“This next song is a hillbilly love song,” Ritwik Bhattacharya said smiling, as Mohitha Vankina came on stage, and set down a bottle of water. “It’s not,” Mohitha said adamantly, laughing just as Ritwik began to sing. She looked up and smiled widely at someone she recognised in the audience as she waited for her turn. By now, people were sitting back in their chairs, and those on the benches sat quietly, and smiling. A girl was looking at the sky.
“Mohitha sings damn well,” a girl sitting in the last row said, even before she began. Mohitha laughed a lot, and looked as though she was singing amongst people she had always known. She smiled as she sang, and so did Ritwik—they looked as though they had sung together many times, and understood each other well. For a moment I wondered why they were smiling; I couldn’t tell if it was the lyrics, or an inside joke. After singing two songs, she sat down in the audience again.
“I’ve picked out some songs,” Ritwik had said to me the previous evening, but he refused to name them. “Anybody who knows me will know that I cannot do a show without singing The Beatles, and Simon and Garfunkel,” he said—he talked more than most people had on stage during their performances. “I just sang what I liked and felt like playing in the moment,” he said later. Ritwik sang Boxer, by Simon and Garfunkel that many might remember from his performance at Meta last year. “This song is for Resem because he’s in Delhi, and performing at Meta without him isn’t the same,” he said. But I do not know if he stuck to the plan he had made the previous evening.
It was a quiet audience—one side seemed quieter than the other. I was on the noisier side—behind me people sang along, or chatted. “I love this song,” they’d say, just as Ritwik began. In front of me, a person sat singing along quietly to himself, turning to glare at the people talking loudly behind him. When somebody behind me whistled, Ritwik looked up at them and smiled. “He really does play the guitar very well, doesn’t he?” a friend of mine said, after Ritwik played an instrumental song he had composed. My friend stayed quiet for the rest of the evening, cheering when a song ended, and clapping along with the last jazz instrumental (on special request) that Ritwik ended with. When Professor Cheriyan Alexander, HOD of the English Department hugged Ritwik near the curtain, everybody cheered.