Thursday, November 10, 2011

Last thoughts on Woody Guthrie

It’s afternoon in another country, in a friend’s small apartment with a music system that seems bigger than the room. Outside seems shut out and it’s quiet inside. The poet’s uncertain voice stammers to a start and rolls and tumbles along taking you on a ride through the rollercoaster life with its sham and skullduggery, cheapskates and cheaper thrills, political plotting and character assassination among hope and sunset that doesn’t feel like the end. It leaves you quiet for a while. You hear it again. And let it sink in slowly as spreads into your consciousness, leaving a trail that gets covered with your workaday life over time only to resurface, suddenly. Like today.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Engengo sellum

Another June morning, another beautiful day with soft rain and gentle sunshine. As you walk to school, past the tea shop with its customary morning customers, you scan the odd sizes posters hung from clips on a thread under the counter with big jars of candies and biscuits, carefully avoiding the puddles, you hear this song coming from the radio set. The songs is soft and gentle too, you notice, blending seamlessly with the June morning. People look happy, girls look prettier, the day promises nice surprises. You actually look forward to going to school!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mozart Symphony No.40 in G minor

It’s around 4 in the evening, the oily, sweaty faced school kids are returning home. The evening sun is slanting its slightly less vicious rays as if it’s had a change of heart. Besides the school kids and girls from college, the street is busy with milk men, their Vespas overloaded with aluminium drums of milk, the nor-so-out of place cattle being shepherded home and the odd office worker. Looks like water has been relased, as you see neighbours with their plastic vessels waiting at the pump. There is that pretty girl again, on her way back from college. You see her in the morning sometimes. You and your friends saw her carrying a violin case the other day, and someone ferreted out this tape that had Mozart’s symphonies. You liked this piece even though you had no clue about movements and other technical details about classical music. The tape is in the deck, you are standing out at the gate looking out to see if the girl is close by so you can relay the information and the guy inside can play it loud. No one is sure what is supposed to happen. Was there a faint hope that she would come rushing into a stranger’s house with five strange guys and offer her love for everyone just because the residents seem to display decent taste in music evidenced by a classical piece emanating from the house?As she passes by, you think you detected, what was that, a smile? Could it be? Well, that kind of makes your evening, a ghost of a smile on your favourite girl's face, a girl whose name you didn't know, whom you would never talk to. But still, it feels good.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


They said there will be a show late night (which meant around 10) on TV about some music awards. A friend of yours says his neighbour has a TV and it’s ok to go there and watch it. You feel a bit awkward going to the house of someone you don’t know, and watching something you are not sure of. But a few other friends gather, and since it’s a weekend coming up, you decide to go. It’s not like you have to go alone. So after dinner, the guys come to your place and you go to your friend’s house, and he takes you to his neighbour, who welcomes you at this rather odd hour. The house has a distinct smell. They have sofas and a recessed wall cupboard with some figurines and kids’ things. A plaque is there in the centre. Somebody must have won something. Some photographs of the family. It says Dyanora on the TV set which is in a wooden box housing with shutters. The whole thing is standing on four wooden legs splayed out like under a dining table. You all settle as comfortable as you can in a stranger’s house at 10 pm, and the programme comes on. There are videos of many songs you’ve never heard of, you don’t hear much except for what comes on the radio, and that too only for a short while.This one was memorable, it had interesting things happen to the singer/actor.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Innum ennai

"You wake up from an afternoon slumber into a transcendental twilight in your home town. The orange skies accompany your melancholy as you drift out of the house after the coffee and as you make your way up to the bus stand potti kadai and buy a Gold Flake, the smoothness of which is indescribable and the smell of it, as yet unlit, is dragging you ever deeper into the town's flirtatious and squalid yet undeniably attractive depths, and as if you're not ensnared and enslaved enough already, there is that rough hemp rope to light that cigarette with, imparting to it a certain smokiness no oak cask of no 18 year old single malt could ever boast of. You walk on then, at once heady and humbly low, under the canopy of Gulmohar that lines the Colony streets, and onwards toward that deserted temple where the presiding deity communicates easier with you than the priest on call. The sun sets on the city that obligingly played Lolita that evening to your old man avatar. Hope stays afloat. Of course." (This post is from Kanna)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Naan unnai serdnha selvam

You wake up from your afternoon slumber, and notice it’s gotten darker earlier than usual. Or did you sleep too late into the evening? You wonder as you groggily walk to the kitchen, and notice that lights have come on already and it feels like it’s Deepavali. But there’s no sound of crackers, no acrid smell of sulphur. You notice that your tea is in the tumbler and you realise that the evening has come a little early to today, like a husband who comes back from work earlier than usual, walks into a closed room unintentionally and catches the wife changing into a new dress, making her blush. Now you remember it was the soft rain during the day that lulled you into a soporific state after returning from college. The tea you sip soothes its way down, leaving a trail of clarity like barium caught on x-ray. Ahhh, you say, breathing in the cool evening air. Someone is filling the drums with water. It’s too cold to even think of washing your face. The radio plays this song, fittingly.

Vaa ponmayile

It rained the whole night, at least when the thunder and the flash of lightning bouncing off the wall and, somehow, into your sleep. You did go back to sleep after a bit of tossing and turning, listening to the steady fall of the rain outside. By the time you are up and ready for school, the rain has stopped but the bright morning with the clouds holding the sun ransom, still has traces of the rain. Grey clouds on the puddles on the street. Rain drops still dripping from the tea shop awning. The autos bulging with school kids has the flap that lifts up in the breeze. You see flashes of smiling faces inside as it speeds by, splashing the cloud puddle. Suddenly, you feel the taste of the hot rice and rasam that felt good on this cold morning, from the aroma that still on your fingers. Your friend joins you and you begin walking to your school. As you turn the corner, waiting fro the traffic light, this song comes on, fitting perfectly with the beautiful morning.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sinnanjiru vayadhil

It’s evening , a regular warm evening on the cusp of summer and monsoon months. The occasional clouds have been hinting at rain only to laugh in the upturned faces and disappear in wispy trails. You take a walk with your friend and discover streets you haven’t seen thus far in your neighbourhood, mainly because school days do not afford you the luxury of exploring places where you have no reason to be, namely, friends or grocery stores for family errands. You turn corners and stumble on stretches of streets, there are quiet book lending libraries that have loads of Chase with scantily clad women on the cover and other shiny books. You enter the place, look around and ask about the membership fee, which you find is exorbitant (5 rupees). You walk away, not too disappointed, at least you could come back, much later when you have money and perhaps borrow a book or two. The sky is getting to resemble a darker shade your fountain pen ink. Lights come on in the houses. Radios start with the evening news, some cows are heading home. A peanut vendor passes by, shallow frying the nuts, and you stop and buy a papercone full of that. The aroma from the pan mixes with the evening air, as you see a pretty girl walk by with jasmine flowers in her hair. She lives close by and you know her face, but you’ll never talk to her. And she knows it too. It’s twilight now, in more ways than one, its twilight between preteen and adolescence too. A subtle change has come over you, going from 8th standard to 9th. Girls seem more attractive now, and you are noticing them. Munching on the peanuts, you talk about the girl with your friend who says he saw this prettiest girl from another school at his school today. He says she had a nice fancy name. Lena, if your memory serves you right. And this song comes on as you approach the street your home is on. Some songs, like some jokes, seem mean more than what they say on the surface. And you think of the girl again.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

