Rosalyn D'Mello: An encounter and an epiphany

Apr 21, 2017, 02:51 IST | Rosalyn D'Mello

It's exhilarating to be unafraid of failure, to let go. And, in the end, it is these incidental things that change the trajectories of our lives

The author performs with musician Jose Neil Gomes. Pic/Sharon Irani
The author performs with musician Jose Neil Gomes. Pic/Sharon Irani

I surprised myself during my week-long Mumbai interlude by making it to Andheri over three consecutive days. Way back when I used to work at a renowned city-based fortnightly magazine, I remember one of the cover stories we worked on was called "The Republic of Andheri", because that suburb always felt a little bit cut out from the rest of Mumbai and the world, thanks to the infamous traffic that separates it from the known universe.

It was like a ghetto, if you lived there, you never quite left; if you didn't live there, you never quite visited. I live in Kurla, and even though technically, Andheri, particularly Andheri East, is only a couple of kilometres away, the traffic can make it seem like it's in another time zone.

It's the metro, really, that has bridged the actual and notional distance between my neck of the woods and Andheri. I was shocked that it took me just 20 minutes to get between Ghatkopar and Versova the other evening, when I was going to listen to what turned out to be an amazing Africa-inspired band, Boombay Djembe Folas.

I left my house at 8.20 pm, got a cab to the metro station and by 9.05 pm, I found myself at The Little Door, where the Djembe boys were meant to be playing. The gig was an ecstatic one, and made the non-schlep all the more worthwhile. The general Versova vibe and the musicians I encountered also got me thinking about my general life choice about Khar and Bandra as "hanging out" zones. It takes me much longer to reach either suburb than it now takes for me to arrive in Andheri. I think this emerging reality has got me questioning my social life in the city.

It was not randomly that I went to The Little Door. It was to hear a particular musician; someone who constituted the reason for my first visit to Versova the day before. It had everything to do with me agreeing to perform at the third edition of Live at the Library, an event hosted by a magazine, Helter Skelter, at Ministry of New, a co-working space in Fort, at Kitab Mahal. Incidentally, it is the same building where, at least 17 years ago, I used to attend the monthly meetings of the Poetry Circle, which was where I had my first lessons in the art of criticism and the discipline of writing and the rigour it necessitated, thanks to poets like Jerry Pinto, Arundhati Subramaniam, Jane Bhandari and Ranjit Hoskote.

When Sharon, the magazine's assistant editor called to ask when I might be available to participate in the event, I gave her my dates and asked if it were okay for me to not just read out my work but to collaborate, instead. I was completely absorbed with the final days of the Khoj Residency and I could have taken the easy way out, just read something I'd written and published before. But I'd promised myself that 2017 would be the year I challenged myself by forcing myself to break free from my comfort zone and try the unimagined. So, I insisted on a musician; preferably a violinist, and Sharon was happy to oblige, initially confirming two women, but later apologising for their non-availability on the 19th, and so, finally, sending me a text with the number of a "sweet lad" who "likes Bach memes"; a Jose Neil Gomes.

I looked him up. He turned out to be from Benaulim, in Goa, which was an instant advantage, I thought. Then I read about how he played at least 20 instruments, from the violin to the guitar to the piano to the saxophone and clarinet (though not necessarily at the same time). Having now met him and performed with him, I'm amazed to realise that we could so easily not have met.

Since he plays gigs almost back-to- back, sometimes surviving on an average of two hours of sleep a night in a week, he could so easily have taken that night off, so easily have been elsewhere. But he agreed, and I ended up writing a whole new piece for our performance, about how attention can be a form of prayer, and about how the tongue can be an instrument of ecstasy.

And I find I'm leaving this city on a massive high, hoping, uncertainly, that we might be able to repeat last night's performance, because there was something magnetic about Neil playing the violin, responding to my words. I began to feel unafraid of failure, I found myself letting go, being vulnerable in front of an audience. It was exhilarating.

In the end, it is these incidental things that change the trajectories of our lives. Sometimes, an encounter with a person can be akin to an epiphany. Often, it involves going beyond the borders of your comfort zone, like traveling to Andheri.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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