11 February 2023

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautist?

Errol Alphonso was a friend and mentor. I was also his guardian in his last days, putting down that title in black and white to help sort out a thorny problem at the home for the elderly where he was a resident at the time. Errol, a voracious reader who had in his early years wielded a prolific pen, had the Aristotelian hope that someday the best flutes will finally go to the best flute players, and that he’ll end up, consequently, with a swank shop laptop.

He's been gone over a decade now. If he was around maybe he would have wished for something else. We do know and he would have agreed that the best flutes don’t often go to the best flautists.

The best flautists don’t always have the means to purchase the best flutes. Neither is it that they have patrons who would provide them such. Indeed it could also be that the best flautists are unknown.  

I don’t know if there’s a ‘best flute’ in this world. Maybe there are better ones and maybe the better flautists get them. At least, the better flautists would know the difference. And Pundit Hariprasad Chauraisa, for example, would have played the best flutes ever made.

But what got me thinking about flutes and therefore Errol and his hopes is a short poem by Palitha Senaratne in his collection ‘Haiku Mohotha (Haiku Moment).’

Until someone
a sweet melody plays
the flute is but bamboo shaft
with hollow holes

There are things like that in this world.

Years ago, in Dupont Circle, Washington DC, as I sat sipping coffee with a friend, a young man arrived with cans of all kinds of sizes. He rigged up some kind of stool, arranged these cans around him. He turned pieces of plastic into a set of drums. The percussionist not only caught people’s attention, but won their admiration as well. A passerby stopped and started dancing. My friends joined her. They were joined by others. Just a set of cans and a human being, but in combination they made people dance and they were all happy for a while.

Now I don’t know if our ‘drummer’ was the best percussionist or at least one of the best, for I know very little of drums, rhythm and music. I don’t know, therefore, if he deserved the best drums. I don’t know if the ‘instruments’ he played were the best drums or less than average drums in terms of quality. I don’t know if they were the best instruments or the worst for what he wanted to express or whatever outcome he preferred and worked towards.

I do know that they were plastic cans, some big and some small, the different sized obviously yielding different sounds. I know that if left alone there wouldn’t be any drumming sounds. There wouldn’t have been any dancing at Dupont Circle.

He probably made do with what was available. At that moment. I don’t have a clue about the subsequent trajectories of his life, drums, music and intentions. He could have waited for the right or best drums. He may have got them some day. What matters is that he saw, so to speak, a piece of bamboo, carved out some holes and used lips and lungs to coax music out of it.

Not all plots of land are fertile, but soil can be ‘built.’  Not all land is blessed with abundant rainfall, but even the driest pockets of a dry zone can be turned into a zone wet enough for cultivation through water conservation and irrigation.

That which is lost can be recovered. That which is laid waste can be resurrected. The best farmer finds a way. The less-than-best-farmer is not doomed to starve. The best student doesn’t always get the best teachers, but a good student will learn nevertheless.

There are those who sing beautifully. Not all of them are given a stage, orchestra and an audience. Should they not sing, then?

What’s around is seldom ‘enough’ and therefore it is necessary to make what’s there ‘enough.’

Errol Alphonso never got a swank shop laptop. He still wrote. Beautifully. He wasn’t a lecturer in some media school. He still taught. His Aristotelian hopes never materialised. He didn’t lose any sleep over such ‘disappointments.’

I don’t know if Errol ever took any music lessons or had any voice training. He still sings to me. 

 ['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart The allegory of the slow road