En iniya pon nilave

A morning song. More than where you heard it first, it’s about where it takes you every time you hear it. You can feel yourself going up a hill station you are so familiar with. You know the place. You know at which hairpin bend the mountain air gently buffets your nostrils with its eucalyptus scent. The winding road with its steep hill on one side, and a proportionally deep valley on the other. The hill with its wild flowers and trees growing at unnatural angles from between the crevices of rocks. The lumbering buses with the drivers acknowledging each other with a gentle beep of the horn. Fellow passengers are either too wrapped up in the beauty of Nature or just deep in thought. No one talks, even the babies are quiet. The monkeys that look on the scene with what seems like curiosity. The air gets cooler as the town comes into view.


It’s Sunday, which means you can wake up later than the rest of the family members, it’s a right you’ve earned by going to work the rest of the week. You are awake all right, you just don’t want to get up. You lie around, relishing the lazy beginning of the day off. The neighbour guy walks in asking you to get up, while he reads the paper. Your friend pops in on his way to the market. You like that people drop in without any formalities. The door is always open. It’s 8 am, and someone puts on the radio for the Sunday morning special, hey usually play the latest songs at this time. The majestic notes from this song fill the lazy morning air, the soaring violins carry you to a mountainous place. You can even feel the crisp morning air of the hills. You wake up. It’s going to be a lovely day as you see the sun break through the clouds.


It’s a bus stand song. Probably on a work trip to one of the neighbouring towns. You don’t go often, maybe once a month or twice at the most. You get off the bus after an hour or so of travelling, and notice that even the short journey has lulled you into a groggy, sleepy mode. You look around trying to orientate yourself, thinking how all these bus stands are alike, with the diagonally parked buses, little kids selling hot tea and snacks, women selling flowers to uninterested ladies in the bus, the ubiquitous dog, the piled up dirt near the end of the bus stop, past the buses that won’t begin their trip for a while. There are a few ladies selling flowers arranged in heaps near the entrance, after which is a tea shop with the customary ‘petty shop’ right next to it, selling magazines, chocolates, cigarettes, and bananas. You stop to buy a Gold Flake and light it at the tiny machine that looks like a fan regulator without the white paint, its wire glows when you press the button next to it to light up. It’s a bit hot, hopefully you can beat the heat and return early, you think as this song comes on from the tea shop radio set.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

pani vizhum malarvanam

It’s the first year in college and they have some event to celebrate the end of the year for the final year students. What started as an uncertain beginning has turned out to be quite decent after all, and you’ve made fair bit of friends, grades need work but there’s always the next semester. You walk by the event hall and see a couple of your college mates tuning their guitars. There’s another guy who looked quite stern at a chess tournament you went to but he is smiling now, maybe not such an aloof guy, you think. There’s alcohol in the eyes of these guys, and soon it will be in yours too, as you heard your classmates were going out to buy everything they could get and make a deadly cocktail. It’s still early, around 2 pm, so you hang around, making fun of lecturers and professors, talking about some movies, and someone seeks you and your friends out to give a glass of the mix. You drink it without asking what’s in it. It’s not too bad. Quite a few of this goes down, and you go back to the hall and they are playing this song.

andhi mazhai

The rain that started in the afternoon sputtered to a brief stop only to continue with more strength. It’s nice because the lights come on early, lending a festive atmosphere to the evening. The usual friends haven’t come today due to the wet evening. The working members come drenched with the handkerchief offering feeble resistance against the downpour. It’s decided that you will go and buy food from a neighbourhood ‘hotel’, famous for its sambar. You don’t mind the rain as long as you get to eat the delicious food from the restaurant. You go to your friend’s place and they have the same plan, so you share the umbrella, and walk to the hotel which is five minutes away, but tonight will take a bit longer as you will have to skirt around puddles of water and avoid being splashed on by speeding cars. You can smell the food already standing at the counter. You order your food and give the waiter a steel vessel meant for steaming hot ‘sambar’. As you wait, you talk of this and that, school and home work as you watch people who are waiting for the rain to stop, song comes on the radio from the cashier’s counter. Your food comes and you catch the second stanza as you near home. You’ve heard the song before and it will come again, unlike the ‘hotel’ food, with its idlis and dosas rolled in plantain leaves and wrapped up in rolled newspapers.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

kadhal oviyum

It’s around 4 pm on a fairly hot day. The ground has soaked up the heat and radiates the it through the soles of your feet as you stroll to the front of the house where the water pump is to see if it’s your house turn to get water. The other tenant and the owner are done with the pump and you go back to bring buckets and plastic vessels. The pump handle feels warm too as you start pumping. The residual heat seeps through the wet floors around the pump. As you start taking the buckets filled with water back and forth, filling the drums outside your house, a friend comes by to park his cycle, so he can go to a movie that’s becoming popular at a cinema near your house. He asks you to join him but you decline. The songs are on the radio already, and coincidentally, this song comes on the a transistor set from the neighbour’s.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mayakkama kalakkama

The walk back from school in the evening seems longer than usual. The test results are out and you’ve just scraped the borderline score in math although there is redemption in other subjects in which you’ve scored quite well. But who wants more marks in history and geography? It’s the ominous red underline beneath the math score that’s going attract attention. As the house gets nearer and nearer, your mind gets more desperate trying to work a way out of this but to no avail. Almost on cue, as you enter the street where your home is, this song comes on from the radio at a tea stall. You’ve heard it a thousand times, but it gives you some sort of strength. A glimmer of hope. You lift your head and walk.

On the run

It’s Friday night and that means riding on the back of your friend’s bike or in his car and go with a bunch of colleagues and friends to the hill nearby to watch planes take off to this song. You stop off at the usual place to buy soda, someone has been assigned the task of buying rum or whatever they can get their hands on. A check has been and confirmed there are enough cigarettes. By the time you reach the top of the not-so-dauntingly-high hill, it’s past 8. Someone opens the bottle and mixes the drink, almost everyone lights a cigarette, you talk of office, the work done during the week, discuss which was good and before you know it, the quarter bottle has been empties. Time for another one. And, look, there’s the first of the jumbo jets, its screaming right above your heads, drowning out the song coming from the speakers. You wave, knowing no one will be able to see you in the semi darkness. You think you see the pilot. You watch the giant craft touch down, and wonder if you will ever go on it in your life. Time for refill.

