I took the bus to Bhaktapur this morning, the first in two weeks. It hasn’t changed. It was still crowded with people on their way to work, students going to class, and piles of fruits from the wholesale market on their way out to town to be sold. The only thing we were missing in our assembly were chickens or a goat. The price is still 20 rupees one way.
Ravi opened the courtyard door for me—the first student of the day. “Do you always stay here?” I asked him. “No, I’m just on duty today from 6 to 10.” He opened the upstairs studio, unlocking the door and opening the shutters on the windows. “Bhajaunus,” he said as he went back down to the courtyard.
I was a little rusty, not having practiced for two weeks. While I worked on rhythm patterns, I could hear Ravi’s flute in the courtyard below.
Buddhalal shadowed the door at 8:55. “Namaste! Are you well?”
“Yes, I’m well. And you? Are you well?”
“No, I’m not well…I have a cough, my head hurts, and I have a fever.”
“Why didn’t you call me then?” I asked surprised.
“You haven’t been here in a while,” was his reply. “Play!”
After demonstrating that I knew the rhythm of “Basanta” somewhat well, he called Ravi up from the courtyard. “I can’t play flute today, I’ll start coughing,” he said, “so you’ll play with Ravi.”
Ravi came up and seated himself by the door. Buddhalal gave him some instructions in Newar, which amounted to seeing if he could play the correct tune. After some agreement as to who was to start and how many bars I was to leave off before entering, we played through it.
The secretary’s young assistant arrived for work and decided to sit with us a while. Not only did I have an accompanist (the madal is the lead instrument for many of these tunes, I’m discovering), and my instructor, but now, an audience member. In previous weeks, it had been similar. There had been more than one Friday where the secretary decided to visit my lesson while he had his afternoon tea, and comment on my playing or have some chitchat with my instructor in Newari. Not to mention the fact that the windows have no glass or screens, the door is always open, and the sound of the drum can be heard all over the school’s courtyard. If only this kind of thing had happened when I was taking piano lessons in college, maybe I would have gotten over my shyness of playing in front of people more completely.
Then, Buddhalal decided that, since we had a good flute player with us that day, we would play through some of my other tunes. We pulled out Manghal Dhun and Ghatu. I wasn’t about to attempt Holi—I told Buddhalal that was the hardest one and I hadn’t practiced it in a while. “Well, practice that this week, and play it well the next time you come,” he told me. "You're doing well. Now, you just need to play phurtilama." I gave him a puzzled look, so Ravi said in English "with energy."
“Now, for a new tune…which one to teach?” Buddhalal mused a moment. I wanted to say “an easy one, not a complicated one,” but kept my mouth shut. Finally, he said, “Resham Firiri.” I almost rolled my eyes. Of all traditional tunes, that is the one overplayed. But again, what kind of madal player would I be if I didn’t know that tune? And it was definitely easy.
“La, that’s enough for today,” Buddhalal said. “And my tabla student is here.”
“If you’re sick again on Friday, call me,” I told him. He nodded his head as he left the studio and walked down to the courtyard.