“Why is your voice shaking?” he asks her, this stunningly beautiful young woman, dressed in a traditional sari. It is a music class and she is his student. Even as she ponders the question, he tells her, using words as well as gestures, that sexual intercourse could cause the voice to shake. She is too stunned to respond, or, even to call her husband, who would be equally concerned by this. Her husband’s music lesson with this Teacher had always preceded her own. Sensing her vulnerability, he says, that he will also speak to her husband. When husband and wife, share a moment, on the following day, she discovers that the Teacher’s discourse on sexual intercourse had been reserved for her alone, in the privacy of their class. Something felt terribly inappropriate.

And yet she continued to learn music from him. Every few days, at the beginning of their music lesson, he would casually remark, “Why is your voice shaking?”. She would go pale and feel a rage at the insinuation, at what appeared to be an insidious game, behind the question. Until one morning, after he had taxed her for not hitting the notes right, she choked, tears streamed from her eyes, and she was unable to sing anymore. He panicked and asked her, to go find her husband. The class ended and somehow that day, even to her husband, she couldn’t fully express, the cause of her distress. But then, she was introspective by nature, and her intuition told her, that she must face this beast, and overcome it. With her husband by her side, she visited the home of her Teacher and spoke to him of the cause of her choking up, of how affected she had been, by his words, on the subject of sexual intercourse. In the presence of her husband, and in the face of such a genuine and open confrontation, the Teacher looked trapped and feigned loss of memory, for a moment. He looked towards the door, furtively, to ensure, that neither his own wife, or, his daughter, were overhearing all this. Then, somewhat reassured by her husband’s calm demeanour, and her own apparent vulnerability, he posited once again, that the human voice does shake for a couple of days, after intercourse. He admitted that it was something his own teachers had only hinted at. It was in their culture, not to talk about such things, explicitly. “Why then had he been so crudely suggestive with her?” she thought. While appearing helpless and vulnerable, she reminded him of the ethics of the renowned institution he came from, which encouraged a certain dress code, discipline and culture. मर्यादा – Maryada (respectful restraint) and संप्रदाय – Sampradaya (a living stream of tradition) were the hallmarks of that Institution. He was simply being frank, he said, because of his sense of belonging, and the privileged relationship he enjoyed with her. She replied that she too was now being frank, with a little help, from her husband. Citing the example of Swami Vivekananda and the constant testing to which he put his own great Master, Sri Ramakrishna, she said that while it was her nature to be a sincere student, her Teacher too must prove, to be worthy of the respect he received from her. Had she not walked away, time and again, from mediocrities and those lacking in culture!

She reminded him that she was a married woman. Unlike those who weren’t in a conjugal, loving, relationship, she valued the togetherness she enjoyed with her husband. The Teacher had once said that there was no music, without श्रुति – Shruti. That without Shruti, it was not music, but simply noise. In recollection of this, she boldly affirmed now, “Our love for each other, our togetherness, is our श्रुति – Shruti. This is absolutely clear to the both of us. We are learning to sing, for the joy of music, for our togetherness, in our love for each other, and for God. Anybody, or, any situation, that takes us away from this oneness, has no place in our lives, and is shown the door, out of our lives”. Her husband was beside her, one with her, in feeling and in expression, translating for the Teacher’s benefit, his wife’s words, whenever he felt they hadn’t been properly understood.

“I am jealous of you as a couple”, the Teacher said, in a rather unusual, high pitched, voice. “You are both interested in learning music and in singing together. It is something I’ve wanted in my life. My wife has never been interested in learning music”. An awkward silence followed.

Feeling the need to ease the growing tension, he assumed an air of nonchalance and smiling slightly, told her that she needn’t take his words this seriously. That the connection between sexual intercourse and a shaky voice, was more true for men than for women, albeit, not really true, for all men. Practice, he claimed, was the panacea for everything. He advised now, that no matter what he said, she should only follow whatever she found to be true, in her own experience. He himself, despite his own Teacher’s instruction, continued to have a good time with his wife. Both husband and wife listened to him, with indulgence. Believing now, that he had cleared the air, he ventured into yet another territory. Taking the example of a rather famous female singer, he said, that she had never given birth to children, making the point, that having children, was bad for a Mother’s voice. At which point, the husband piped up, “We have three children”. This left the Teacher, with just one solution to offer his luckless students. “Practice!” he said. “With practise, you can overcome any situation and rise to great heights in music”.

They had told him that they would be away for a while and that they would call him, on their return. If and when they did return, would they return to a music lesson with him?