Private investigations

It’s unlike any song they’ve played on Radio Australia, the source for all the latest songs those days. The programme started at 2.30 every afternoon, just after you come back from college. Perfect. You crank up the volume a bit knowing there won’t be any objections. The women of the house are chatting with the neighbours about the heat and kerosene prices. Your hands smell of the food you’ve had, it’s cool in the house. Someone selling small mangoes is in the small courtyard which has attracted more people. You are wondering how come the song is so different. The singer is actually talking, but there’s something surprising about the number, like the roll of drums that comes on when least expected. Or the guitar pieces that are so unusually varied from other songs. Nice.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Uchi vagundheduthu

It’s a hot summer afternoon. The earth has nearly forgotten the touch of the rain. The oppressive heat is hangs heavily over the skies. The only ones braving the heat are the cricket-crazy kids. They come around to ask you to join them or ask for ‘subs’ which is short for subscriptions to help your team buy a proper ball. It never comes to fruition. The sago pappads are drying in the sun, and drying faster than usual near the entrance on a wooden bench covered with a cloth. It’s summer holidays now and some of your friends have gone to a hotter city for the hols. The working people in your house come home for lunch. It’s a quiet time, you hear vessels being moved about, the aroma of food you had in the morning fills the air again. Few words are exchanged over lunch. Heat drains you. You don’t feel the heat much as you haven’t stepped out yet, and the floor feels cool as you lie down and browse a weekly magazine. Someone switches on the radio, and this song comes on, and there’s something scorching about the song too just like the day outside.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Naan Yaaru

It’s a night song. You hear it after everyone has gone to sleep. Because that’s how you heard it the first time. It was at your friend’s place where all songs made their debut. The evening’s revelries which began with the single malt you got for your friends back home from the duty free swiftly blended with the local variety. You went to late night food stalls run from street corners and had nostalgia in small plates. When you went back to the house, they played a lot of the latest songs you missed. Still some more of the golden liquid is left, which you down with the help of some gold flakes. It’s way past bed time in most parts of the world, and you go to the living room and see mattresses laid out like they used to be when you were doing ‘group study’ during college days. Some have already gone to sleep. The old fan is set a slower speed to prevent it making too much noise and this song comes on as you lie down for the night (or is it 3 am?). Quiet, soft strains of the flute. A single stringed instrument joins at some point. A mesmerizing rhythm. A perfect lullaby.

Ninaovo oru paravai

It’s another one of those ‘A’ movies you were not allowed to go to but the songs fortunately had no age restrictions. This one got a lot of airtime. Sometimes in the morning before you went to school and sometimes in the evening. Or Sunday mornings when the station played the latest songs. It’s not so much where you heard this one as it is about where it takes you. The second inter draws you in with a river of violins to a scene you always imagined was a lake with two people rowing a boat. Somehow that was the picture you associate with this song. And when you watched the movie much later, years later, you saw a lake with two people rowing a boat during the second inter. Then you realise, that’s the power of seven notes, the right hands.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Vadatha Rosapoo

It’s a hottish afternoon. The kind of afternoon you don’t want to be out, like during summer annual exam time when you have the afternoon shift. You are neither sleepy nor awake, it’s an indifferent time. Somehow you drag yourself out of your home, walk to the school. There’s a sense of stupor on the streets but for the few students who coming back from their morning session. You see more of your classmates near the school, it looks a bit busier there. You walk with your friend to the stationery shop, past the closed temple and watch as other students buy paper, pencil and erasers. Even the shop is empty but for the students. The push cart man selling coloured water and ice shavings with worm like things is trying to drum up business. The old lady selling mangoes, which are attracting flies sits watching the thin crowd. This song comes on a radio from one of the shops. Lazy, slow beat. Perfectly blends with the way you feel.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Kadellam pichipoovu

You’ve read the story when it appeared in a local language magazine over many weeks, and it was a very unusual and interesting one from one of your favourite authors. They played this song a few times on the radio. It was instantly likeable, with an unexpected guitar and other instruments you could only classify as ‘western’ (for a story set in a village) while the singer's voice added a rustic feel to the whole number. And you would never hear it till 15 years later, when you are in another country. You can’t believe your eyes when you see this song on the list printed on the back of the CD, and you tell the shopkeeper how long you’ve searched for this number, and he doesn’t share your enthusiasm, but merely tells you the price.


There’s something nice and almost sacred about the CD cover, which is one of the reasons you pick it up. Then you look at the artists and the line up pleasantly surprises you. You pay up and rush home, shower, change, fix yourself a nice glass of whiskey, struggle with the cover and the tab that wouldn’t come off (especially when you are in a hurry), slip the disc in the system and settle in the sofa. After the teasing intro comes the distinct sound of the mandolin. Fluid, clear, seamless, like a drop of water along the strings. By the time the percussion kicks in, you are on round 2. The boy genius, no matter how old he gets, he will always be that, a boy genius, you think as you flip the rewind button.


You’ve called some friends over with like minded interests in music and books and of course, whiskey. There’s great food, but first, the golden yellow liquid. And music. You have a playlist and you want to wait till there’s a mellow mood before you can surprise them with this new CD you’ve bought. After some random music and conversation, you realise everyone is on their 3rd drink, and you slip this disc in, and wait for the reaction. You take a bow when they are totally lost in this lilting number, somehow the mere act of buying good music has made you a member of the band. The single malt blends beautifully with the night, just like the two different traditions of music systems blend in the song.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Don’t go to strangers

It’s a warm day at the resort you and your friends from work have come to visit for a short stay. It’s a little gem tucked away in the neighbouring state, someone said, and someone packed a thermos with rum and coke and you all started on an overnight journey. The thermos is empty now, but it wasn’t that much for five people so no hangover. You sit by the little hut on n easy chair, lolling with an unread book, and an unlit cigarette. You wait for the beer to come from the thatched-roof bar a few metres away. You can see the sun bouncing off the shimmering sea from where you are. You ask the bar man to play the song from the cassette, and he obliges. The lazy guitar lead blends with the equally lazy sea breeze, you close your eyes and listen to both. You take a sip of the cold beer, it tastes like peace, with a hint of the sea.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Kanavil midhakkum

