Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Last night, I was listening to one of my favourite songs, 'Like a Rolling Stone' by Dylan. My roommate was not snoring and I could hear the song quite clearly. Behind the dreamy harmonica, and Dylan's voice and guitar, I could hear the jingle-jangle of the first instrument that I had learnt to play.

Every student in Parthi knows to play 2 instruments by default - 'taalam' and 'duff'. Some, like me, also learnt to blow our own trumpet pretty early in life!

Quite early in childhood, we were allowed to bring 'duffs' and 'taalams' to the school. There were two types of duffs. Those made of metal that had 'Eagle Band Co.' written on them, and the Plastic/ Fibre ones that were bigger, heavier and thus, more sought after. Duffs were easily the more in vogue instruments back then, though taalam owners proudly defended their instruments by saying,

"Swami played taalam, he never played duff, eee"

Which would be retorted with,

"Go for dho,eeee. Swami is God, eee. He can play all instruments,eee"

The owners of duffs and taalams were quite sought after during Bhajans time. Slots would be reserved, and before Bhajans began, the owners would do a mental calculation of whom to give which bhajan. In times of extreme demand, the slots would be rationed out by the owners by giving the applicants 'half a bhajan' each. And the most coveted slot would be the Arati. I remember the craze. "Ae fellow, I don't want full Arati, eee. At least give me Narayana Narayana". Narayana Narayana, for the uninitiated was the climatic peak of the prayer session. Guys would doze all through, and then as if suddenly injected with steroids, wake up and clobber the hell out of the poor duff.

As was the norm back then, we had crushes on girls who were a minimum of 5 years elder to us. There was a senior called Priyamvada, who not only sang mellifluously, she played the duff beautifully. During Christmas, there were little dolls of angels that were put up all around. Everytime I saw one that had a tambourine in its hands, I was reminded of my love. It didn't take me long to realise my chances of getting her were as strong as Putana dancing the Raas Leela with Krishna.

When we reached Class 6, the duff became the subject of another of our innovations. This involved rotating it on our fingers. Records were set and people would bunk lunch so they could rotate the duff for a long time without a break. And you could not do it all alone, it had to be recorded by another person to attest your feat. I remember the record at our time was somewhere at one and a half hours. It was the only way you could show the person in front of you the middle finger and he would keep cheering you.

Over the years, I learnt to play the tabla and keyboard and the duff was relegated to crazy akhandabhajan nights that my mother would force me to attend. The good thing about the duff is that, like swimming once you play it, you never forget how to.

Today, the humble duff is lost somewhere amidst the other duffs in our lives: Homer Simpson's beer and Hillary. But when I listen to 'Mr. Tambourine Man', it always makes me smile.

We were all tambourine men once. We were not sleepy, and dining hall was the place we were going to.

To steal a few chapathis.


  1. Aah yes... duff... awesome stuff as usual man!

    So who is Putana here? ;)

  2. Wonderfully written..can't stop laughing