parties. In a matter of time, Ipsita was all over the celebrity columns of tabloids, as a wonderful hostess and a talented singer, and Nishita was admired for her “fresh looks”, but neither mother nor daughter could pull any strings on the professional front.
Amidst all the sounds and lights, Aditya was getting disconcerted about the expenses involved and the unsolicited media attention, which would also sometimes throw spotlight on him as “a-businessman- who-was-out-of-business”. Aditya confronted Ipsita, prodding her to curtail the party expenses, and directly meet the people who could show her and Nishita the way. Aditya’s trepidation encouraged Ipsita to talk to the music directors and the radio artists she had known, about making a “comeback” if it could be called one. However, no one wanted to ride their money on an aging horse, and when it came to Nishita, she was considered amateur for an immediate professional assignment.
“There is only one way to do it. Launch both of you together on your own merit and then they will come to your doorstep with their business.” A suave, crisply collared, coffee sipping Kanishk Mehra looked straight into Ipsita’s eyes, almost daring her to negate him.
When Ipsita had not been able to gain any ground on her own, Anushka had suggested that she hire a PR person who would do the door knocking for her and showcase her talent. Ipsita was sold on the idea, and after interviewing a few enterprising young people, she had selected Kanishk. His greatest asset was that he seemed to know the way around tinsel town, and she struck a bargain deal with him to handle her as well as Nishita’s career.
“Things are so much easier these days. You have mp3 and mpeg, and free websites and YouTube.” Kanishk explained his plan to leverage new media.
“We will record a song, and have Nishita model in a short video clip for it. Then we will distribute the audio-visual files and we will soon have people wanting to know the singer and complimenting Nishita’s work.” Kanishk talked non-stop, enthused with his own idea, planning along as he spoke. While they concentrated on Ipsita’s side of the coin, they would utilize the time by having Nishita enroll in a modeling school, where she would also make friends and contacts. His ideas were alluring; the only problem was with the funding − who would sponsor this plan?
Kanishk had all the answers. It was no secret that Aditya had money, and it was also evident that he was getting jittery hanging around the humid air of Mumbai, with nothing much to do. The self-imposed and early retirement was not doing him any good and he was desperate to get back into action. Kanishk played on Aditya’s restlessness and suggested that he use Ipsita and Nishita’s launch as the ground for starting his own artist co-ordination agency, and probably also have some stakes in the audio-visual industry.
The smooth talker that Kanishk was he quickly roped everyone in. He was like Aladdin’s Djinn; you throw a request or a problem at him and whoosh, out came an instant response, a clever idea that had everyone absolutely adoring him for his presence of mind. He always made things sound so simple, so easy. When Ipsita asked what song she would record, he flipped open his laptop and read out the lyrics he had written for her to sing; when she asked about who would arrange the music, he pulled out his cell phone and confirmed next day’s appointment with his friend, Amulya, who was an aspiring music director and had loads of new tunes to offer. And so on and so forth − Kanishk had booked the recording studio at minimal hourly rates, he had the perfect low budget production team to shoot the video, and he also had the perfect shooting location at another friend’s farmhouse.
Kanishk’s deadliest trait was that he was a charmer. While he became Nishita’s closest buddy, mall-hopping, and shopping with her, chaperoning her to parties and fashion shows, he saved his warmest smiles for Ipsita. Marriage, as a way of life is usually characterized by a predictable pattern, a slow, steady mechanical rhythm that often creates a white noise between the couple, making it impossible to hear the voices of the heart. Ipsita and Aditya were engulfed by such a white noise that made it difficult for them to listen to and reach out to each other and now with their individual ambitions, the distance and the loneliness was growing. Moreover, Ipsita was entering a phase of self-doubt, of a middle-age crisis and she sought compliments and strength and conviction, and all these were provided by an adoring Kanishk.
Ipsita was constantly flattered by the attention Kanishk gave her, fascinated by the faith he had in her talent and grateful for the mature company that he gave Nishita, who would also have her own days of boredom and gloom. He would write songs for her and attend her early morning riyaaz sessions, bring her tulips and lilies, and take her out for lunch. All in all, Kanishk became the stronghold in Ipsita’s flimsy career plans, and he became the weakness of her not-so-strong heart. Kanishk had her eating out of his hands; she was ready to oblige his requests for her time, attention, and most significantly money.