Another morning song with hints of rain. Even though it’s an 80s composition, you hear it much, much later. There is no recollection of it getting any airtime either. Perhaps it was too experimental, you think. There’s a certain chirpiness, a sense of light heartedness that’s accentuated by the rain that’s just beginning to land on the windscreen. Not time for the wipers yet, you’ll be at your destination by the time it starts to pour. But right now, sitting in a steel and glass cage on the road, you still feel free listening to this song. It’s liberating. You journey to a breezy seaside place during one interlude, and feel the bracing, eucalyptus-scented of hill stations with their long winding wet roads during the other. For some reason, you remember the pretty girl whom used to see on the way to your college, even though you’ve never heard this song when you saw her. It’s not a song. It’s a trip.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thalatudhe vanam

There is rain in this song. Something about the beat, its rhythm and one of the recurring instruments, and the way it is sung, reminds you of a rainy day. It hasn’t started raining yet, but you can feel it in the air. Maybe it’s after a long, hot summer. The air cools a bit, you look up and see dark clouds lumbering across with the weight of water drops, the sunlight dims considerably. Distant thunder growls, prophesying a welcome shower. There is a certain playfulness in the whole atmosphere, in the cattle that are coming back home early, in the school children returning, in the chirping of the birds that probably know a thing or two about nature’s ways, in the leaves that are being carried in a swirl by the wind. It’s as if the whole earth is romancing the nimbus clouds with its swaying rhythm to welcome the first shower in a while. And then it starts. The first few drops fall on the dry, scorched pavements and tar roads, on the plants and trees and the soil, unlocking the heady fragrance of the earth. It gets heavier and the drops coalesce to liquid lines connecting heaven and earth. People run for shelter, covering their heads with whatever they have, newspapers, shopping bags, anything. But there’s a sense of happiness. Kids go out to welcome the summer rain, there’s celebration in the air.

Thazhampoove vaasam veesu

The bus has stopped at one of the stations on its way, some passengers have got down for a smoke, some are still in the grip of slumber induced by the rocking journey. There’s a sweet rottem smell from the discarded fruit and flowers near the platform where the bus is parked. They are parked diagonally, and if you looked from the top, they would look like bricks at an angle, parallel to each other, as if dropped from a tetris game. It’s getting stuffier inside. Outside someone is trying to sell you a ginger drink or fruit or coffee through the window. You say no, and look at a couple of 12 year olds who’ve come onboard to sing the most recent hit songs in the most grating, unpleasant manner. You smile at the quality of the rendition, but they mistake it for appreciation and come to you for money. You fish around and give them some coins. Thankfully the bus starts, and on hearing the horn being honked everyone gets inside. As it moves, a slight breeze blows though the windows, and just as the bus exits the station, you hear this song coming from possibly another bus that has a music system or a tea shop. You’ve heard it before, you know the melody, and it runs through your mind long as the bus leaves the city limits and hits the highway with fields on either side.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mustang Sally

It’s Sunday morning, which means you are working off the Saturday night hangover by merely staying in bed as long as you can. The coffee made by one of the flat mates in next to the pillow, getting cold with layer of thick milk on it. You hate coffee on a hungover morning as a cup of tea is always lighter on the system. But late risers can’t be choosers. You look around and almost everyone is in bed, in various stages of waking up. The early riser is putting a cassette in the boombox, it’s the usual play list. Always the blues. Sunday morning blues. You wake up, drink the lukewarm brown liquid, and someone has brought the Sunday morning paper, and starts reading the headlines, sports page and ‘This week for you.’ It’s been the same for a while but still you want to know what the stars hold for you the coming week. With Mustang Sally coming on at number 3, it seems like it’ll be a decent week.

Night flight to Venus and Rasputin

You hear this at your friend’s house first, on a small mono record player. The second time on a better system at another classmate’s place who keeps talking about how he wrote down the lyrics after listening to it only a few times. Some people said they ‘spoke’ with their guitars in this song, the countdown etc. Much later you’d learn about synthesizers. It’s the first time you’re hearing a string beat like this. It’s followed by a song about Russians, some love machine, Moscow chicks. Words don’t matter as much as the rhythm. And it does sound good.

O mere dil ke chein

It’s Saturday at your sister’s place in another city where you are working. You go there on weekends to stay and eat a decent meal or two. The TV station played a national language movie on Saturdays and absolutely unknown movies on Sundays, making it all the more depressing. You go there a bit late and someone there who knows the language tells you what happened till that point. Sounds like a family story. The songs are good anyway. There is an interval of sorts halfway through during which you have dinner. You come back and finish watching the movie, with this song doing the rounds in your brain.

Dil kya kare

It’s 8 a.m. and the familiar intro music to the morning programme starts from the radio. They always play this station, Radio Ceylon, every morning even though not many in the family know the language. But Akbar in the class knows a few words, he doesn’t know the meaning but they speak Hindi in his house. You are the only other person who is called upon to sing when there is a class function. It is convenient because no one knows what you are singing. They all know the tune so they sit and watch. This particular song sounds western (you learnt the word earlier), and you notice the violin in the when the singer repeats the verse. Much later when you play this song and point this out to a friend, he would be surprised that you noticed without headphones.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Thendral vandhu thendum podhu

You are sitting around in a home far away and surfing channels on a Sunday. You’ve had your Sunday beers and a good lunch. You close the window to stifle the sound coming from the buses that screech to a halt everytime. Curtains darken the room and the air-con chills it a perfect snooze temperature. The room cools rather rapidly down to the bare minimum furniture. They are showing the latest songs of the week on this channel from back home, and this song comes on, nudging you out of a possible nap. Even from the not-so-hightech speakers of the TV monitor, you notice the near absence of percussion in this song that has you mesmerized from the first bar. Later when you play it from a CD on a Bang and Olufsen your wife got you as a surprise gift, you can hear all the instruments coalescing into in captivating symphony. Your wife loves this song even though she doesn’t understand the language the composition is in, that’s what is distinct about a well orchestrated piece. It transcends borders.

Solai pushpangale

Alcohol night! You’ve somehow managed to raise enough cash by selling old newspapers (not yours, your friend’s), old bottles, and anything you can sell. The house on the corner, which had a forbidden aura till a few years ago has become your haunt of late. Your friend there has a wonderful music system, money to top up when you and your gang were short, which was always, and most of all, the run of the whole two storied house. Since it was just across from your house, your folks didn’t care about where you were. The money salvaged is enough to buy the cheapest of whiskeys and tapioca chips (potato chips were costlier which could be used for cigarettes), and regular gold flakes. You all sit around, someone is entrusted with the task of portioning the drink equally, and someone else goes and gets some food. The stench of cheap whiskey bolts out of the bottle the moment someone opens it and assaults your olfactory system and the rest. After soda with water is added to dissipate the smell, and everyone gets their glass, you say cheers, and take a sip. It’s gut wrenching. Literally. Your face twists almost in agony, but you persist and persevere. When the hooch is this vile, you don’t savour and sip. You just tip the contents in one swig if possible, eat the chips and light a cigarette. ‘Not bad’, you hear yourself saying. Worse, people are agreeing with you. There’s a makeshift table tennis table, and some of you are playing, the music is on from a two-in-one system that belongs to your friend’s brother. Soon it’s past midnight and the vile stuff is working in various ways. Some have been knocked cold. Some are high. You are about to heave. And you do, over and over till you feel all the insides have come out. Someone has left a tape with this song, and it draws you. Your only line to sanity and sobriety in a world that’s spinning out of control. You keep playing it, over and over again. It sounds so plaintive, it soothes and calms your nerves. You lost track of the number of times you played it that night. Perhaps that’s why it never leaves your memory.

