We don’t always have to travel to seek stories; they are right there in our homes too. In “Stories From My Home“, I examine the many objects surrounding me at home and attempt to document and share the memories associated with them, one story at a time.
Amma was a trained Karnatik Classical vocalist and the tambura (or tanpura) was an integral part of her musical journey. The tambura that features in this story was her second — the first one broke when her younger siblings got a little too rough with it.
My maternal grandmother told me that Amma was heartbroken, and had cried for days. It was only when she got the news that a new tambura was on its way for her, all the way from Tiruchirapalli, that she cheered up. This was in 1952 and since then that tambura was her musical companion.
In 1980, Amma developed a problem with her vocal chords rendering her unable to sing, to perform, to speak even. Eventually, Amma regained her ability to speak, but could never sing like she used to again. Her music went silent and so did her tambura.
Years and decades passed. The tambura lay unused in a cupboard in our home, coming out occasionally for cleaning on for Saraswati Puja during Navratri. It pained me to see it unused and once I suggested to Amma that maybe we should donate the tambura to someone? At least it would be played? The anguish on my Amma’s face at this suggestion will remain etched in my memory for ever, and I never brought up that topic again with her.
Amma passed away on this day in 2018. I knew that however painful the decision was, the tambura had to find a new home — it had been silent for too long. A musical instrument deserves to be played and not kept locked in a cupboard. After discussing it with my brothers, we decided to donate it to a music school. To our surprise, not all music schools we explored were keen on getting tambura — some rejected the offer outright ! It took us a while to find a music school that we liked and one that was happy to accept a tambura as a donation.
Three months after Amma passed away, the tambura came out of the cupboard for the last time. I dusted it and placed it in front of Amma’s photo and sang the first song she taught me with the tambura — Vara Veena in Raga Mohanam. I then took it to a music instrument shop for replacing the strings and polishing it before it went to its new home.
Amma’s tambura was donated to the Music School of the Chembur Fine Arts Cultural Centre. Handing it over to one of the music teachers at the music school was one of the most difficult things I have done in my life. It was an emotional day filled with tremendous guilt, sadness, and determination to see it through. And I did it.
After decades, Amma’s tambura played again and will hopefully set off or inspire many others on their musical journeys.
Stories From My Home: Meenakshi’s lamp | The box of coins | The photographs in the envelope | Bala’s oil pot | The girl on the swing | Captain sandal face powder | Appa and Thomas the Tank Engine | Amma’s Tambura |