On his part, Kanishk ensured that things moved on professionally. He pulled strings to make Ipsita a part of some music concerts. He talked a fusion band into having Ipsita render the Gayatri Mantra at the start of their stage show. He had her record the alaap and the classical invocations in some of their songs. He had a journalist friend, cover the shows and write about Ipsita, praising the mature and trained voice. He had a stylist choose her wardrobe and do her hair, giving her personality the required traditional Indian touch. By the time Ipsita had recorded their first song, he had gained the confidence of his client and their sponsor. The ball had started rolling – only to hit a roadblock.
When it was time to work on the video clip, Kanishk’s enthusiasm took a staid dip. He suddenly became lethargic. Ipsita thought it was overwork and she happily gave her blue-eyed boy an all-paid vacation in the hills. Kanishk went and returned, but not to work. He would ignore her calls and did not come to their makeshift office in the basement of her house. The biggest surprise came when the bills started pouring in from the recording studio, for Ipsita was under the impression that Kanishk had paid the studio upfront. She was getting jittery, and though she was ashamed to admit, she was getting lovesick, missing the attention and the love that he showered on her. Unable to restrain herself, she took a cab and headed to Kanishk’s studio apartment.
“Ah? You? Well, come in” A bleary eyed, unshaven, and disheveled Kanishk opened the door. Astonished at first, but quickly gaining composure he invited her into his bachelor’s shack.
“What’s wrong with you? I mean, you look haggard!” Ipsita was taken aback by his unkempt appearance for she had always seen him well-groomed and in the best of spirits and it hurt her to see him like that – so uncared for.
“Nothing much. Just been unwell and tired.”
“But you never called. You never answered my calls.”
“I know. I am usually like this when I hit a creative block. I retreat into my world. I have been working very hard on the video concept, and when I was back on track, I came down with malaria.”
Ipsita’s heart went out to a visibly distraught Kanishk. She neither broached the matter of the unpaid bills nor expressed anger at his truancy. Sympathy, thus garnered, Kanishk was back in Ipsita’s good books, who even offered to pay for his cab rides to office and around town, for a month, so that he didn’t strain himself driving in Mumbai’s traffic.
Kanishk reappeared with renewed energy and started working on the script for the video. He took an advance from Aditya to book the dates with the production team, buy the props, rent the dresses, and block dates at the editing studio. Things were gaining pace. He would brainstorm the script with Ipsita and Nishita, writing and erasing, calling Ipsita late at midnight to share the scene he had envisioned. He kept Nishita on her toes, discussing dresses, shoes, makeup, her proposed onscreen persona, and the nuances of acting. Within a few days, Kanishk declared that he was all set for a one-day trial shoot.
“Why a one-day shoot; why not do the entire sequence in a day?” Ipsita asked.
“Because, if you do not like what you see in print, it can be redone with minimal loss of mullah. But if we do the entire video clip and then you don’t like it, we will be landed with that roll of film. Moreover, a one-day schedule will be strenuous for Nishita.” Kanishk explained.
It made sense; most of what Kanishk dished out always made sense. The crew and the cast reached the farmhouse and the shooting began in earnest, much to everyone’s relief. Kanishk exhibited a highly professional, even obsessive side of himself at the location, fretting over the minutest details, having long discussions with the camera person regarding light and angle and even getting impatient with Nishita when she couldn’t get her expressions right. Ipsita was impressed and touched by his sincerity and passion.
Back home, Kanishk was still driven by a wild energy and he spent hours at the editing studio, personally supervising the editing and dubbing of the clip. Everyone waited eagerly to see the results and then move on to completing the project. However, the day when he was supposed to show the clip to them, Kanishk didn’t turn up. His mobile was switched off and he was hard to trace. After waiting for a week under Aditya’s questioning glare and Nishita’s nervous outbursts, an annoyed Ipsita knocked on Kanishk’s apartment door. This time there mutual surprise was replaced by mutual confrontation.
“I got it all wrong, and I have been trying to redo the script.” Kanishk revealed.
