More than just a Time Pass

It was 1980 and I was working with Shah Technical Consultants at their Nariman Point office in Mumbai. We used to walk after the office to Churchgate station to catch local train to Dadar. Even though Churchgate was a terminal station, there used to be mad rush getting into the train. Sometimes we used to let the train go as the compartment used to be fully packed and we used to try our luck for the next train.

One of us suggested that we should sit in the Satkar café outside the Churchgate station and wait for the crowds to recede rather than jostling on the railway platform.  Satkar used to serve tasty and warm “potato toasts” in the evenings. We used to sit in the open area of the café facing the Churchgate station and savor the toast with a cup of chai. Soon we realized that while this strategy was good, we were spending quite some amount on snacking every day. This was not affordable. We had to find some other option for our “time-pass”.

One day while walking from Nariman Point to Churchgate, we changed our usual route of the “shortest path” and took a detour over Jahangir Art Gallery next to the Museum. As we were near, I sensed a great aroma of black coffee. When we looked around, we noticed that this aroma was from Max Muller building where German language classes were held. We decided to check out and indeed that was true – the coffee machine in the lobby was the reason for that intoxicating aroma. The attendant in the lobby explained that this black coffee service was available only to the students registered for the German language course. The batch for the course for beginners was to start in another week.

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We calculated pros and cons of our options. Our expenses to snack at Café Satkar over a month were almost half of the fees we would pay for the A1 grade (beginner) German language course. We would get a certificate against this investment that we could add in our CV. Besides the black coffee was free to the students. The course would run between 6 pm to 7 30 pm, a time perfect to walk to the Churchgate station that would by then be relatively less crowded. Everyone agreed that this “time pass” was worth to go for. So, we registered.

I remember, Herr Bapat, the German Language Instructor, asked all the students in the class the reason why everybody wanted to learn German. There must be a good reason he said. The girl sitting next to me, who was kind of cute, said that she registered for the course because she wanted to do higher studies in Germany. A man in mid-thirties with a serious face on the next bench said that he was learning German as he was working in a German company. When Herr Bapat asked me, I told him about our real reason. I told him how we decided to “stop over” at Max Mueller to learn German on our way to the Churchgate station, just as a value-added time pass. Herr Bapat was shell shocked with my frank explanation.

The classes started. The cute girl in the class became more important a reason not to miss any of Herr Bapat’s lectures. The time pass was thus exciting to we the bachelors! Well, we were not serious in learning German in any way. So, we failed in the final exam. But we were devastated when we saw one evening that cute girl’s boyfriend came to pick her up in his Mercedes!

Occasions of such valued time passes came later in my life several times. But one of them was very interesting and I must talk about.

I have a Roland keyboard at home that I had purchased at a shop near Victoria Terminus in Mumbai. Well, I played the keyboard alright but wasn’t able master the notations and get the full potential of the advanced features the keyboard. I was looking for someone who could teach me hands on.

I discovered True School of Music (TSM) in the Lower Parel area of Mumbai, an amazing place to learn all kinds of music. TSM is an international school where you see students and teachers from many countries of the world.

It was early evening that I walked in the TSM. TSM is located in a refurbished building in the compound of an old textile mill that was sold for redevelopment. I checked for the availability of courses for the keyboards and there were seats available on the working days. The weekends were already full. I was however game for the week-days slot. I thought this will make me leave office early for a better diversion. I just wanted to brush up my keyboard skills and not become a commercial performer anyways.  For me, the music class was going to be a good time pass.

I was assigned to a tutor. The tutor would teach me for one-hour the notations on the keyboard. This tutoring was followed by a jam session where other students learning different instruments e.g. drums, guitar, would join. Some students who were practicing vocals would take the lead. This jam session would run for an hour. This used to be a session of great fun, full of energy and show the creativity of students.

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Joyce (name changed) was my tutor, a professional key board player whose picture used to be on the posters in the Bandra bandstand area. So, she was a famous musician. She must be in her mid-thirties. Her fingers used to move magically on the keyboard, and I used to be mesmerized to see them moving lightly and flawlessly. So, I never grasped the science of the notations and kept gazing at her keyboard, while she used to demo me.

Albert, her boyfriend also taught at the TSM. He played the drums. Albert used to show up at the jam sessions after our tutoring was over. Joyce and Albert used to team up and inspire us to play some of the great old songs. The jam room used to ignite and simply electrify us due to their presence and encouragement.

I used to play the keyboard pretty alright during the jam session without following any notations and making no mistakes that time. This avatara of mine used to surprise Joyce. She would scold me and say “Dr Modak, see you can do it if you want! So please be serious, learn the notations and don’t take this class as a time pass!”

But Joyce did not know that learning at TSM was more than time pass for me. TSM had a cute open coffee shop in the central area and after the Jam session, Joyce and Albert used to sit there for a coffee before going home. I used to join them, and they used to welcome me whole heartedly. Listening to their conversations was perhaps what I was enjoying and looking for. They used to recall some of the enthralling moments of the concerts they attended. I used to really envy them. In narrating these stories, they used to be so involved and emotional. I think this exposition was much more valuable to me than the fees I paid to TSM.

I failed in the final exam and that was expected as I never concentrated on the notations and hardly practiced at home. The jury found me terrible on keeping the beats as well. Joyce and Albert felt very bad with my results.  During our last coffee conversation, Joyce said that I was essentially a “natural” player and not a musician who would follow notations. Finally, as we got up, Albert patted on my back and said “Dr Modak, you really wasted your time”. I smiled.

“This is so typical Dr Modak”, my Professor friend said when I told him the stories. “We often need to do some time pass in our lives – like taking a diversion, getting some fresh breeze, destress and sometimes discover yourself. In this process, you also get a chance to peep into some body’s life – with no special purpose, but just as a curiosity. In the COVID times, so many people have subscribed for on-line yoga and music sessions, organic cooking and supervised diet programs. Do you think all this is done for some kind of time pass?” Professor said this while extinguishing his cigar.

He walked towards the door as the doorbell had rung. Maybe he was expecting someone.

When Professor opened the door, we saw a kid of 14 years wearing a colorful mask and holding a big box close to his chest, as if a treasure.

He said “Uncle, ready to exchange coins? I have something new to trade in my collection”. I later learnt that kid’s dad used to work for Air India as Flight Purser.

“Oh Yes, kiddo. Show me what kind of interesting stuff you have so that we can trade” Said the Professor in an enthusiastic voice, signaling me that it was time for me to go. I saw him open his chest of drawers to get out his collection of rare coins that he had meticulously collected during his world travels.

Professor’s wife stepped out with me. While ushering me to my car, she whispered. “This is the latest time pass of your Professor Friend, Dr Modak”.

I smiled.

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  1. Your time pass gave you many ecstatic moments and also the strength to take “failures ” gamely.
    You are a great sport!! Hope Madam also enjoys your hilarious misadventures.

  2. It’s encouraging me to join a class for sure. Good to learn about your “time-pass” sir. 🙏


  3. Sir, you write wonderfully well and are graceful. I am inspired by your past times as a writer telling inspirational tales. One needs diversions, de-stress tools, hobbies, social networking and family support while pursuing environmental concerns to earn a living.

    I am in awe that you churn out stories after stories of a wide variety of span, spectrum tirelessly whilst, I am sure, immersing equally into your vocation of environmental engineering. Souls of your kind and caliber are rare. Indeed, such souls are no more in production. Grateful sir. May you live long and keep us inspiring.

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