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10.04.2013

This is the second story in our series that sets out to reveal, credit, and interrogate Delhi-based citizens who are invested in living the kinda old school arts in our contemporary time. While I thought I’d never get over how a real-life desi Betty Crocker had me blushing just last week, this session had me tingling with the joy of uncovering a gentleman’s inner-most passion which he is finally ready to talk about and share. It would suffice to say that the classically trained, way laid-back musician knows how to tickle both the ivories and my humour.

Attuned to every fluctuation in tone, Sahil Vasudeva is a classic pianist who advises to ‘keep it chilled’ as he cracks open a beer in shorts at his house on an early Saturday evening. Lesson one: long-term dedication equals eventual gratification. Later, in reference to our conversation about the accessibility (and lack thereof) Western Classical music as a genre – of which he is a scholar, practitioner, and now able teacher - he claims that his outfit rather than an awkward suit, is precisely what he’d like to perform Chopin’s most serious pieces in. And this minor but actually major fact, like the narrative that Sahil sets out to tell, reflects the windy, deep-rooted and self-reflexive relationship he’s developed with what he describes as the instrument akin to basic grammar for all other instrumental languages.

At age “twelvish”, Sahil’s mom picked up his baby grand at a junkyard and placed it in what was then, a limited residential space. Being at the centre of his life, home, and world, the act of listening and thinking about Western Classical Music – its form, theme, depth and meaning – became a daily and enjoyable, post family-dinner affair. This method, accompanied by other causal activities like visiting piano recitals, is one that he plans to incorporate into his own private lessons. “You have to make it fun for the student,” Sahil states, recounting his own restlessness as a twelve year old and the multiple attempts he would make to get out of his classes. And this priority for fun at the outset, a condition he makes clear whilst showcasing his tiled, orthodontist-labored teeth, is one which bears the mark of sincerity for any auntie who wants to learn the piano, “but never had the time to pick it up” or maybe for her pill-popping son, who “is so naughty," the teacher would definitely approve.

“The piano has the ability to always lure you back in, and reminds you that you can never be too good for your own good…. or basically become like a lame rock band.”

Though Sahil says he’ll keep his lessons at 45 minutes each “because more than that requires a stronger attention span which doesn’t just come like that,” the ‘hi-hello’ time you will get with him outside of class time is delightfully free. And this chitchat opportunity, possibly lightened by a glass of cold coffee, is the time in which you may understand that you’re being schooled in more than just Western Classical piano. The man declares that if you’re his student, he’s ready to see you pissed off, delighted, oblivious or aware of your own mood swings, and hopefully stunned at the magically surreal moments when your fingers may learn a piece while you sleep (this does happen, he assures). And at your worst, he’s ready to squirm if you “bang on the piano:” an act that unlike the most conventional associations the word banging has acquired, here, even in its cacophony, forces you to introspect in an intelligent way.

“But it’s not easy,” he lets you know, just in case you were thinking otherwise (you weren’t). Learning a piece on the piano — being exactly a metaphor for process, progress, and its discontents — can give you the feeling of achievement for maybe just that afternoon, your whole life, or just an off-beat night. This possibility of perhaps delivering temporary satisfaction and/or building a dedication to a life-long addiction and commitment is what Sahil explains as the stipulation that allows the piano to become a life-long companion unlike say, a guitar and all its ahem, players. “The piano has the ability to always lure you back in, and reminds you that you can never be too good for your own good…. or basically become like a lame rock band.”

“When was the last time you heard someone say, “Oh that concert pianist really sucked?” Sahil asks me, only half-serious now, beer killed. Our theatrics imagine that this made up character wouldn’t have gotten the memo about grammar being key way back in middle school.

Getting there: Email Sahil at sahilvasudeva@gmail.com, lessons held at 43 Prithviraj Road, Monday-Friday, individual classes only, price on request.

This story was contributed by Meher Varma, who looks at clothes, aesthetics and beauty through rose-tinted anthropological lenses.

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