Naane naana

Click to listen

It feels like a song you heard somewhere else first, not on your radio. It always has that other radio feel to it. Maybe it was on your first trip to another city. Or maybe it was at your friend’s house. Was there girl there that you liked when you herd it first? You’re not sure. But it was summer though. A lazy, Sunday afternoon summer. The leaves on every tree stay still making you wonder whether the breeze comes when they move or they move when the breeze comes from elsewhere, and it makes you think of a similar sentiment expressed in an old song. The street your house is on is quiet, not many are out in this heat, even the dogs are seeking shade. When the odd person walks by, they just look up without any strength to bark, and go back to sleep. The cart with bananas is attracting flies, and the man who pushes the cart is asleep with a towel he ties around his head on his face. It’s quiet. Your neighbour radio comes on with this song. There’s a gentle sway to the tune with its guitar and wind instruments. Something intoxicating that pulls you into its rhythm. You sit on the steps looking at the sun dappled concrete floor, the unusually bright green leaves and the chillies drying in the flat bamboo tray.

Aagaya gangai

Aagaya gangai

It’s about 8.30, the house is abuzz with people getting ready for work. Family members waiting their turn for their shower. Father is saying his prayers. The aroma of camphor and burning wick mixes with the delicious smell of the morning meal being prepared. You get a whiff of someone ironing clothes using the study table which has many uses. You’ve finished your morning routine, put on your school uniform. They are calling you to have breakfast, but the main course is not ready yet, so you have hot rice and curd, which is enough to last you till lunch, which will be packed with the dish that wasn’t ready for your breakfast. You are waiting for your friend to come over so you can walk together to school. You check if you are carrying everything you need for the day in your bag, you notice the geometry box is really old, but no point asking for another one. Its been used by all your elder brothers, so it’s good enough for you. Just as you slip the lunch box, which is hot, in the bag, your friend comes. You still have time, and you decide to stand around listening to the radio which has been on for over half hour. This sing comes on, with a majestic beginning, haunting humming, lilting rhythm and mesmerising violin pieces that will stay with you long after you’ve moved out of town. Suddenly, school doesn’t seem so bad after all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The feeling begins

You pick up the album without ever hearing one song from it. You’ve read the book the movie was based on for which this was composed, so you figure it’s worth a try. You go home and slip the disc in your boombox as you haven’t bought a high end system yet, and head to the kitchen to fix a whiskey and soda before dinner. The poignancy of the notes emanating from the middle-eastern sounding instrument (which you’ll learn much, much later is the Armenian Duduk) stops you halfway through pouring the drink. Powerful yet something helpless about it, you feel. The percussion starts and the climax is breathtaking and sudden. Time for another whiskey, and a replay.


You think it’s a fusion Indian band song when you hear it at a friend’s work place. While waiting for him to finish work so you can go for a pint downstairs, you see the name and the album cover, which almost confirm your suspicion till your friend, who’s back now, says it’s an English band. Surprised, you look at all the songs on the list, and discover a lot Indian influence both in the names and the music. It’s got a nice sound that stays with you even after a couple of Stellas at the regular watering hole down by the river. You jot down the name of the band and the album on the back of the receipt as you leave. You’ll get it the next time you’re in a CD shop.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


You are sitting outside your house talking with your friends and family when your cousin drops by and says in the course of conversation about a new movie he saw which has this superb song. You will see it later but it’s appealing even when he sings the first few bars. You go to the movie for the 9 pm show with your family and you like all the songs. And you’ll hear this again, when you and a friend take shelter from a sudden spurt of summer rain that lasts a good half hour, under the awning of a sweet stall. The smell of fresh earth, the rain sodden clothes of strangers, mixes with the unique aroma of a restaurant renowned for idli and sambar. While you watch the rain pouring down off the awning, looking at how quickly it clears the road of traffic, you hear this song coming from the speakers at the exhibition a few hundred metres away. Seems perfect.

Aarum adhu

Some songs take time to grow over you. Some hit you immediately. This is one of the latter variety. You don’t remember the movie much, all you remember is that you went to see it in the morning, the 10 o’clock show. Most of them leave you with a mild headache and slight irritation that has no particular reason. But it’s a Sunday and you can sleep it off after a heavy lunch. When the song comes on, from the very first bar, the chorus humming, it makes you sit up and listen. The almost unchanging beat through the song, the bitter sweet shehnai, the bass line that surfaces almost unnoticed, the haunting quality of the voice, you take in everything. When you leave the cinema, you notice a lot of them humming this song. It will be one of your favourites for a long time to come.


It was beautiful when you heard it the first time at an agency you worked in where a colleague played it between ideas. There in underlying sense of soft pain and anguish in these notes, was how you felt. Maybe the composer lost someone or something precious and wrote this right after that. A gossamer pain, it disappears if you try to hold it. So you ask your friend to teach as your colleague can only play it. It’s time for lesson number 2 on a lazy Sunday at your friend’s house. He’s moved now from the house with the verandah and strewn leaves. It’s a walk-up in the older part of town. A lot of elderly people live around here. A colleague you met a few days ago is sharing the apartment with him and you talk about books and work over a cup of tea till the master is ready. He warns you about the barre chords in this song that might make it more difficult, but as always it’s about practicing regularly, he adds. As you learn the two parts over the next few Sundays, you realise your fingers have never been stretched like this ever. You also learn that the plucking style is simple it's the left hand movement that's difficult. But it’s rewarding when you can actually play it as close to the original as possible. You get over the barre worry, and play, practicing over and over, and at some point the melody takes over and you just play.