“Well, after I saw the short clip, I realized that the scenes didn’t go well with the soundtrack and Nishita’s looks weren’t mature enough to match your voice. I have to rethink a storyline and possibly work on Nishita’s getup.” Kanishk explained after gulping down water straight from the jug on the table.
“How can you decide on your own? You haven’t shown the clip to us; the editing studio doesn’t have a copy; the production team is calling to ask when the next shoot is! How can you be so callous?” Ipsita raised her hands in exasperation. “And then there is Aditya. He wants to see what he has been paying for.”
“For you guys it’s about the money and the end results. For me it’s about creativity, perfection, art, beauty; it’s a showcase of my talents and my work.”
“For all of us it’s about talent and work. You are not alone in this. You have to involve everyone and take opinion. Remember it’s not your show alone.” Ipsita tried to curb his obsessive streak.
“What do you mean it’s not my show? Lady, let me remind you it’s been my show all along. You were a nobody, a struggler, lost in the crowd, and I have been instrumental in getting you closer to your goals.” Kanishk retorted, his nostrils flaring with emotion.
“Closer to my goals!” “Where, how? I can only see myself standing in your ramshackle apartment every now and then.” Ipsita blurted out.
“Well, that’s because you don’t want to do the work that comes your way. The Soul of Music guys offered to record an album with you. You denied.”
“Record a “bhajan’” album! Before long I will be singing in religious functions. I want to become a playback singer in Bollywood and it’s your job to ensure that I do.”
“Well, then let me do my job and stop interfering.”
The argument and tears that ensued was just the beginning and similar episodes were frequently repeated. Sparks flew and resulted in a meltdown and in the bargain Aditya burnt a lot of cash. Nishita, was of course, more flustered and confused than she had been back in Chicago.
It took months and many more trips to the farmhouse with the production unit for Kanishk to complete the two-minute video trailer for Ipsita’s debut song. He continued to be eccentric and it became evident that he had a drinking problem, which explained his periods of truancy and moodiness. It was challenging for Ipsita to handle his waywardness. She started bribing him to complete the assignment at hand. She wanted to wrap up the project as soon as possible because she was answerable to Aditya for all his investments. Everyone was waiting for a finished product.
Ipsita’s aspiring career was hanging in the balance, the thin strings threatened to be ravaged by the passage of time, and even Nishita was impatient to get work and to be recognized. Until they had the audio-video clip in a presentable format, they could not circulate it. Kanishk knew that as soon as he finished her project, Ipsita would wash her hands of him, at least professionally. He continued to dilly-dally, blackmailed her with his truancy, manipulated her emotionally and drained her physically. Every passing day became an embarrassment of sorts with the production house and the editing studio calling after unpaid bills. Ipsita realized that Kanishk had pocketed most of the money given by Aditya and now she was in debt. She did not have the courage to tell Aditya the truth. She would have nightmares wondering what if any of the aggrieved parties directly contacted him.
Troubled over the loss of time and money, and guilty of how she had allowed herself to be emotionally blackmailed by Kanishk, Ipsita lost focus on her career. She was more concerned about clearing up the messy trail she was leaving behind before Aditya caught a whiff of the muddle. She finally took a difficult decision to sell some of her jewelry to pay off all the bills. The act left her feeling relieved but in disdain of Kanishk. She decided to confront him again to hand over the final copies of their work.
Ipsita asked Kanishk to meet him for lunch at the Emperor Hotel. She said she wanted to treat him for all the hard work he had been putting in, and she hoped that he would bring the final video clip. Kanishk arrived on time, neatly dressed, looking sleek and professional, carrying a pen-drive with a copy of the video clip. He was in the best of spirits, and all charming, as he hugged Ipsita, and rubbed off the musk of his aftershave on to her cheek. Ipsita’s heart missed her beat, only to flutter uncontrollably, when Kanishk connected the pen drive to her laptop and played the entire two-minute clip for her.
It all looked so beautiful − the yellow and green of the mustard fields, merging with the red of Nishita’s skirt, the sun glistening off the little mirrors in her blouse, the song fleeting through the air, on the wings of a dewy rustic breeze. Ipsita’s eyes filled with tears, a sigh of relief escaped her lips, her shoulders quivered just a little with the intensity of emotion, and Kanishk held her hands, looked in her eyes, and whispered, “Love your voice, and love you too!” The moment was magical, the instant was worth celebrating, and the duo switched from mock tails to cocktails, and moved by the poolside to discuss how to go forward with the publicity.
