The Blind man and his Erhu in Hangzhou
Updated: Jul 22
The finest city in the world, So said Marco Polo, Centuries later, So Says I
It had been a year that I had been living in Hangzhou City and indeed, after living through all the seasons, the furious summer, colourful and vivid fall, wet and cold winter and a splendid spring, I had agreed that this city was truly visually beautiful. The city is embraced on three sides by green wooded mountains which gently slope down to the West Lake (Xihu), a large lotus covered lake, crisscrossed by countless moon bridges, bustling with a gazillion tourists.
Beyond the West Lake, the city begins with its large skyscrapers, unique and contemporary architectural structures and endless residential and commercial buildings. Being the provincial capital, life in the city was constantly on the move. Innumerable e-bikes, cars and buses clamoured for space on the maple lined avenues and streets. The Qiantang River and the Grand Canal mirrored the tireless attitude of the streets as barges, boats and cruises vied for space on its waters. I lived and worked smack in the middle of it all.
Back in those days, I used to worked in a small firm I owned and that meant lots of time for myself. I would often grace myself with long walks around the West Lake, the Old quarter, the food markets and the vibrant and restless night markets. I remember, on a particularly beautiful spring day, as I walked around the QingHeFang Ancient street, over the din of noisy tourists, my ears tuned into a melody coming from afar. Music was being played on a classical 2 stringed bowed instrument called the ErHu. Dodging people, I walked ahead. The music got louder and finally, I saw the author of that music, a blind man, sitting on a bamboo chair, his walking stick held firmly held under his foot, fingering the strings and waving the horse tail bow ecstatically. He was playing a 100-year-old composition called Erquan Yingyue (二泉映月, eng.: The Moon’s Reflection on the Second Spring) by another great ErHu artist by the name ‘Abing‘.
A blind erhu/huqin player on the streets of Hangzhou, China Source: @jstamanoj
The city, the roads, the vehicles, the people, the culture, the life, everything had upgraded into modernity but somehow this tune lived through all those tumultuous times. People walked by the musician as if he didn’t exist, as if his music was nothing but another rogue honk from a car. The blind artist, oblivious to anything other than his tune, played on, swaying and twisting with the sweet ups and downs in the melody. A white porcelain begging bowl sat there on the bare street watching the unheeding and blind passersby, shouting silently ‘everybody is blind in this city’.
I sat there a with with my eyes closed, temporarily blind. The music, which at first was a beautiful melody, turned into an emotion, a raw painful yet sweet tragedy, scented with the fresh spring fragrance of the cherry blossoms but accompanied by the sharp shrillness of the winter. The poignant rendition instantly stirred something within me.
The artist stops for an interlude and starts searching with open hands for his green tea laden flask. And I, invigorated by the emotional performance, I rush to him and spoke to him in broken Chinese.
‘That was beautiful. I enjoyed listening to your music! How long have you been playing?’
‘Thank you for your appreciation. I have been playing the Erhu since I was 10 years old.’
Taking a sip out of his green tea flask he looked up to me with closed eyes and spoke, ‘Life is painful, tragic, but beautiful! I don’t beg, I don’t need to, but I still do it, I do it for the music’
‘Countless cities, countless lives, countless stories; Life on this Planet!’ I thought in my mind.
I smiled, thanked him, dropped a 10 RMB note into his begging bowl and walked on while he adjusted his strings and started playing the same tune again.