Rosalyn D'Mello: Strumming to the sound of music

Jun 03, 2016, 07:47 IST | Rosalyn D'Mello

The presence of music in one’s life is a constant affair, bringing in melody and therapy in equal measure, whenever required

I am neither ashamed nor embarrassed to admit that as I inch closer to 31, I find myself conscious of the many regrets I have managed to accrue since my childhood. My biggest regret though, is that I did not chase the music despite how loudly and prolifically it called out to me.

At some point, I asked my father to teach me how to play the guitar. He tuned his 12-string guitar (using only six strings) and taught me three chords in one go. Pic for representation/Thinkstock
At some point, I asked my father to teach me how to play the guitar. He tuned his 12-string guitar (using only six strings) and taught me three chords in one go. Pic for representation/Thinkstock

Music runs in my blood. My father is living proof of it. He has always played the guitar. He even used to make guitars when he was young. His father used to repair musical instruments, including mandolins and Stradivarius violins. His mother used to help him make guitar strings in their little home in Dadar, where my father and his siblings grew up.

My father was even in a band, so, though he may not have actively pursued a musical career in his late adulthood, he at least dared to live it at the time he did. This musical inheritance runs in my sister’s and my genes. She was blessed with a gorgeous voice; soulful, honey-like even, with a fabulous range.

Me, I can sing. I can more than hold a tune, but I cannot arrest an audience the way she can. I was perhaps meant to play an instrument. And I did, for a while; I learned to play the piano.

I had the unique pleasure of growing up next door to The Anchan family. Mrs. Anchan, whom I always called Aunty, taught my six-year-old fingers how to play scales. She played beautifully, she was patient, and kind, and ever supportive. And so, I’m really not sure why I stopped going to class. The rational excuse was because I had my 10th board exams, then my 12th. But perhaps the large self-doubting part of me was convinced I just wasn’t good enough. The deep urge to play an instrument didn’t subside, though. At some point, I asked my father to teach me how to play guitar. He tuned his Italian 12-string guitar (using only six strings) and taught me three chords in one go.

Then, he told me to think of as many songs as I could that could be played with just those chords. I was busy for a week. Simultaneously, my friend Leonard taught me a thing or two, which is the only reason why I can sort of play by ear. But I never pursued the guitar either. I never committed to learning its intricacies

My consolation, however, is that I grew up surrounded by music. A childhood memory that lingers most is a string of high-pitched moments during random evening power-cuts in Kurla. The sudden onrush of darkness was a cue for my sister and me to sit on the first and second step of the staircase leading from our first floor to the second. We’d wait a while and then as surely as the sun rises daily in the east and sets in the west, Mrs Anchan would begin to play the piano while her son, Jerry, would accompany her on the cello. Jerry had mastered the cello, the guitar, the violin and the piano; his fingers could dexterously plough each instrument.

Our untrained ears had no ability to recognize what piece was being performed, but we listened with all the naïve intensity we could muster, almost dreading the return of artificial light.

Another person whose love for music inspired generations in Kurla was Uncle Joquim, a violinist. He used to conduct the 7am choir and many of his protégées continue to perform and conduct. Because of his beautiful daughter’s battle with Leukemia, he retreated from active conducting. But one year, my sister and I persuaded him to conduct the midnight choir, led that one time by Maureen and Antoinette, in a rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah for the Easter vigil. It was my generation’s only experience with his legendary conducting skills. We practiced for days on end. I was cast among the tenors. We were all committed to creating a historic moment.

I will never ever forget what it felt to arrive at the climax of that declaration: “Forever and ever and ever and ever” and then a string of Hallelujahs, our combined voices echoing the fervor of that word, the congregation silenced into prayer, the priest moved by the force of Uncle Joquim’s hand guiding us through to the emphatic finish.

I continue to surround myself with music. Given I’m in Delhi and have little access to my neighbor’s prowess, I have assiduously cultivated a relationship with the artist and thespian, Rehaan Engineer, who has promised to play Bach for me. It is when I surrender to the music, give myself up to the workings of people who serve as mediums between the body and the soul, exonerating the creator from the flaws of his creation, that I feel the blood course through my veins, and I come alive.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputed art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx. Send your feedback to

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