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For The Love of Sitar

The first day I met Neerajh I was nervous to say the least. I had no idea how a strange man I met only 3 weeks ago was going to be one of the closest relationships I made in Varanasi. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into and now that I think back on it; choosing to play Sitar was one of the best decisions I had made the whole gap semester. I chose to play Sitar thinking it was going to be similar to the guitar. After playing the instrument one time, I realized that I couldn’t have been more wrong. My thoughts going into the first lesson were those of worry and curiosity. I had no idea what to expect from my teacher or my newly found, oddly shaped and old pumpkin shaped tool of music. The lessons started off to a slow start playing just warm ups consisting of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Re Ne Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Re. I lost count somewhere between 100 and 500 slowly losing my mind and just relying on muscle memory. Neerajh told me everyday that I was improving even though I was playing the same piece for a week and sounded similar to me. I think now that he was talking about my consistency and rhythm. He would always be quietly messing around on his phone while he listened to me play. If a wrong note was played he would instantly look up and say “Everything was wrong”. I would just stare back and just try to explain that it was just the one note and I fixed it. We would stare at each other for another 10 seconds in silence and then I would start back at the top of the piece. He would go back to his phone and repeat the process. When he would bring his own sitar, he would play with me and then start to play some random piece. I would just sit there in pure amazement just watching his fingers move in a blur. Most days were hard and would actually physically hurt my body with having my legs almost in the Lotus position and my fingers almost at the point of bleeding from putting them on vibrating knives. Then there were some days where he could tell I was tired would just sit and play a solo concert just for me. It is not an overstatement to say whenever he played I was sent to another place across the void of space and time. He would smile at me and his hands were still moving with such vigor and purpose. Neerajh has been playing Sitar since he was 4 and his whole family also know how to play the “Brown Pumpkin”. He started to refer me as “dear” and I still have no idea if that was an individual nickname or he just called everyone that. I got used to it and kind of miss it at this point looking back. Every time he entered a room for a lesson, he would come over and say “hello dear” and then give me a hug. Then after the lesson he would do the exact same thing without fail. The last lesson we had was a shorter one because he had to leave for a concert he was playing. That last hug he gave me was just 1 second longer than all the other ones. I realized in that moment that he was actually going to miss the 6 foot, pale skin, giant from Texas. It took me a second to understand that Nerrajh wasn’t just my teacher, but much more; a friend.