The news spread all over the school like wildfire.
“Just imagine, The Warblers at our school concert!” said Disha. “No one’s going to believe us when we tell them.”
“It’s providential that their drummer is a pal of your cousin’s, Swati,” remarked Sriram.
“And that he requested them on our behalf,” added Stanley.
“It was sporting of your uncle Roger to invite them to stay the night at his place,” said Swati, “To speak nothing of the principal agreeing to it. He might not have!”
Disha, Sriram, Stanley and Swati, known to the rest of the school as The Quartet (“Qs” for short), had been friends from the kindergarten and had come up the school together. They were now in the highest class and led the class in studies, games and co-curricular activities. All of them shared one passion. They were avid Rock fans and had managed to spread a great deal of their own enthusiasm in the school.
Stanley had an uncle who was young and keen on music. He often took the Qs to rock concerts held in Bangalore, the nearest metro city, where they had watched several well-known bands perform. The Warblers, one of the latest to join the bandwagon, had made headlines recently with lots of newspaper coverage and TV interviews. Thanks to the profusion of cable channels that telecast rock concerts regularly, they knew quite a lot about their favourite bands. The technicalities of their music might go over their heads but they knew the names of the members, what instrument they played and so on.
Sunbeams High was known for its concerts. Always well organized, they usually managed to do something different every time. But this year no one could think of anything original. So, when the Qs heard of The Warblers performing in the next town, they lost no time trying to get them for their concert. The Warblers were young and sporting and still remembered their own schooldays. Besides, they happened to be free that Saturday. So they had agreed.
A year ago this would have been impossible! Mr. Narayan, their old head, was strictly traditional and did not approve of pop culture. But Mr. Paul, the new principal, had a modern outlook and saw no harm in letting The Warblers perform - so long as they played gratis!
Sunbeams High had a decent auditorium with an excellent sound system donated by a hotshot ex-student. It was packed to capacity that Saturday, although most parents were not interested in rock music and some didn’t even know what it was! But they were keen to see the play and prize distribution. The Warblers were to provide the grand finale. The Qs, standing close to the stage, couldn’t wait for them to begin! They looked eagerly at the group. There were two guitarists, a keyboard player, a drummer and the lead singer. They also had a roadie, obviously a friend, who saw to the technical nitty-gritty.
The Qs sat together as usual. They listened rapturously as the band played song after song, mostly their own compositions, with some popular numbers thrown in. Had it not been school, many of them would have got up and danced! But it was their prize-day and they were honour bound to mind their Ps and Qs.
Finally, they came to the last piece.
“Oh do you think they would...” began Swati….
But before she could complete her sentence it happened! The contraption holding up the curtain suddenly collapsed and fell against the roadie standing in a corner of the stage, knocking him down. He lay white and still amidst the wild confusion that broke out. The principal took over at once, requesting the audience to leave as quietly as possible. Several seniors were on the stage, trying to help. Swati fetched water; Disha splashed his face while Sriram and Stanley helped the band pack up their instruments. Others stood around, asking how they might help.
“He’s fainted,” said Swati, “Hope he isn’t too badly hurt.”
“I say, he hasn’t broken his leg, has he?” asked Sunil, the drummer, “That would be disaster!”
“We should rush him to the doctor,” said Kranti, the leader of the band.
“Don’t worry, our principal will see to it,” said Disha.
The school watchman carried the unconscious lad into the principal’s car. Mr. Paul called the band members to join him.
“We are taking him to Dr. Vikram’s nursing home,” he told the others.
“It’s in the next street,” said Sriram to the Qs, “Let’s go too.”
Fortunately Dr. Vikram was in. The principal went inside with the semi-conscious boy while the rest waited outside. Everyone looked tense and worried.
“I suppose you’ll have to send for his parents,” said Swati to the lead guitarist,
“He can’t possibly travel with you now.”
“No, obviously he can’t. But we can’t send him home either,” said Kranti, “We must make some other arrangement.”
“Why? Wouldn’t he want to go home at a time like this?” asked Disha, bewildered.
“No,” he said, “There’s a problem. Sorry I can’t discuss his personal affairs. Let’s see what the doctor says.”
“The main problem is that we have to leave early tomorrow morning,” said Sunil,
“We have a show in Mysore and a series of shows after that. Or else one of us would have stayed back.”
The other three had already left with Stanley’s uncle, taking their bags along. Dr. Vikram soon emerged from the OT.
“He has fractured his leg. Nothing serious but he will have to keep it raised for a while. I have set it and given him a shot. I’d better keep him here tonight.”
“I think you can leave him here quite safely,” Mr. Paul told the two band members, “I feel responsible for him because it happened during my school show. Don’t worry about him. I shall make all the necessary arrangements. And don’t let this upset your programme. Leave your mobile number with me and I’ll let you know how things go. I expect he will want to go home as soon as he is able. I’ll arrange that too.”