“First things first,” Kanishk mumbled as he played with her hair, “we have to create and launch a website, where we will upload this video. You don’t want to be running around with CDs and then having them stashed away in the shelves of the music directors. You want to give them a web link they can click anywhere, any time!”
“You go ahead, you work on the website,” an excited Ipsita had chirped. “Do what you will, but give me the CDs to distribute. They can listen to it when they drive. They can share and talk. Let’s not leave any stone unturned.”
“Sshh! My baby, not so fast! Don’t go around distributing these before I get the copyright.” Kanishk had unveiled the new twist making Ipsita all the more confident that he knew the professional angles.
She let go off her guard, and floated in the numinous land of daydreams, where she was a well-known singing sensation. Kanishk continued to regale her with anecdotes, and plans, with kisses and caresses, and the day ended with the promise of love and recognition.
Back home, Aditya and Nishita were also impressed with the finesse and the beauty of Kanishk’s work, though Aditya doubted if it really cost as much as he had paid for. And now there were the additional expenses of getting a website designed, of getting high quality CDs cut in the recording studio, and of other legal requirements. However, seeing the elation in the air, the gleeful banter of his wife and daughter, he opened the moneybags just a little bit more.
Ipsita and Kanishk continued to meet, and Kanishk wrote more songs for her, and created content for the website. Things looked rosy, but it wasn’t long before the rose started fading. Soon after payments were made for the website domain and designer, the rush and the haste took a downslide, and came to a gradual halt. Enamored by the clandestine romance and the hope that they were running the last lap to the finishing line, it took a while for Ipsita to realize that Kanishk had again taken her for a ride. Aditya and Nishita’s edginess of snapped her back to her senses.
“It is time for another rap on Kanishk’s knuckle,” she innocently chuckled to herself, as she plumped up the cushions in her living room, and decided to call Kanishk over for a strictly business lunch. Little did she know that the final blow was coming her way!
“Memsahib, jaldi jaldi, TV on karo!” An excited voice rang from the kitchen through the hallway. Ipsita rushed from the living room in to the kitchen, with Nishita in tow. The housemaid was wringing her hands, pointing at the TV, and saying, “Aapka gana! (Your song!) Ipsita and Nishita looked at the portable TV on the side counter, and sure it was the song that Kanishk had penned for Ipsita, the one she had practiced so many times that everyone in the house recognized even the faintest tune.
Mother, daughter stood dumbfounded, as the music clip trailed to a stop, the credits appeared on screen. A well-known audio company was launching a music album, sung by and featuring the winner of a television music show, and introducing the fresh talent of Amulya Adhikari, a composer and Kanishk Mehra, a lyricist.
“Mom, what’s going on?” a wide-eyed Nishita asked. Ipsita looked at her helplessly, trying to figure out what was actually happening. A hazy picture appeared before her eyes.
“Mom, wasn’t this supposed to be our launch video?” Nishita almost screamed. “I am going to call Kanishk, I am going to find out; or wait, did you by any chance allow him to go ahead and give his song to the album company?”
And then Ipsita knew that Kanishk had sold out on them. He had ridden piggyback all along, using their money, probably acting as Amulya’s agent, show casing his writing talent and ideas, and getting a big break for the composer-lyricist team.
“Mom, he wants to speak to you.” Nishita shouted from the living room. Ipsita’s heart was in her mouth; who wanted to speak to her – Aditya or Kanishk – and in her foggy mind, both stood as one, mocking her, admonishing her. She stumbled into the living room and picked up the receiver.
“I hope you are happy for me! You should be if you truly love me, and I hardly doubt it, especially when I look at our photographs from the all those intimate afternoons.” Kanishk laughed menacingly into her ears. Ipsita put the receiver down and looked at Nishita with pain and defeat in her eyes.
The next morning was truly tranquil for even though he strained his ears, Aditya didn’t hear her voice rise with the sun, and compete with the birds.