Golden curtains of light flowing through the crystalline glass of the chandeliers. Monochromatically coloured attire adorned by monochromatic men balancing intricately crafted steel platters. A beautifully polished marble-granite floor blanketed by an expensive Persian rug, embroidered with the swollen pride of emperors atop gloriously festooned elephants.
Circular tables sprinkled carelessly, laden with a heavy, snow white cloth and garnished with a small candle and a red rose gasping for natural light. Sparse conversation flowing between men and women in constricted clothing, each of them engaged in their own thoughts behind those dead eyes, plastered smiles and expensive noses. He observed this scene of murder -– murder of reason, of prudence, of honesty -– every single night and said a silent prayer. He did not, of course, ask to change the world around him, he prayed that the world would never change him.
This night, however, he did not pray. He closed his eyes, but unlike the other days, darkness descended rapidly, like the rain outside the arrogant French windows, upon his life. A tear involuntarily escaped the confines of his eyelids and raced towards his sharp, trimmed moustache and lost its way there. He had promised her he wouldn't cry. He reluctantly opened his eyes and soon realized that the light in the room only draped an extra curtain of darkness and despair around him. He picked up his pre-war Martin 000-42 and placed it gently on his lap. An electric zeal always ran down his spine the moment his fingers strayed on its blood-stained strings. He was the master and it was his slave for life. It did as he wished it to. Seldom was a note out of place and never was the tone anything but sublime.
Today was different; it did not spring at his tactile caress, it did not leap with joy like a young lover in anticipation, it did not dance like a toad on the onset of the monsoon, it lay limp like that bombay duck on the third table from the left. It was almost as if it had become lifeless. Perhaps, it was him.
He flashed a thumbs-up sign to his drummer. Normally, it meant he was raring to go; today he wanted to get this out of the way. His fingers pranced on the notes of the E chord as the familiar guitar introduction of 'Walk of Life' seeped its way into the hall. He hated the song, more so today. But it was a song people liked, or at the least faked recognition. His thoughts deviated to that day when a conspicuous executive from a prominent music recording company had dropped his business card into the upturned hat in front of the stage, even as he flashed his glinting tooth. He had fished out the card from the hat with trembling expectancy and had called the number at the bottom left on the card from the reception desk of the hotel. He was allowed three free calls per week and this was his first. He had never availed it before and would never do it again. The executive, after gloating that he had made the best decision of his life, went on to explain how he thought a mixture of dance beats and a few Punjabi lyrics could really propel him to the zeniths of stardom. 'I will make you the Brain Adams of India', he had swaggered. The receptionist at the hotel was left agape when she saw the antique phone being banged down in revulsion. He had said to himself what he always did when faced with such experiences - principle before money, heart before brain, satisfaction before indulgence. The world would never change him.
An improvised lead of 'Tears In Heaven' was demanding the unconditional attention of everyone present in the hall when a man dressed in black walked out of the shadows and whispered something dreadful into his ear. Time halted for a fleeting moment and then suddenly rushed forward to make up. His fingers became paralyzed, his brain went numb, the bones in his legs dissolved and the life in his eyes were sucked dry. The guitar slipped out of his hands and fell to the floor and his soul ruptured into a hundred pieces. She had fought valiantly for the last fifteen nights, but today, she had lost the battle. If she had held on for two more days, he would have had enough money to help her win the war. His world collapsed around him and his dreams were rudely awakened. She had made him promise that he wouldn't cry. As tears swelled in his blood shot eyes, he closed his eyelids, saw her smiling face and said to her, 'Forgive me. This is one promise I will not be able to keep.'
Nobody knew what to say or how to act as he picked himself up from the stage and left through the back door. His long shadow guided him into the star-lit night and as he became one with the shadows, his thoughts stampeded towards him -– pride before subservience, scruples before luxuries, the world will not change me. He buried his face in his hands and his frail legs gave way as he fell to his knees.