It’s the first song you learn from your friend. He is surprised you’ve never heard this before. It’s a lazy Sunday morning again in that big house. You don’t see that many houses in this part of the world known more for high rise cookie-cutter housing blocks. It’s refreshing to see a house with a lawn (unmowed) and a verandah. Dried leaves are strewn all over the porch. It’s breezy so you don’t feel the heat that is going to reach the stifling level soon. You sit with your guitar and he teaches you section by section. It seems difficult at first, the picking style, the finger movement up and down the neck, and especially the finger positioning. So you are told to practise every section, master and move on. After a few weeks of practice, you feel you can play the whole song. And all it cost you was a six pack because he doesn’t accept money from friends. But the student always has to pay something for the lesson, and a six-pack of Heinekken is as good as any on a hot tropical day.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ennullil Engo

The song didn’t get much airtime, or at least you don’t remember hearing it much on the radio. But you do remember when it slipped under your skin, almost unnoticed, and stayed there. It was at the exhibition they held on the local fair ground. It was the usual affair with candy floss and deep fried pappads, various stalls selling assorted things. For some reason there is tent for medical college people and you enter, fighting the urge to turn around. There is a smell, an odd decaying smell, and you see a corpse there, and they have dissected the body and med students are explaining the parts. There is a morbid interest in seeing what you are made of, and you hang around for a few minutes and finally, good sense prevails, and you step into the open air with the sounds and smells of life. And you hear this song coming from the loudspeakers at the fair. You feel there’s an impending mild danger in the notes, in the flute piece, in the strain of the violins. It haunts you for a long time.

Theertha karaithanile

The lady who brings fresh flowers for the evening is at the door asking if your sisters or mom is around. The fragrance from the different flowers, beaded and coiled up like multi coloured serpents under a wet cloth, fills the evening air. Your friend has just left for his house across the street and it’s time for your home work. You tell the lady that there’s no one at home now and ask her to come the next day. You switch on the radio, and turn the needle which blurbles through many voices and tunes from distant places before it reaches the station you want and settles into the first note of this haunting song. The flower lady has gone, leaving behind the heady aroma of jasmine and other flowers. It’s twilight and there’s something lonely about the song.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

For a few dollars more

It’s past nine o clock and you and your friends feel like watching a movie. You are on a nice high and you don’t want to drink more. Mainly because you are running out of cash not because of aversion to the booze. You have enough to watch a movie though as movie tickets are not that expensive. You wonder which one’s running and, after rejecting all the movies on various accounts, someone says For a Few dollars More is showing at a cinema close-by. You don’t need to ask around for confirmation for this is one movie you won’t stop watching just because you’ve seen it enough times already. You sit in the semi-dark hall waiting for the movie to start. And when it does, the familiar tune from the speakers is drowned in whistles and applause. You sit back whistling along, and notice how the tune raises the energy level in the hall. Everyone seems to be on horseback leaving a trail of dust.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Kuliradhunnu maanathu – Olangal

The day you went to see this seems a bit vague now, was it an early June morning that you cut class from college or a cold December morning? But you remember very clearly that you didn’t cut class as much as you acted on a tip from reliable sources that there was going to be a strike that day and you saw no point going all the way only to come back one hour later. So you decide to use the bus fare to see a movie. After making sure there are no known faces that might report you to your family, you quickly buy tickets with your friends and enter the welcoming darkness of the cinema hall, which isn’t all that crowded on this weekday morning. No popcorn, no money for that, but there’s enough for a cup of coffee during interval.
You like the movie, it’s like a vernacular poem. It’s shot well. But what you remember most are the 3 beautiful songs that will remain with you long after the movie has finished its short run. And when you come out in the noon sun after the movie, you see your classmate come back from college saying there was a strike. Money well spent.

Friday, April 8, 2011


It’ll always be a morning song. There’s an ‘everything-will-be-all right’ feel to it even though the lyrics suggest otherwise. A strange mix of cheerful tune and down-in-the-dumps lyrics. It’s probably the sax, you think, noticing how you’ve never heard the sax dominate a song as much as it does in this one. The morning traffic is busy. People from cars next to you are on the phone or talking to their kids in the backseat. The kids look out at the window, indifferent. A motorbike guy with his helmet-covered face slips in the gap between you and the car next, looking at you through his visor. You don’t know what he is looking at, or if it’s even a he, as you’ve seen women ride Harley’s in these parts. You look around and see cars with stuffed animals peeping out from the rear windshield. A taxi with a soccer club scarf logo you don’t like is on the left. Light changes to green and your contemplation stops, but the song continues.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Malai pozhudhin

The radio crackles to life around 4 pm. It’s a hot afternoon and the clouds are teasing you with a few drops of rain that unlock the humidity instead of cooling the city. At home, they’ve asked you to go and buy some tea sachets from a shop close-by. You can protest but you have to end up going anyway, besides you are not doing anything meaningful like work, so you leave reluctantly, because you want to listen to this song that has just come on. You manage to catch bits of the song along the way from different radio sets playing the same station. On the way, you see your friend coming from the ration shop, you say a quick hello and notice a bunch of oily-faced kids returning from school, with school bags on their back, swinging their lunch box. At the shop, the evening newspapers are already out, you can see the front page news on sheets clipped to a rope under the counter. Not much crowd at the shop, so you buy your sachets and walk back. The maid has come and she is washing the dishes. You will go out later to see your friends and watch some pretty girls go by from college. A brief respite from an otherwise dull evening. The song is over now.

Pazhaya sogangal

You never heard this song when it was released. An experimental movie that didn't do well perhaps. Thankfully, some songs outlive the movies they feature in, you think when you listen to it much later. There’s a college-day-afternoon angst quality to the song. Even now. It takes you back to your second or third year. To the days when you left after the last class afternoon around 3.45 and waited for the bus. There are puddles near the bus stand from the previous day’s rain. The locals in their dhoti and shirt wearing sandals and chewing pan. You see a man on a cycle carrying water in two bronze vessels tied together with a cycle tyre or tube and slung across the carrier in the back.He looks like a decent, honest man. A dog tries to run after him for a few metres and gives up sensing no imminent fight. The day has an unnatural combination of the apocalypse and optimistic cheer. Sweet melancholy.

