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Slanting rays of sunset crawl     

Slowly across the carpet on     

Which they sit facing each other     

Master and student, both weary     

As the lesson wears on     

After a silence the old man     

Picks up his veena and gently     

Strumming adjusts the tuning.     

Then his fingers, tough, veined,     

Tremulously probing, coax out a     

Single note allowing it to unfold     

And lead him on     

And the room fills with richly     

Crimson light as the veena     

Comes majestically alive and     

A visitor enters, settling quietly    

On the carpet beside them    

The ustad plays on amid the     

Lengthening shadows, lost     

In dialogue with his enigmatic guest     

While the student, all tiredness     

Forgotten, sits transfixed before them    

Then suddenly the maestro breaks off     

And lays down his veena smiling     

At the wonder in his pupil’s eyes, leaving     

The two of them alone once more     

In the throbbing darkness    

“That, dear child, was raaga Marwa    

 Didn’t you recognize him     

When he came ? This is his time...”

Shivshankar Menon was born in 1962. He received a doctorate in medieval Indian history from Delhi University in 1991, and was in the History Department of St Stephen’s College, Delhi, from 1987 to 2014. Subsequently, he decided to concentrate on language studies – in Russian, Sanskrit, Malayalam and Greek. He divides his time between Delhi and his ancestral home in Kerala.

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