David Makin's, The Vortex

The Great Pianist

part of: The Collected Works of Rattan Mann

by Rattan Mann

Once upon a time there lived a very big man with an open heart and a sublime mind. But the village he lived in was very small and closed. Nobody ever looked at his open heart or sublime mind. He was a butcher. So people peeked into his shop, saw him cutting the throats of screaming animals, and ran away screaming themselves. They called him the most cruel man in the village. They were the same people who did not mind sending their maid-servants in the evening to buy his meat and then spend hours cooking it into a delicacy.

Nobody knew his name, though he knew the name of every villager by heart. They called him the Hangman. It is true he had executed a man once. The village council had ordered the execution of an innocent man. The real hangman suddenly fell very ill that day. So the village council ordered the big man to carry out the execution because he was a butcher.

Nobody said a word when the village council found an innocent man guilty. Everybody turned out to watch the execution and cheer as the head of the innocent man flew away from his body. But from that day everybody hated the big man for he had executed an innocent man.

Later it was proved that the man who had been executed was indeed innocent. The village council which had ordered the execution washed its hands clean of the matter. They put all the blame on the big man. They excommunicated him. Again nobody spoke against the village council. Everybody remained as silent dead mice, that is, except to scream their hatred of the big man.

So they began to call him the Hangman, and “Hangman” became the most hated word in the village.

The nearest some kind souls came to giving the big man a decent name was when they called him the Camel because he was as tall as a Camel, or an Elephant because he was as huge as an elephant. This too they did only when nobody was around to hear them and report to the village council. But nobody ever called him a Gentle Giant with an Open Heart and a Sublime Mind because that is what he truly was. And the villagers hated nothing more than truth.

The Gentle Giant hated his profession because it had made him so hated. But that was all he had learned from his ancestors. He tried to begin afresh and go to school with children. But the village headmaster wouldn’t let him. The headmaster was convinced that the Hangman had come to kill the innocent children.

He tried to go to the church and find peace there. But everything about the village was small – even the church. The door was so small that he always hit his head against it.

The people who sat inside were even smaller. Some had come not to pray but just to watch him hit his head against the ceiling. Others moved away from the bench on which he sat. They forbade their children to talk to him. After he was excommunicated, the question of going to the church, or talking to children, did not arise.

So the Gentle Giant stopped going to the church. He gave up all hope of ever changing his profession or talking to children. But his heart and mind remained as big as before. Even if he wanted he couldn’t become as small as the villagers.

So one Sunday, as everybody was going to the church to pray, he went to the forest for a walk. Deep in the woods he heard someone crying. As he rushed towards the voice, a little girl rushed towards him. She caught him by the waist, and said as she sobbed, “Gentle Giant, Gentle Giant, I have lost my way. I will give you everything I have got. My mom would give you more – whatever you want. But please take me home. I will die here.”

The Gentle Giant took her gently by the shoulder and lifted her into the air till she touched the tree-tops and started rubbing shoulders with the birds. She stopped crying at once. She started notching the leaves and mocking the birds instead. She started laughing. It looked as if she had never been so happy before because nobody had ever lifted her so high up in the air. Within a second she forgot that there was something called tears or home.

When the girl was once more her old happy self, the Gentle Giant brought her back to the earth as gently as he had taken her up into the sky.

Of course he would bring her back to her home. But that also meant parting company with her. He didn’t know when a child would speak to him again. So to be with her as long as possible he started talking to her, asking her silly questions and telling her silly old things which made her laugh.

As evening began to approach and it was time to take her home, he asked the question he had been saving till the last moment.

“Sweetheart, what will you give me if I take you back to your home? I won’t do it unless you promise to give me all you have got.”

Of course, he did not want anything from the girl. What can a little girl give to a great giant? She had made him so happy, made him laugh for the first time in ages, even if for just a little while, so she had already given him more than anybody else.

The girl became sad again. She was poor. She had nothing to give him. Even her mom had nothing for a giant. She badly wanted to invite him for dinner, but they hardly had food for themselves. So in a rather sad voice she replied, “What can I give you? Gentle Giant, I don’t have much. But I can teach you how to play the piano and sing with it. That is all I know. That is all I have got.”

The Gentle Giant couldn’t believe his ears. If he could play the piano and sing, he wouldn’t have to be a butcher. That is what he had wanted all his life. And now the little girl would fulfill his life-dream.