“But Sir, it hardly seems fair to trouble you,” said Kranti.
“We’ll help too and look him up after school so that he doesn’t get too bored,” said Sriram, Disha, Stanley and Swati.
“That would be really nice of you,” said Kranti and Sunil together. The Warblers left after thanking the principal once again. Mr. Paul took Aditya to his own apartment above the school library the next day. Dr. Sharma had told Aditya to keep the leg up most of the time for a week at least. Mr. Paul had assumed that he would want to go home at the first opportunity and asked him if he had spoken to his people yet.
“I don’t have a mobile, Sir,” said Aditya.
“I see. No problem. Use mine,” he said, giving him his mobile, “I’d have called your people myself, but I didn’t want to worry them last night.”
“Sir, if you don’t mind, could you please let me stay here for a week?” asked Aditya unexpectedly, “I don’t mean in your house, of course. Any place in your school would do. I wouldn’t trouble anyone. I expect the watchman can buy my food from the school canteen or a shop.”
“But why?” asked Mr. Paul in surprise, “Don’t you want to go home?”
“There is no one at home,” said Aditya looking away, “My father is away on a visit. I don’t want to worry him. I’m sure I’ll be able to move around by next week and my friends would take me home.”
“Very well, if that’s what you want,” said Mr. Paul, “I’ll have you shifted to the room next to the library. It has an attached bath. It used to be the librarian’s room. But he left us this term. Don’t worry about meals. My cook will bring them down to you while you are here. One of the watchmen is always around and can lend you a hand if needed. And the children can come and see you when they are free. I hope you don’t mind sleeping alone downstairs?”
“No Sir, not at all.”
“Do tell me if you need anything. What about clothes etc?”
“Kranti left my bag so I don’t need anything else. Thank you for letting me stay, Sir.”
Mr. Paul left for school while Aditya tried to settle down with the newspaper. He was looking out of the window pensively when the Qs turned up after school.
“Hello there! Do you feel better?” asked Swati.
“I got my I-pod for you. I knew you’d be bored with nothing to do,” said Sriram.
“I brought my transistor in case you want to listen to the FM,” said Disha.
“That was kind and thoughtful. Thanks ever so much,” said Aditya. “Couldn’t you stay for a while? It would be so nice to talk to someone.”
“Get chairs from the library, everyone,” said Stanley, sitting on the windowsill. Here’s some chocolate.”
“May we call you Aditya?” asked Swati, sitting down.
“Of course. Or Adi.”
“How did you join The Warblers? You’re their roadie, aren’t you?”
Swati did not believe in beating about the bush!
“I expect you’ve known them for ages?” asked Stanley.
“Oh yes. They were my seniors in college and I’ve always been an ardent fan of their music. I dreamt of being part of their group someday but I was in my final year when they formed The Warblers and I didn’t have the time to make the attempt.”
“How did you get to be their roadie then?” asked Disha.
“I decided to acquire the technical know-how required by bands from my cousin who is an electronic whiz so that I could be of some use to them,” said Aditya, “I was so thrilled when they decided to take me on. They took me into their family, so to speak!”
“Kranti said last night that there was some problem about your going home…” began Swati. Sriram stopped her.
“Aditya, I hope you don’t mind our asking all these questions,” he said, “It’s not idle curiosity on our part. We are asking because we are interested.”
“Nice of you,” said Aditya, “I don’t mind telling you what the problem is. People are bound to know sooner or later.”
He paused for a while before speaking, “You see, I graduated recently and my dad wants me to go for an MBA and then join his business. But I hate the thought. The only thing that interests me is music. I want to belong to The Warblers in any capacity. But dad is dead against it.”
“But surely he must have known how you felt and how keen you were on rock music if you spent most of your time hanging round The Warblers?” asked Stanley surprised.
“Oh he knew I was keen. But he thought it was something I’d outgrow after I graduated and go for ‘something worthwhile’.”
“What did your mother feel?” asked Disha.
“She died when I was a kid. There’s just the two of us, dad and I, and he wouldn’t even try to understand me!”
“Didn’t you try to explain?”
“I did but he wouldn’t listen to me. We had a big row and my dad said if I wanted to join a rock band I could be on my own and not expect him to support me. He said that I’d come crawling back soon enough when I realized how tough real life was! So I walked out and met The Warblers. They sympathized and took me in as their roadie. That’s all. They’ve always been fond of me and knew how keen I was on their music.”
“Why did you want to join them?” asked Disha, “Do you play or sing yourself?”
“I play the guitar and also sing a bit,” said Aditya, “Being the roadie is fine by me as I am part of that life. It’s the only thing I ever wanted. But I do wish dad had understood me. I miss him.”
As the Qs walked back home Sriram said, “I wish we could do something for poor Adi.”
