The Sitarists

It was at first the father, of course. Always the father. His name rang far and wide enough to have reached my tone-deaf ears. But it wasn't one of his recordings that attracted me. It was just his last name on a woman near my age. The youngest heiress of a terrible legacy. And I wondered how she had managed it so well without destroying herself, and even actually making some good out of it.

Then I read the name of her sister, whom I've been directed to attend a while back. (It's another story, but it's for another post, and it includes a research on Alto voices. It's a good story. But for later.)

The discovery that the two artists were actually half-sisters, sharers of a legacy, made me understand. It's the same reason why the older Jackson siblings, the Williams sisters, the Kardashian sisters, survived their terrible inheritance too: They shared its weight on each other's shoulders. Or else there was a black sheep.

Coming back to the sitarist family. Yes, it's them I'm talking about. If you’ve figured it out by now, then see if your thoughts about them reflect mine. Especially if you're firstborn too.

You see, the sisters didn't live together; they weren't raised together or even in the same country. So much that they followed different paths and languages of soul. Diversity in such an intimate circle allowed for renewable interest to keep them - the sisters as well as their father – amicable towards each other.

What more, they weren't the legendary sitarist’s only children. There was a boy, a firstborn. And how his story broke my heart.


Let's go back a generation. Somewhere around the time when the father (always the father) wasn't that big a legend, but was almost there. The thing with sitar, it can never really reach its fullest capacity there without the sturdy support from the tabla. And if you've ever seen a sitar performance, you would see the enviable comradeship between a sitar player and his tablaist.

Since this particular sitarist had seen it in his stars that he was going to be great bear the terrible bondages of fame and wealth, the tablaist, who was much older and more bruised with wisdom, sought to protect his friend and main provider. If the young sitar player messed up, the tablaist would be screwed too, right?

So the Tablaist trained his favourite daughter harder. He didn't care how hard he beat her every time she missed a note, she had to perfect her sitar taalim. She had to get it right to impress the shining sitar player with the weakness for her kind. And if the sitarist saw her worthy, she could secure her entire family's income for the rest of their marriage.

Or so her father thought.

In return, the daughter felt like how a modern sacrificial sheep would. There was no more love for her when the father trained her. There was no more love for the sitar. There was no more love for each other. But she did as a good, God-fearing daughter should, she obeyed. She went through her marriage with her father's chosen. She played her job as the bleeping family sheep. She, too, had sisters in mind whom she wanted to spare from such a burden.

The thing with burden is that it tends to grow heavier the longer you carried it. Soon or later, you no longer have the energy to look ahead of you, and your vision (for future and self and step) narrows. You no longer walk with certainty. Your knees become so weak that a gust of wind could shake you and the burden upon you, shake you both until you lose your strength and balance and give in to the welcoming zift beneath you.

That's what happened to the gifted daughter who became the family's sacrificial sheep, the famous sitar player's wife, the sharer and giver of a terrible legacy.

She had a boy. And the boy with the famous mother and legendary father was doomed from the start without having a say about his fate and destiny.

And it's not that he didn't try to please them both. Oh he did try hard and clumsy. Yet no matter how hard he tried, he was firstborn; his parents' first beating bag and blueprint draft. All of their megalomaniac disappointments were vented and burdened on him. And he bore that terrible burden until he couldn't. And when he couldn't, he dropped the burden over his head, along with his life, his drive, his hopes. He died in his fifties, much sooner than his own famous parents, disillusioned and embarrassed with his criminally underachieving self.


All the while I listened to their music, I heard these stories behind every one of them. Nothing so beautiful could have come forth from chronic, vulgar joy and ecstasy.

I was studying the roots of my own desperate mediocrity. Why I'll never break records in creating anything well-enough or even half-assed decent.  That I have never been hungry enough, never been out of my wits to survive and hold on. There was always a helping hand for a pretty girl. A steady flow of cheat-codes to take credit from.


It's a relative happy ending for the rest of the sitarist family, by the way. The eldest son's heartbreak and departure created an all-too-clear and intimate evidence for the famous parents to look to their elders and say, "See we did as you bid, and it didn't work. So can we quit this and move on and just be happy again, please?"

The Famous Sitarist, now more famous than ever especially since he got the Western Beatle ears on him, got to travel far and farther. Until he met the lady whom he liked best in that country and marked his achievement in her, far away from his Tablaist's influence. And bore a daughter who would later take her father's legacy, without the burden of his shame, to grounds so high in lands they sought and despised, together and apart, as a family.

The other daughter? Oh, she came after he came home, of course. The mega sitarist came home after all, redid his past and did very well with this last baby girl. It was her, whose name I remembered and followed until I got this whole story about the sitar family. It was her who kept her father, in name and legacy and practice, until the very last: The family’s final draft.


Bystander’s Heroism

There is a heroism in witnessing and loving stories. It’s so easy to love someone you don’t know, and the best loved are the flawed characters whom you will love truly and cannot save.

And there is heroism in daring to read stories that end in tragedy. That someone so intimately loved and wanted couldn't make good our offerings and left us instead. The glaring realization that even the sincerest love can be not-good-enough, cements warning signs for future failures. Never again would any of us repeat that mistake of loving too much and too selfishly, for the example and hurt will forever be fresh and near our minds. Near enough for us to know the danger signs and to realize when to pull back. Near enough to fear it, that we create a different, shinier kind of protective (s)hell for ourselves. Anything but that kind of misery.

Our lives were meant to cross each others' so that progress might happen. You hear stories about children eloping and war and diseases, never considering the thought that they might be one of yours. If it were your mother who was a whore, would you have spoken so lightly of prostitutes? If it were your brother who shot himself, would you have belittled depression? If you were the one who failed, would you ever laugh at other people's stumbles and falls?

That. That is the intermingling gift in stories, for both the teller and listener. The reason why some of us might make it very well, or make it very differently from the rest of their kin, and the stories that have made it possible for every kind to be okay.

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