Music is everywhere; it’s for the creator to find its source!
For all those people who have had the privilege to travel by local trains in Mumbai, they would have also been witness to the crowds and chaos on the local train stations that dot the city of Mumbai through its lengths and breadth.
One of the many rituals and entities that form a part of the local train station culture in Mumbai are the Boot polish stalls. Scattered through the platforms, these boot polish men and boys provide the quick smart look for all those on their way to important meetings, first job interviews, perhaps a lunch date and anything that gets someone to want to have smart, clean and shiny pair of shoes!
The job is done most efficiently, both in terms of the time as well as the result produced. Care is taken to make sure the polish does not spill over to the clothes, care is also taken to make sure that every corner of the shoe shines when the job is done, so that the 5 Rupees earned is for a job well done! The timing is so impeccable that it ensures that the customer doesn’t miss his next train!
The typical set up for the boot polish guy is a square box, with a drawer, which contains all the important material, the different shoe shine colors, brushes and the shine cloth. The Top of the box has a three-sided foot rest. The rest where the customer’s feet find nudge themsleves comfortably when the master is at work! The typical spot, which this artist occupies so that he is not in the middle of the crowds and yet at the same time can be found easily by any pair of feet wanting a polish, is against the pillars that are spread throughout the platform.
Between any two jobs he is left alone with his machinery and time to kill. Typically if you have been around one of these stalls when they are not tired and are eliciting customers, the ritual is they hit the brush against the stand, and making a repeatedly monotonous sound…thak…..thak…..thak….thak…. till the next customer arrives. The customer at that point in time is not only a boon to the stall guy, as he brings him the next income for the day but is also a boon to the by standers as he spares the already noisy and crowded station from the additional noise of the waiting boot polish guy.
But then one day, I bump into a boot polish stall that not only polishes the boot, but also creates music in his spare time to elicit customers. As part of my daily ritual I was standing next to his stall waiting to board my next local train, when suddenly I saw the box and the stand in front of the guy being turned into a musical instrument of enormous potential.
Perhaps uneveness of the box, varied thickness of each side of the box, the stand open position with the closed position of the box, and perhaps a zillion other such permutations and combinations of space and mass , resulted in a different sound for each hit of the brush on a different part of that ensemble.
Soon after a few experimental trials of hitting the brush on different parts, as though tuning the instrument to check for the right sound, a rhythm followed. It was a simple beat with varied sounds, which converted itself into a nice piece of music. I enjoyed the show till my train arrived and I had to leave the show mid way. But this show seems to repeat at regular intervals between his shoe shining jobs.
In his own way, this guy who sits on platform No. 1 at Grant Road station has made his shoe shining box into a unique musical instrument providing soothing sound to all those waiting, rather than simply adding noise to the environment like most of his other colleagues! Cheers to the Musician and his Instrument!