Music is so pregnant with nostalgia. In its passages, stride figures from our past. One such rose-tinted memory for me is that of Leela Naidu, the celebrated actress ranked by Vogue as one of the 10 most beautiful women of the world. Twenty-three autumns back, Leela had graced our house in Delhi. The requiem sounded for Leela on July 28, 2009, but I remembered my musical interlude with her while I was listening to music by Austrian composer Johannes Brahms.
That evening, I had barricaded myself in my musical den. She looked silvery and aging in 1991 and I decided to skip meeting this famous old hag! However, the drifting notes of the slow movement, allegro appassionato, of a piano concerto caught Leela’s ear.
She gazed at the closed door to my den and requested my father, the late poet and bureaucrat S Man Mohan Singh (IAS), to have the record player’s volume raised.
Leela then requested my father that it would be “just lovely”’ if she might meet his music-loving son.
Leela and her late husband, peerless memoirist and poet Dom Moraes, had known my parents since long.
Moraes had penned the foreword to my father’s first book of verses, Village Poems (1982).
She spoke of her love for the soaring, ethereal voices of opera. She was also a trained pianist. Leela didn’t seem to mind a bit that I did not compliment her on her film roles. Not in the least did her persona seem wired to a lurking lust for flattery and reminders of past glory. Instead, she displayed a genuine interest in the lives of other people. That evening she seemed blissful just listening to music.
We proceeded to hear my collection of Franz Schubert’s delightful songs, Lieder, to the accompaniment of the piano and some exquisite slow movements from the repertoire of violin concertos. Leela mentioned Brahms’ early years. Then came that evening’s defining moment, whose beats still march to my memory with an exultant note. I had gone a step further and recounted to Leela the revelation of Brahms’ potential by the great composer couple, Robert and Clara Schumann, in their publication, The New Journal of Music (1854). Robert Schumann on hearing the young Brahms perform on the piano had declared: “Here sits a man of destiny.”
Leela’s lovely jaw dropped at this musical nugget. Her eyebrows arched like Arjuna’s bow and she swiveled on her swan-like neck towards my delighted father and intoned softly, “Man Mohan! Your son is a great connoisseur of music.”
I am sure Leela was being extra-nice to a lad but little did that “old hag” know that she had me captivated by her inner grace!