“But what? We can’t go and confront his dad!”
“At least we can spend some time with him so that he doesn’t feel too lonely,” said Swati. And they looked him up every day and soon became friends.
The week flew by. The Qs were sitting with Aditya that evening when he suddenly said, “You four have been real sports! I wish I could do something in return.”
“Well, you can,” said Swati, “Couldn’t you sing some of the songs The Warblers sang that night? Or some of your own favourites?”
“Sure I wouldn’t be disturbing anybody?” asked Adi
“There isn’t a soul around. It’s the weekend,” said Disha.
Aditya sang Yesterday, a popular Beatles number. The Warblers loved the Beatles and sang many of their songs in their programmes. Aditya had a deep and melodious voice and sang with real feeling.
“Wow!” cried a voice behind them, “Didn’t know you could sing like that, Adi!”
Aditya started. Kranti, and Sunil stood at the door staring at him in sheer disbelief.
“How nice to see you!” said Aditya, and added, “You’ve heard me sing often enough at your jamming sessions.”
“Singing in a chorus is different from singing solo,” said Kranti, “And you never sang like this.”
“Nice of you to cheer up old Adi,” said Sunil, smiling at the Qs., “Did you ask him to sing?”
“Yes”, said Disha, “Aren’t you glad we did?”
“It seems quite providential,” said Kranti, “Adi, will you be our lead singer?”
“Do you mean it?” cried Aditya, his eyes like stars, “But what about Balu? I say, has his US project really come through?”
“He had the letter last evening,” said Kranti, “He’ll be leaving for the States soon. We are happy for him – though it leaves us somewhat stranded.”
“Why? You could be the lead singer yourself, Kranti,” said Aditya.
“I could. But it would be nicer to have you – if you sing like this,” he replied, “ We came to take you back with us this evening. But we must see Mr. Paul first and thank him.”
“It seems like a dream come true!” whispered Aditya.
“You could call yourself David Gilmour!” said Sriram.
“Why David Gilmour?” asked Swati and Disha puzzled.
“David Gilmour was a roadie for Pink Floyd before he was asked to join their band,” said Stanley.
Everyone laughed. In a short while The Warblers were off.
“If only Adi’s father would forgive him!” said Swati, as they walked back home.
“You can’t have everything the way you want,” said Sriram.
Aditya, the new lead singer of The Warblers, was a hit from his first performance, which took place after his plaster was removed. The Qs had remained in touch and were thrilled with the news.
“I wish we could go to hear him!” cried Swati. “But we have the exams looming up next week. No hope of our parents letting us go. What rotten luck!”
Sriram sighed. “Let’s hope and pray we get a chance to hear him soon.”
His words proved prophetic because after a few weeks Disha came running and burst out excitedly, “The Warblers are performing next week in Bangalore to raise funds for the Spastic Society. A special show called Yesterday.”
“Wow! We mustn’t miss that,” Stanley’s eyes gleamed.
“I’m sure a lot of oldies will come to hear them,” Swati mused.
“Do-do you think Aditya’s father might attend too?” Sriram asked.
“Oh, how wonderful if he does,” Disha clasped her hands. “After all, he lives in Bangalore, and… it’s a charity show for a good cause.”
“If only he would!” They chorused together.
Uncle Roger had already promised to take them. D-day arrived and they set off for the venue. The Qs were really excited because this time they knew the performers, which made them feel quite important. They sat there whispering excitedly till the show began.
Aditya cast a spell with his very first song:
All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday …..
Aditya was really at his best, the others harmonizing when required. Their sponsor had asked for a trip down memory lane, so they sang one old favourite after another. The audience, many of them senior citizens, sat enthralled.
Unknown to the others, Swati had done something daring. She had managed to discover Aditya’s father’s name during their conversation and had located his address. She had written to him, begging him to come to the show and had signed the letter “A Friend of Aditya”. She kept wondering if the letter had reached him and if he would really come.
The last song was Aditya’s own. There was a hush as he started:
I was never afraid of the dark
As you were there to hold my hand
I never missed a mother’s love
As you were there to understand –
The words seemed to pour out until he reached the concluding stanza, the rest of the group joining him in the chorus:
Things have never been the same
Since the day we chose to part
Walking a path that never crossed
But you’ve always been within my heart …..
The song ended. The music stopped. They took their last bow together.
The Qs waited to congratulate Aditya personally. But before they could reach him they saw a gentleman heading straight for him. He was tall and had salt and pepper hair. He said something in a low voice and the next moment Aditya was in his arms.
“Is that his father?” asked Disha.
“I think he is,” said Swati, her heart singing.
“I’m so glad he came, “ said Sriram, “I’m sure all will be well now.”
“We won’t disturb them tonight,” said Stanley.
And the Qs made quietly for the car where Uncle Roger waited to take them home.