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     Volume 9 Issue 41| October 22, 2010 |


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One Off

At Home in the Streets

Aly Zaker

A scene from the ‘Soloist’.

The other day I saw a film in some English language channel that inspired me to write today's One Off. This film, the Soloist, made in 2009 moved me to an extent that no others did in recent times. The story of the film goes like this:

A man named Steve Lopez is a journalist working for the L.A. Times. One day, he hears a violin being played beautifully. Investigating, he encounters Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless schizophrenic. Lopez wants to know more about him, but he does not respond to his overtures. Eventually he is able to make Ayers talk and learns that he had gone to the famous music school called Julliard. Lopez, however, finds that Ayers had dropped off from Julliard after being there for two years. Ayer now plays a beaten down violin that has seen better days. He is found to be devoted to Beethoven. His eyes light up at the mention of this great composer and he simply devours Beethoven's music whenever an opportunity comes his way.

Lopez is attracted by Ayers' devotion to music, follows up on his enquiry and writes a very emotional story on Ayers. This draws the attention of many. An invalid old lady who wanted to become a cellist now sends her Cello for Ayers. The story goes through various ups and downs until we see Lopez being able to install Ayers in a home for the street people of Los Angeles. What moved me most is the fact that a street musician was so given to his passion that he considered the epitome of western classical music, Ludwig Van Beethoven as his god. There, obviously, is more to the story. Lopez tries to get Ayers in to a home. But Ayers, growing up on the pavements amongst the humdrum of traffic finds he can crack his music better in his known world. His schizophrenia does not let him be easy going, let alone make friends or get along with others. A concerned Lopez tries to get a doctor he knows to help. He also tries to talk Ayers into getting an apartment, but Ayers refuses. After seeing a reaction to music played at an opera house, Lopez persuades another friend, Graham, a cellist, to rehabilitate Ayers through music. The lessons go well, though Ayers is shown to be getting a little too attached to Lopez, much to the latter's annoyance. Lopez eventually talks Ayers into moving into an apartment by threatening to abandon him. We get to know that in Los Angeles alone there are about ninety thousand people who have no home where to live. Here the camera ventures through the city streets of LA and show us people lying on the pavements and drive-ways. At the end of the frame we see solitary Ayers playing his violin with utmost devotion. This film would make many sensitive people cry as it did to me. To top it off, the story of 'The Soloist' is real.

As the film made me travel through the streets of Los Angeles, the scene automatically transformed to my own city of Dhaka and I started on a journey through its streets. I wafted through the night streets of Karwan Bazaar, the road divider at the Tejagon industrial area, the plat form of the Kamalapur railway station or the launch terminal at Sadarghat. I saw the homeless sleeping peacefully everywhere. This was their home. Here's where they came back to after a hard day's work. This is where they cooked, washed, slept, and procreated. Ninety thousand homeless made Lopez crazy. He picked up the pen to speak about them, to champion their cause and in the process came across a rare musical prodigy. I was thinking in this nation of a hundred and sixteen million couldn't we deserve a single Lopez who would tour the streets of Dhaka and track down a rare genius from amongst those that sleep on its roads? I am certain that amongst these uprooted people a Lalon Shai or a Mon Mohon Datta, Ustad Ayat Ali Khan or even a budding ustad Alauddin Khan could very well be sleeping like a log after a hard day's labour. Our media spends so much time running after exceedingly trifling things. Almost anything goes in the name of culture and entertainment. When shall we really wake up to the fact that culture of a nation goes far beyond sensation mongering. Should we not we roll up our sleeves and dive into our glorious past right away?


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