Itzhak Perlman, the reigning master of the violin, is loved across the world by violin aficionados. This Israeli-American violinist enjoys superstar status and is a recipient of 16 Grammys, four Emmys, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest honour in 2015. What makes him unusual, besides his immense talent, is that he was stricken with polio as a child. He has braces on both legs and walks with the help of two crutches. His walks to stages for his performances is a painful sight, one step at a time, painfully and slowly. Once he reaches his chair, slowly he sits on it, keeps his crutches on the floor, removes the clasps on his legs, tucks one foot back and extends the other foot forward, bends down to pick his violin, puts it under his chin and begins the performance.
But I am not going to tell you here about his struggles. I want to share with you what happened during one of his performances at Lincoln Center in New York some years ago. After his above-mentioned ritual on stage, which the audience is now familiar with, he began his soul-stirring performance. But within a few minutes, there was a snap, and it sounded like a gunfire. One of the strings on his violin had broken. People knew that he would have to stop and put on the clasps again, pick up the crutches and limp his way off stage to choose another violin or find another string. Perlman didn’t. He remained silent for a while, closed his eyes and then asked the conductor to begin the orchestra again. And this time he played with such passion, such power and such purity as the people had never heard before.
Anyone with some knowledge of violin knows that you can’t play a symphonic work with just three strings. But Perlman refused to know that. He played such a way that one felt you would not need the fourth string on a violin. And once he finished, there was total silence in the auditorium. And then the audience stood up, cheered and gave him an extraordinary outburst of applause. Here’s what one of the persons present in that audience had to say: “We were all on our feet, screaming and cheering, doing everything we could to show how much we appreciated what he had done.”
He smiled, raised his bow to quieten the crowd and then in a pensive tone he uttered one of the most powerful words: “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”
Isn’t that so true of life too? Life is not what we expect it to be. Our well-laid out plans sometimes go awry. Maybe you didn’t score well in your exams or you lost your job or you did badly in your job interview or your partner is not who you expected to be. Things don’t always go according to our plans. When they don’t, face the truth. But don’t pretend that nothing is wrong. That would be living in denial. If there’s a problem, accept it and then deal with it. That would be like Perlman making the best of the worst situation. You will soon realise that you would do well with even three strings, if not better.