By Boman Desai
When I was a child I would crawl under my bed, with my gilt-edged copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and a flashlight, to read. I felt adventurous hidden from the world behind the counterpane, snug as if I were in cave as I pored over stories illustrated with toothpick fairies and anthropomorphic animals. My mother would be practicing the piano, indefatigably repeating bars, mostly by Mozart, whom she found divine.
My interest in Mozart wasn’t honed as sharply as my mother would have liked, and before long peer pressure made me shrug him off entirely in favor of Elvis and the Everlys, then the Beatles and Stones, and still later Creedence and Elvis Costello.
During the late seventies, when I was in my late twenties, a curious thing happened. I was waiting in the living room of a friend while she got ready for our date that night, when I noticed her cat spastically pawing something under the dinner table. I crawled to where the cat was and found it playing with a cockroach, cutting off the cockroach’s path whenever it could. Just then a familiar strain came over the radio, a Mozart piano sonata, the one which ended with the movement “alla Turca,” which my mother had practiced with such diligence, and I was flooded with the sweetness of nostalgia.
The next day, after I had purchased a recording of the sonata and listened to it carefully through my headphones, I felt, more than just nostalgia, as if I were on the brink of a major discovery—subsequent appreciation of Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, Bartok, and so many others.
When I related my story to a friend, he told me about Proust’s mammoth novel in which a man, dipping a madeleine into a cup of tea, is transported back to the madeleines of his bucolic childhood. At first, I was daunted by Proust’s paragraphs which sat like concrete blocks of words on each page, but as I read the labyrinthine sentences, ribbons of meaning unfurled like ticker tape around me, creating a panoply of life unrealized by myself until then, “kisses with a pedal point” as Proust’s mother once signed herself off in a letter to her son.
I hate to think how easily I might have missed it all if not for a capacious counterpane, a cat that played with a roach, and a mother who played Mozart.
(Note: Reprinted from the Chicago Tribune.)
Boman Desai got his first break when an elegant elderly woman submitted his stories to Debonair magazine, all of which were published, but the woman disappeared, her identity forever to remain a mystery. He has published five novels, won some awards, and is an expert on the life of Brahms.