The Gentle Giant jumped up with joy. He became as excited as a child and began shouting, “Oh yes, little girl, teach me how to play the piano and sing. Then, instead of asking something from you, I will give you all I have. I swear. I promise.”

“I don’t want anything from you, Gentle Giant. Just promise to take me home and right now I will teach you everything I know.”

She started running towards the nearest tree.

But the Gentle Giant saw a problem at once which the little girl did not – there was no piano.

“Little girl, we have no piano. How can you teach me how to play it.?”

“Silly Giant, you don’t need a piano to play the piano. I don’t have a piano either. Mom can’t afford it. But I play it all the time.”

“But how?” the Gentle Giant interrupted.

“My mom told me giants are always very stupid – big in body but little in brain. Stupid, just imagine anything, and think that it is a piano, and it will become a piano. It will produce the most beautiful music on earth. It is as simple as that. Just watch me.”

By now the little girl was standing beside a tree. She started moving her fingers on the bark as if she were playing the piano.

“Stupid, do you hear the music now?”

“No, I don’t hear anything.” The Gentle Giant was his old sad self again. His dream to change his profession was gone.

The little girl bent down, picked up a few dead leaves, and threw them high up in the air.

“Listen again silly, listen again. The music is growing louder. It is reaching out for the sky. You can’t miss it this time.”

The little girl started moving her fingers on the bark again, as if she were possessed.

The Gentle Giant was hearing nothing. His dream to change his profession was dissolving fast like a drop of ink in an ocean. But he wouldn’t let his dream go. It was now or never. He tried again. He closed his eyes and tried to listen to the music that was rising with the leaves the girl had thrown into the air and filling the Cosmos. Still he couldn’t hear anything. Then he forgot the tree. He forgot the leaves. With eyes closed he tried to peer into the heart and soul of the little girl. He became a little girl himself. And suddenly it was all there. The piano was there. The music was there. The song was there.

“Yes, I hear it, little girl. Yes, I hear it now.” he shouted.

He became as excited as a child again. But he wouldn’t open his eyes. He was afraid that everything would vanish into the thin air if he opened them.

But the girl started laughing.

“Silly Giant, don’t be afraid. Open your eyes. The piano and the music will still be here.”

The Gentle Giant opened his eyes. To his surprise, everything was still there as before. Nothing vanished into thin air.

He rushed to the tree, and started moving his fingers on the bark with the little girl. He was playing the piano and hearing the music more loudly and clearly than anything he had heard before. He was in a new universe where everything was perfect joy and pure music.

Then the girl started singing. And he started singing with her. Then the girl stopped. But he kept on singing. He had learned how to play the piano and sing. He had learned a new profession. And he would never be a butcher again. He wanted nothing more. He kept on playing the piano and singing long after the girl had stopped.

The girl stood silent and watched him. It was now her turn to peer into his heart and soul and become a Gentle Giant herself. She wished she knew how to do it. But she did not. She was just a little girl.

It was almost night. But the Gentle Giant did not want to take the little girl home. And she too did not care about home anymore. Both wanted to play the piano and sing forever. But the Gentle Giant knew that if somebody caught him with a little girl at night they would kill him. So it was time to take her home.

The little girl could give only a very vague and confused description of the village she lived in. But the Gentle Giant knew all the villages in the area very well. So he could guess where she lived. He took a very complicated route through the forest to her village because he wanted to avoid been seen with a little girl at all cost. He knew the consequences all too well.

When they arrived at her village the Gentle Giant remained in the forest and told the girl to go ahead. From his hiding behind a tree he watched her till she had reached home safely. Then as he turned to go back, he suddenly remembered that he had forgotten to ask her name.

The next day, instead of going to his shop, the Gentle Giant went to the junkyard in search of a piano. But all he could find was a smashed guitar. So he picked up the smashed guitar from the rubble and went to the street corner and started playing it. It was a very beautiful and sublime music that came out of the smashed guitar. A crowd gathered round him. Even those who hated him and would not go near him hid behind shops and houses to listen to his music. Then he started singing. The guitar and the guitarist, the singer and the song, became one.

When he was finished an amazed crowd asked him,

“Hangman, where did you learn to play the guitar.”

