I am no afficionado of music, nor ever a concertgoer. Sitting through music recitals, the only sensation I have had is a certain ticklishness in the throat, requiring me to gently clear my throat between movements. But Saturday's concert at the Afgan Church was an exception, it was one of those occasions when eveyr prospect pleased.
Afgan Church sits (in its case, ‘stands' would be a better description) at the gate of the Colaba Woods. There is no other buidling in Bombay standing in such impervious isolation, at the end of a wide, broad lay-by in the road, faintly covered by ancient trees, and above the trees a slender steeple rising into the skies. The steeple is one of the landmarks of Bombay, it can be seen by sailors out at sea, and it can be seen across the bay from Walkeshwar.
Bells were ringing merrily in the steeple as I arrived, as if the church was waking up after years of neglect. At the entrance, the Bengal Lancers stood in their splendid red and blue uniforms and leathered riding boots. Only frequenters of the Oberoi's Lancers' Bar recognised them as the stewards at the bar. Incidentally, as far as atmosphere goes, there is no bar in Bombay yo match the Lancers.
The Afghan Church also has atmoshere, and on Saturday evening it was showing its best face. It was a full congregation, more people than the mpst optimistic of priests would have asked God to fill his church with.
We sat in the large hall, somewhat tatty with the sky-blue colour of its walls, which I hope the renovators will do away with. But the ceiling was high, a hundred, thousand, times higher than our heads, disapprearing into the clouds. And up front, facing the congregation, was the stained glass, hundreds of separate panes of it, presented by forgotten donors.
The Paranjoti Chorus was in fine voice, some 40-odd sopranos, altos, tenors, basses, accompanied by the Bombay Chamber Orchestra, recreating the music of Mozart in the year of Mozart. And the music rose and swelled and thundered around the church.
I sat there, attached to my non-musical ears, admiring the occasion. Coomi Wadia conducting with the slightest movements of the baton, efficiency taking over from showmanship; a soprano, a contralto, a baritone and a bass, occasionally rising in the front row and taking over the solos; especially the soprano girl, a face as expressive as Jose Carreras, trilling like a bird in a tree on the first morning of spring. And the various courtesies extended, the first violinist wishing Mrs. Wadia good fortune before the commencement of the show, Mrs. Wadia bring the leader of the orchestra to the podium for the final ovation.
And I through of all these people who had gathered there to help in the restoration of a Christian church: Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Foy Nissen, and doing it in the most civilised way possible, through music and Mozart. Could it be in the same country where people were fighting over Hindu temples and Muslim mosques!