Mehernosh Khan: Spring (about) time



You know that spring is imminent when the Tanglewood program arrives in the mail. On the cover is a large tree in the center of a green lawn as if to will spring into being. Nothing, not even nature, can stop the performance of the BSO. This year, they will be playing the accompaniment music to "The Wizard of Oz" and so of course Karen and I will be off to see the wizard. But driving by the grounds, there is still little green to see through the snow-covered fields.

Classical music has always been an important part of my life and if you let me digress I will tell you a story about the only Steinway piano in Bombay (or Mumbai as it is now known.)

As an only child growing up in a joint family in an apartment building, I had many lonely hours to spend on my own. My second cousin, who was similar in age, was my only playmate. One of our early discoveries in a storage room was a portable gramophone. "His Master’s Voice" said the logo on the cover complete with a picture of a white dog sitting and apparently listening in front of a large horn which was actually the speaker of the early machines. It was an old-fashioned one that required winding up and used replaceable needles. We also found a stash of old 78 RPM classical music records.

Pretty soon we were conducting Beethoven and Mozart with The London Symphony at our command. And we did not stop there. Things got really heated up when we found some opera music. "O Sole Mio’’ as voiced by the great tenor Mario Lanza, was our favorite. My cousin and I tried to mimic him with our best imitations, as we tried to outdo each other with our fake baritones. This of course resulted in some interesting discussions around the family table for and against creative expression. Which brings me to the story of the only Steinway piano.

On the first floor of the apartment (named Roxana, as all the buildings in Bombay have names) there lived two spinsters, the Surveyor sisters, (last names were often based on the profession of your forefathers) who also happened to be excellent piano teachers. The back of each apartment faced a central courtyard and in the afternoon, when they were done with their students, you could hear music floating up. I think Chopin was their favorite; it was like having your own personal concert pianist performing for you. The source of all that heavenly music was a Steinway grand piano.

The climate is tropical and heat and humidity can play havoc with wood. Although there were probably other Steinways in the city, this was in perfect tune, so whenever there was an international symphony visiting the city and it needed a piano, about a dozen men would show up in an open truck and carefully haul the piano out of the apartment, cover it with canvas and secure it in the back of the truck. They would then reverse that operation when the concert was over. Of course all the occupants of the apartment building would show up on the driveway with bated breath, under the watchful eye of the spinsters, as they supervised the loading and unloading. And when I peruse the programs to be presented at Tanglewood I often wonder what happened to the Surveyor sisters. And the Steinway of my childhood!

You know that spring is imminent when your friends make rowing motions as they walk on by, kidding me about my attempt last summer with kayaking -- which as some of you readers know, ended up with me being unceremoniously baptized in Lake Onota! (See op-ed piece ‘Yakking about Kayaks, "Eagle, Sept. 11, 2013). This time I plan to do it right. So no more jokes please. I will see you on the lake!

Dr. Mehernosh Khan is a Pittsfield-based physician and occasional Eagle contributor.


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