Zubin: Just another Parsi boy

A nervous, awestruck gentleman had been granted fifteen precious minutes of the Maestro’s time. My friend, the gentleman in question, had spent a sleepless night memorising what to say to the great man. The moment arrived. They met. Fifteen minutes flew. My friend emerged walking on air. His first reaction said it all : “My God! I can’t believe how simple he is! He speaks Parsi English, with so many Gujarati words thrown in- …and sounds like any other normal Parsi boy!” We both laughed at the observation. Zubin had just been paid a huge compliment that said more about the man than all the effusive gush one reads about the world famous, 80- year-old conductor.

Article by Shobaa De

19-1For that’s exactly what Zubin Mehta is – a normal Parsi Dikro. No airs. No pretensions. And we in Mumbai were indeed blessed that the Maestro chose to kick off his birthday celebrations (his actual birthday is on 29thApril) in the city of his birth, when he could have picked any other great city of the world. But this column is not about Zubin Mehta’s genius. It is about friendship. Friendship of the truest kind. A friendship that has endured over seven decades, and grown in strength over time. So much so, that when Zubin Mehta is in town, his best friend from 1938 (!!!), is right there at every concert, happy to applaud his childhood buddy along with the wildly cheering audience.

Dr Yusuf Hamied (better known as Yuku to friends), is an extraordinary man himself. As the Chairman of Cipla, a $1.45 billion dollar Pharmaceutical giant, Padma Bhushan Yuku established himself as a global leader, years ago. Well respected in his field, and loved by a wide circle of friends, Yuku is the quintessential Bombay Boy – relaxed about his success, confident enough not to demand attention, and generous enough to ‘share’ his famous friend with fawning fans, who may be too intimidated to approach the Maestro on their own. Sportingly (and most expertly, I might add!), Yuku clicks dozens of pictures on his mobile phone, and takes the trouble to email them the very next morning to grateful, over-the-moon Zubin devotees.

Tell me, how many people would do that for eager strangers? But the pictures that spoke the loudest about this unique friendship, were the ones Yuku shared with old friends. These are shots of the two of them standing outside Zubin’s childhood home – a handsome stone bungalow on Cuffe Parade. It is one of three that still exists – the others were pulled down by rapacious developers ages ago. This is where Zubin grew up. This is the spot he goes back to every time he’s in Mumbai. Yuku mentioned they have chronicled (and immortalised!) that spot since 1941! When you see these two Cathedral School ‘boys’ standing in front of the gate today, and compare this image to the black-and-white snapshot of them in ‘half-pants’ aged 3- yearsold, your heart skips a beat.

The pure emotion in that faded print, reminds you of the fragility of modern relationships. There is innocence, trust, affection and understanding between these two besties that transcends everything else. And here we are, most of us, struggling to juggle our ridiculously mundane lives (compared to Zubin’s and Yuku’s ), claiming we don’t have the time to nurture and cherish our relationships. Those pictures set me thinking. Why has that friendship between two enormously successful individuals worked as brilliantly, while most other high profile friendships fall by the wayside at some point or the other? I guess it has to do with trust.

That’s where everything begins and ends, in a way, doesn’t it? It appears to outsiders that both of them would blindly trust the other with their lives. That, plus the clear absence of ego. No ego automatically means zero jealousy. If Yuku can play down his own importance and happily oblige Zubin groupies by introducing them to the maestro, it shows Yuku’s own humility and refinement. Contrast that with the rudeness and arrogance of some others in the same circle, who ‘guard’ Zubin like they own the man, and you immediately see the difference in upbringing.

Class tells. Ditto, for the 41- year-old Siberian classical pianist – child prodigy Denis Matsuev, who has enthralled audiences across the world with his virtuosity. As his fingers flew across the keyboard at lightning speed, effortlessly spanning notes very few pianists ever have, there were audible gasps in the audience. And yet, Denis playfully chose jazz as his encore, and went to the extent of including the Nokia ringtone into the repertoire, as a sharp reprimand to listeners who had forgotten to switch off their dratted cell phones during the concert!

Later, at a posh charity dinner in honour of the Maestro, Denis obliged one and all who sought selfies and autographs, exchanging warm greetings and a few asides with each person. Watching these extraordinary individuals during and after the highly demanding performances, it was abundantly clear why they are where they are. I am sure there are more talented conductors in the world than our adored Zubin Mehta. I am sure there are pianists who play better Tchaikovsky than Siberia’s Denis… and there must be pharma giants with more money than Cipla’s Hamied. None of this matters. These men demonstrated they also have a huge attribute in common – a big heart. And that has no price tag on it.