Single handed sailor

A warm, lazy breeze comes caressing from the sea shimmering in the sharp mid-morning sun, its blazing rays bouncing off the powdery whiteness of the sand. The mug of beer you ordered from the thatched-roof bar at this island resort is getting warmer on the wooden table, next to the book you’ve brought for the trip but not read. You will finish it before you get back, you promise. You’re sitting under the roof near the edge of the bar area, where your toes accidentally touch the burning sand. You search for your slipper with your feet as you reach for the beer. It’s too hot to even think of a smoke. Sipping the lukewarm beer, you notice how the half empty mug has the residual smell of the potato chips you had a while ago. You take a deep breath, and inhale the salty breeze which carries the distinct smell of suntan lotion from beach where bathers and swimmers are splashing around in the sea. A lone kayak is bobbing up and down almost vulnerably in the vast blue sea. A sail boat struggles even further up. You look at the book for a while and pick up your iPod, and this song comes on, fittingly.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Senegal Fast Food

You are at the same pub with your friend where the DJ played a Dylan number last year. You are a bit late, so it’s not the cleaner, pre-first smoking customer air that greets you. Instead it’s the smell of acrid smoke and deep fried stuff and the woody smell of alcohol. You sit near the door for a while and get a fleeting whiff of a new perfume/cologne from the newest entrant before it gets swallowed by the resident pub smell. Later you move inside to a more comfortable booth. You are joined by some new friends whose names you barely catch but beer-laden conversations seldom have a need for trivial things such as names. The DJ, inspired by the Cranberry juice perhaps, has been playing some rather decent music tonight. From his glass booth, he catches your eye, and points to the speaker, as if saying, ‘this song is for you’. Money well spent on the juice, you conclude.

Tweeter and the Monkeyman

You are in your first real agency job where the office is air-conditioned and people have names like those in the English medium classes in your school. Even local names have been Anglicised, you realise. People are ordering sandwiches and doughnuts from the office boy who is going around asking people what they want for lunch. You say no as you’ve tried it once and not only was it foreign to your taste buds, it left you as hungry as you were before you ate them. You eat from your lunch box you got from home, and light up a cigarette. You are allowed to smoke in the office, and you notice even women smoke here which is new to you. You are a small town boy and you feel out of place but you’ve made some friends. And your immediate boss is a decent chap who shares your taste in music. He comes around just as you are about to get back to work and plays this song on a tape recorder, as he too likes this singer. The brief can wait.

Things have changed

The pub is a little empty considering it’s nearing 8 in the evening. You are a couple of beers down and think of ordering one more. People start strolling in, you don’t know many as all your friends are long gone, to different shores, except for the one you are with. Random programmes on the muted TV screens have no audience. You light up a cigarette not because you like it but more out of a nostalgic sense of recapturing your early pub-going cigarette-smoking days. You are not talking much either but it’s ok. Words are not necessary now. As you sip your beer, and puff at your smoke (you can’t inhale any more and your tongue is already numb from the few that you’ve tried to smoke), when the DJ plays this song from nowhere. It’s in no way related to the rest of the songs they’ve been playing. Taken back, you nearly choke on your beer and can hardly contain your surprise as you raise your glass to the your friend and the DJ.


It’s not so much a memory of the song as it’s the place it transports you to when you hear it again years later, in another country. Over your second single malt with a friend who doesn’t know the language, you are discussing music and composition, and the use of just the right instruments as the tropical sun takes its glory elsewhere, leaving the whole city a bit empty. This song comes on your music system from your playlist, and you feel it takes you to a village you’ve never been before but can see vividly, with its green squares of paddy fields and pumpset water system, the kids playing outside their huts, you can smell the acrid smell of wooden stoves being lit for the evening meal. Your single malt buddy says he loves the song. You nod and go for a refill.


They play a song to fill the gap between one programme and the 7 o’ clock news, which is the state news, followed by the national news. The news will be follwed by the sweet voice of a lady announcing the price Jafna tobacco, sold in quintals. You liked her voice and particularly the quintal bit. One time, you remember, the filler was about someone on a mountain side, you heard the chirping of the birds, the soft sound of a waterfall and the metallic clank of sculptors’ implements against rocks. Then you tuned in every day at the same time, but that programme never came on. Now they are playing this song, it’s from a new movie, you notice how seamlessly it blends with the darkening day and the quietening evening.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hum Dono do premi

You heard this at an afternoon show. You didn’t go to the movie featuring this song but it came on during the interval when they show clips of upcoming movies. The trailers always had a fight, a couple of songs, someone crying, a dance sequence. But you won’t be taken to watch the movie, or movies of these kind where adult themes were dealt with. No skin for you. Too young. But the Laurel and Hardy movie you actually went for was thoroughly enjoyable. Somehow, amidst all their silly antics, you come out remembering this song. You don’t know what they are saying, but you like the tune. Later, when you heard it again, you thought of a rainy day.

Yaar andha nilavu

The sand piled up in front a stranger’s house for construction feels cold as you sit on it. You’ve bought two sticks of cigarettes, one for your friend who soon joins you after buying some ‘supari’ to mask the smell of cigarettes when you go back home. You can stay out late now, you have a job. How things change in 6 months of finishing college, you wonder as you light up. The shop is not far, but far enough for the tobacco smell to fade. The street is quiet. Not much traffic in residential area which is good. You talk of movies, songs, other friends, the one who has gone to a bigger city. Life was at a stage where none of you had to worry about family or kids. It was all … light. You stub out the cigarette (even though you different brands every day, they all end up tasting the same), and walk back home slowly. As you near the laundry man who uses the front of his house to press clothes for the neighbourhood (his wife or son will drop them off, usually at night),. You stop by to check on your clothes, watching him expertly move the big old-fashioned iron box. The smell of steam and hot coal from the iron spreads on you like a mild heat wave. As you leave, this song comes on his radio. You know the song, you’ve heard it, and it’s not too loud now as the radio is inside the house.


The fragrance of eucalyptus caresses your nostrils as the bus wheezes up the second hairpin bend. You crane your neck out of the window and see tall trees on top of which God probably lives. Lowering your gaze, you find wild flowers and small plants growing almost impossibly in cracks between the rocks. Water from up the mountain comes in small rivulets down the sides. Drivers have their own code up in these areas, you observe, when they let another vehicle overtake, they both hoot their horn in acknowledgement. The small bus you and your wife are in is full of newly-weds, just like you and the teenage boy in the bus next to the driver says how these trees grow up to hundreds of feet ‘without sea level’. He means from the sea level but prepositional mistakes only enhance the trip. The tape in the sound system of the bus seems to be on a never-ending loop as you hear this sing come up again.

Nenjathile nee

The evening breeze carries faint traces of rain making the twilight even more pleasant. The front yard, which was full of your friends and your brothers’ friends, now feels deserted. Everyone has gone back their respective homes. You played late as it was the beginning of your holidays. A relative who has come on a visit prepares to leave, and you tag along with your sister to see the person off. You walk by the double streets paved with Mayflowers, they look much better during the day, you think. You walk past all the familiar shops, the barber shop, the tailor, the grocer, they all look different by this twilight glow. The clouds probe the ground with a few drops of rain. You watch the bus come to a creaking halt, it’s empty too. A man carrying a transistor walks by, which is playing this song. You like the song, the whistling is what attracts you most, but it fades away on your way back home.

