“Peter, where are you going?” demanded Martha.
“None of your business. Go play with your dolls…..you’re always such a pest.”
“You’re going to see the snake charmers, aren’t you? I knew it. Father won’t be happy when he finds out!”
“There is nothing for him to find out since you don’t know anything about what I am doing. Now, beat it, stop bothering me.”
Martha gazed at her older brother as he exited the back door of the pristine mansion. He mounted his bicycle and headed towards the little village a couple of miles from their home. Strapped onto the back of his bike was his prized pungi, a musical gift from the grandfather of his friend Abhay.
The friendship between the two boys was unique, and though Peter’s parents were not in favor of the strange alliance, they did not forbid it. They had met Abhay, and they liked the boy, but socially, he was unfit to mingle with the son of a United States Ambassador.
Peter was very musical, and the first time he saw Abhay on the streets of New Delhi, he was fascinated. While being partially intrigued by the snake charmers, he was more interested in the instruments they played. Abhay’s music was beautiful, unlike the customary, reedy whine produced by the average charmer. His melody was………well……melodic. The boys struck up a conversation and eventually became best friends. Abhay’s grandfather noticed Peter’s keen interest and presented him with one of his own personal instruments.
This pursuit stretched Peter’s parents. Snake charming had no part in their Christian faith and they loathed the mystical voodoo associated with it.
“Mother…..Father……please trust me. You have instilled in me your faith and a commitment to Jesus. My friendship with Abhay is an opportunity to reach one more Hindu for Christ.”
Their half-hearted protest did not dissuade this passionate son.
Peter practiced his pungi day and night. His musical ear and classical western training helped him tame the traditional abrasive sound with a loose, sax-like imitation. Within a short time he was playing a modal version of Mongo Santamaria’s jazz tune, “Afro-Blue” and charming the socks off his parent’s guests and visitors. He couldn’t wait to get back out to the village and demonstrate his new technique.
A couple of days later he entered the village, “Abhay, Abhay…….I have something to show you!”
Donning his turban, Abhay emerged with a basket and his pungi. He sat down cross-legged and motioned his friend to do the same. He removed the lid from its woven container and began to play, waving the end of his instrument over the opening. Soon, a head emerged, the head of an Indian Cobra. This was not the old, tired, lifeless snake that his grandfather had given him. This was a gorgeous, vibrant animal that had just been captured right outside of the village. Peter’s mouth fell open as he witnessed this spirited animal come to life.
As quickly as he began, Abhay stopped the music and the Cobra dropped back down inside his new home. Peter was breathless, “can I try?”
Abhay nodded and Peter began with a slow intro, alternating two notes…..back and forth, accelerating to a rapid trill. He moved the bulb of the pungi in a circular motion and the cobra’s head slowly appeared. Once its hood was fully visible, Peter played a two-octave glissando that set the tempo for the unconventional jazz piece. His movements matched the velocity of the music; and the snake? Well that snake didn’t have a chance. That cobra started movin’ and groovin’.............he really had his “swerve on.”
The villagers had never heard anything like this and came running to see what was going down at Abhay’s digs. By this time, Abhay and Peter were on their feet dancin’ and that snake was having the time of his life.
Suddenly, Grandfather appeared. “STOP! What is going on here?”
The music ended abruptly and no one moved……..except the snake. With a thud, it dropped dead from exhaustion. All eyes went from the snake to the grandfather, then to Peter and Abhay. Peter was horrified at what had just happened. His facial expression pleaded for forgiveness.
Abhay responded in awe, “What was that music?”
“It’s called Jazz!”
“Can you teach me to do that?”
“Well sure, but what about your snake?”
“Hey man, I can get another snake. I dig your sound; you have got to teach me how to really blow!”
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