For as long as he could remember, his father had sat down for riyaaz at 6am three days of the week. He would start with the scale, using the tanpura to keep the pitch in check, then move on to a raaga chosen for the day and go through its exposition. At five to seven, like clockwork, he would sing his final song, which was always the same — a beloved Marathi bhajan, called Mage Ubha Mangesh. He would then get ready for work, leaving home by eight. It would take him an hour to cover the requisite 15 kilometers, in traffic that felt like walking through molasses. He was an architect at a well-known firm, and worked late, reaching home by 8pm.
The boy would be woken up at quarter to seven, to get on the school bus an hour later, so he always associated riyaaz with groggily brushing his teeth. His mother was used to the frenetic mornings and handled them phlegmatically, the way some women do — two kids to put onto school buses, with some breakfast in their tummies, the correct homework in their bags, along with lunchboxes prepared the night before, and one husband to feed as well. By the time all three were out of the house, she would feel like the hardest part of her day was over. She taught Physics at a nearby high school, and would be home by 3pm, along with the boys. Then followed homework and extra-curriculars, then the dinner routine, and before you knew it, it was bedtime.
The years went on, as they have a habit of doing. The boy finished college and went abroad for further studies. He was never overly interested in music, and even in the phase when he listened to some, thanks to his peers, it wasn’t the kind that his father sang. It wasn’t that he was disrespectful towards his father’s music, it was just that he wasn’t particularly interested. In any case, his father had never harboured musical ambitions for him, and even if he had, the son had done so well in his chosen field of Biology that there was no straying from that path.
The boy decided that he would pay a surprise visit on his father’s 60th birthday. He had not seen his parents for a few years, though there had been Skype chats aplenty. He told his mother about the plan, and she guarded the secret zealously. It took him 30 hours of transit to get to his old hometown from his new one — train, plane, plane, bus, cab — and he got home just before 7am on the day. As he got out of the cab he knew, without question, what his father would be doing at that moment. His mother opened the door for him quietly so as not to alert the father. They exchanged a warm hug and as he started walking towards the riyaaz room, he started humming the old familiar bhajan. He hadn’t really thought of it in many years, but he had heard it in his father’s sonorous voice far too many times not to know it. When his father’s eyes fell on him, they were on the exact same phrase, the exact same note, as if in lockstep, as if they had been singing together their whole lives. The boy smiled. He knew he was home.