In our school, starting from the fourth standard, all students were put in ‘houses’. Each house had an associated colour – red, yellow, blue and green. Inter-house competitions were organised across several disciplines, and at the end of the year, one house was declared the overall winner.
Now I’m not sure if there was a sorting hat involved while deciding which students to put in which house. But I was suspicious. Invariably, the yellow house had awesome athletes, the green one had students who were artistically inclined and did well in cultural activities. The red one had more intellectual students.
And the blue one, well, it had the rest of us. We were never really expected to do well overall, but we sprang a surprise every once in a while.
During one particular year, we had a Sufi Kalam Competition. We had a tough time preparing for it. Unlike other times, there was no one to teach us. Our teacher in-charge gave us a cassette, and we had to listen to the tape in order to learn the song. Fortunately the lyrics were written in the folds of the cover of the album. Our teacher explained to us, the meaning of the lyrics, and we chose the paragraphs we understood.
I don’t remember what the other groups sang. I’m not sure if they also listened to a recorded song and learnt it by themselves. But I remember our song. I remember how we would look for quiet places to practice. Mostly we went to the basement. And if it was closed, we sat on the staircase leading to the basement. We would play the tape and listen intently. The other groups practised in the open, flaunting their songs with pride. And we’d feel tiny in front of them. Everyone was sure the green house would win – and so were we.
The day of the competition arrived. We went over the lines one last time, and clarified which line had to be sung how many times.
As the program started, I began feeling the nerves. I had to sing the opening tune – solo.
A few of the girls tried to comfort me and tried to get me to relax. My mind went blank. My heart pounding, threatening to escape. Our team name was announced, and we went on stage.
As soon as we were seated, the music teacher played the tune. My voice refused to come out. I looked at our music teacher. The expression on her face was crystal clear. ‘Why aren’t you singing? Come on now sing!’ She played the first line again.
And this time, I did sing.
What happened thereafter, was amazing. The whole group joined in at the chorus in unison. A couple of boys got up on their knees and began clapping and dancing. The other girls gave the best of their smiles, and sang with infectious energy and confidence. I was surprised. There were smiles all around, and everyone genuinely had fun while singing. Some students of our house cheered as loudly as they could. Soon the audience joined us in clapping, and we got a great applause at the end.
Our group had some really awesome singers – that year every house had their fair share of singers, but I was extremely proud of our team. We were not really friends, and I struggled to have a decent conversation with them. As I write this, apart from the three girls who sat in the front row next to me, I don’t even remember who were there in the group! But somehow, at that moment, we came together beautifully, and managed to pull one out of the hat.
I don’t remember if we won. I’m too lazy to fish for the certificates. But honestly, I don’t care who won, we, or the green house. I took part in several competitions, and my little box of certificates swells with pride at how many we won, or nearly won. But this one stands out – not because of the outcome, but because we had fun, we felt the song, and the audience loved it.
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Recently, Kozo at Everyday Gurus wrote something about ‘getting the point’. As I sat down typing a comment, I realised it was getting too long. I decided to write a short post. It started with a series of rants, and then this story popped up!