The Gentle Giant got angry.

“It is not a guitar. It is a piano.”

People could not believe their ears. They thought he had gone crazy. They saw no point in arguing with him or asking anything more.

From that day the Gentle Giant stopped being a butcher. He stopped going to his shop and killing animals. From morning to evening he stood on the street-corner and played the guitar. But he wouldn’t let anybody call it a guitar. He would get angry and stone anybody who called his broken guitar a broken guitar. For him it was the most beautiful and expensive piano on earth.

“The little girl told me to touch anything with my fingers, imagine that it is a piano, and it becomes a piano. A tree is a piano. A leaf is a piano. A bird in the sky is a piano. Close your eyes and listen. It is not the music of a guitar. It is the music of a piano.”

Some believed him. Others did not. Some thought he was crazy, others that he was possessed. Some closed their eyes and still heard a guitar. Others closed their eyes and indeed heard a piano. But everybody agreed it was very sublime music indeed. And so nobody really cared if it was guitar music or piano music. Slowly they got used to his strange behavior. Nobody expected anything better from him. After all he was a strange man.

Slowly he became famous. Even people from distant villages came to hear his music. They began to call him a pianist because he wouldn’t let them call him a guitarist. Everybody was afraid to call him a guitarist but nobody called him a Hangman anymore.

After he became famous the head-priest came to him and said, “Gentle Giant, come to the church and play the piano. We will ask our craftsmen to make the most beautiful and expensive piano on earth for you. All you have to say is yes.”

But the Gentle Giant wouldn’t go to the church to play the piano.

“The little girl said you don’t have to have a piano to play the piano. You don’t have to have a church to pray. It is all inside you – the piano, the church, the music, the prayer and the song. That is what the little girl said.”

Then the head-priest went away. He saw no point in arguing with a madman.

One day the Gentle Giant told the crowd, “I have played enough piano and sung enough songs. Now I want to dance the most beautiful dance on earth.”

So again the head-priest came to him and said, “Gentle Giant, just come to the church and play the piano. Then we will find you the best dancers in the world and they will teach you the best dances. You can dance all the dances you want for the rest of your life. All you have to say is yes.”

“No, your best dancers are not good enough for me. The little girl is the best dancer in the world. Only she can teach me the best dance. Before she left, she told me that next time we met she would teach me how to dance. She promised. So all I have to do now is find her.”

Again the head-priest went away. He hated the Hangman because to the Hangman the words of a little girl meant more than the words of a powerful head-priest.

Then the giant went from village to village in search of the little girl. But he never found her. People loved his music but hated him because he was different. They still feared him because he was so big and strong and when they saw him coming they hid their children from him. So he never found the little girl, so he never danced because he refused to learn dancing from anyone else.

As the Gentle Giant became older he became more and more eccentric. He always talked of a little girl who knew everything and could teach anybody anything. By now he had disciples – people who loved his music and did not care whether he called his guitar a guitar or a piano. They asked him to tell them her name. Then they would look for her everywhere and wouldn’t come back till they found her. But he had forgotten to ask her name. So nobody could find her.

Then one day he even threw away his guitar and stopped singing. He would pick up a leaf and whisper something to it. When somebody asked what he was doing, he would say he was playing the piano and singing a song. He would look at the sky the whole day and watch the birds flying. But again if somebody asked him what he was doing he would say he was playing the piano and singing the most beautiful songs.

People said he had become senile. Nobody came to hear his music anymore because there was nothing to hear. But he was always playing the piano and singing songs without caring if others heard anything or not. When he was tired of playing or singing, he would talk to the little girl as if she was sitting beside him. Some enjoyed his crazy behavior. It offered some diversion from their monotonous lives.

“The little girl said that everything is in the mind. I don’t have to do anything to play the piano or sing a song. That is what the little girl said,” he would tell anybody who cared to listen to him. But now fewer and fewer people were listening to him.

So the Gentle Giant died at a ripe old age without ever touching a piano or learning how to dance. After his death a great debate arose about the inscription on his tomb. He was so many things to so many people – a hangman, a camel, a donkey, a guitarist, a singer, a madman, and what not. No two people could agree as to what history should call him. After a heated debate they decided to call him what they thought he never was but what he himself thought he always was. So his epitaph simply read:

“The Great Pianist”