Uravugal thodarkadhai

You heard it for the first time at the concert given by the singer of the song. You remember it distinctly as not many popular artistes come to your town. This was a first. You are there with a bunch of people, your family members, neighbours and friends. The singer, known for punctuality, enters the stage exactly at 6 pm. Clad in white like his orchestra members, he sings a lot of popular hits. And he ends the show with this mesmerizing song which captivates you completely. You’ll hear it again while getting off a bus, as it comes from a radio at a bakery. And much later, years later, you’ll understand the brilliance of the composition.

Little Martha

That’s the first time you hear it, when it’s played on a guitar by your friend. You’ve never heard the recorded version, although you’ll find no difference between the two when you get around to listening to the original much later. It feels like a late afternoon number, it makes you think of a high-ceilinged house, probably because that’s where you heard it first. Perhaps there was a pool in the courtyard, its silent blueness disturbed only on weekends. The song is short, sweet and memorable, like the life of some geniuses, a little more or less, you think, would have spoiled it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Flor d’Luna

It’s a lazy Sunday in the tropical island. Pleasant breeze blows through the big doors and windows of the fairly big house. It’s hard to come by these kind of structures, you think as you step in. A flight of stairs lead up, but you don’t want to take them. Stairs are always forbidding in someone else’s house. A faint smell of cigarettes hangs in the air, still resisting the blowing breeze. A beautifully crafted Taylor rests on the stand, like a haughty woman who won’t let just anyone touch her. So you stay a respectable distance from the masterpiece and admire while your friend comes in, saying, ‘Want to try it? It sounds beautiful’. You decline politely and take out the $300 Yamaha and sit down to practice what you were taught the previous week. ‘Hey , ever listen to this piece?’ he asks as he plays this song. Mesmerising.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Thavikkudhu thayangudhu

It’s a cool, beautiful morning, it feels like it had rained the previous night. The puddles on the road are carefully avoided by kids on the way to school, who are mostly on foot or on their cycles as the school bus doesn’t come to this street. Their uniforms still look new with the bright shiny badges that announce which school they belong to. The girls giggle and whisper to each other and the boys loudly discuss a cricket match they watched on TV a few days ago. You still have time to get ready to go to work but this scene, the sight of school kids makes you wonder about your own days at school. Not sure if you enjoyed every day, you turn to go about your routine when this zippy song comes on neighbour’s radio.

Road to Hell

The small town station is deserted as you step away from the counter where the bespectacled clerk disinterestedly informs you that you will have to wait another two hours for your train. Wondering what you are going to do for the next two hours, you buy cigarettes and a cup of coffee from a stall that sells local magazines too. You take a sip of the lukewarm liquid which has traces of coffee. Lighting the cigarette, you walk the length of the platform, passing the station master’s cabin from which the clatter of the typewriter breaks the monotony of the mid-morning silence that has descended on this station. A strange sense of emptiness envelopes the place as you reach the end, you turn to see a boy in his loincloth taking a bath from the tap that’s fixed to a tiled wall that comes up to two feet. He laughs and asks for a cigarette, which you ignore. Walking back, you throw the coffee cup in a trash can and crush out the cigarette and put on the Walkman and this song comes on, eerily befitting the emptiness of this place. Lying down on a stone bench, your eyes blankly staring at the old, dirty but still functioning ceiling fan. If ever there was a portal that transported you to a different dimension, this was the place. And if they ever played any song as you boarded the craft, this was it.


It’s not so much a memory of hearing the song on the radio as it is the about the memory of you discussing it with your colleagues that morning after hearing it on the radio. With a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and a freshly lit GoldFlake in the other, you and your colleagues, pretty much on the same wavelength, are talking about the layering of voices, the orchestration and the captivating second interlude when you are informed by another colleague that the boss man is coming up the stairs. The conversation will continue on a scooter on the way to a client’s office, but till then, the song is on your lips.


It’s Sunday in a 3-room flat. You’re bleary-eyed, and dead beat from last night’s tequilas and Coronas. You didn’t know how many then, and you don’t know now. A shower seems like a good idea, but this is one idea whose time has not come. Yet. Coffee. Followed by more coffee. You look out onto the wet market many storeys below. Ant people are buying fish and chicken after drawing money from a toy ATM flagging taxis that fit into your hand. You lurch across, staring at people staring into your flat through the open door, when this song comes on.

Island of Souls

You are sitting by the sea waiting for no one in particular watching the sun slip beyond the edge of the sea, like an oversized orange out of a child’s hand. Gentle waves wash against the shore, carrying the smell of the city while a lone bird returns to its home. The splashing sounds of the sea synchronize with the waves crashing in the song, making you sway to the rhythmic ebb and tide of the song, aware of a strange sense of calm as the song ends. Time for the first drink of the night.

Naan thedum sevvandhi poovidhu

After you heard it for the first time on your radio on the programme where they played the recent releases, you remember hearing it on a bus, on the way to a nearby town. They played songs on buses those days. There are a few passenger on this morning you notice as the bus pulls off. Once it clears the city limits, the road becomes smoother as does the ride. As the bus picks up speed, you edge closer to the window and feel the ‘frapatapa’ of the breeze against the rolled up shutters and feel its invigorating quality as it whips by your face. Green fields on either side slip by, kids in shabby clothes wave at the bus, farmers are plowing the land with bulls, there is a bore-well from which comes a thick tube of water. A sense of child-like happiness spreads inside as you move back to the middle of the long seat, and the song comes on the speakers of the bus. You sit back and enjoy the passing scenery and the song that will soon end. But it’s now that counts.


By Bob Dylan

The chill of the winter night caresses your toes from the balcony railing on which you have propped your feet. You adjust the cushions on your chair till you’re comfortable, and make sure your feet don’t slip off the railing. You keep the whisky close by on a chair, where you keep your cigarette and ash tray. Getting cosy on a winter night is all about keeping everything you need at arm’s length. You don’t want to stretch too much for the lighter or your glass, and you definitely don’t want to get up. The whisky you’ve poured yourself is keeping your body warm, you look out at the neighbouring flats, which are all quiet. No sign of life except for the lights coming on and off at periodic intervals from the flats. After a few sips, you light a cigaratte and exhale, watching the smoke swirl silently into the crisp night air. You pick up the Walkman from your lap, adjust the earphones, and push the play button. You settle in your chair snugly, wondering if there’s anyone you can play this song to.Well, it's still early in life, you decide.

Why should I cry for you

It’s a Marine Drive song. You are in the black and yellow taxi, heading home earlyish from around Nariman Point. The day is still warm and the night looks to be no different either. It’s not that you choose this song on your cassette tape Walkman, it just comes on as you hit the long curving road of Marine Drive, the smell of the Arabian Sea which is actually the smell of Bombay. You don’t mind the slow traffic. You look out and see the orange ball sinking slowly, at the lovers walking by the parapet wall where you once sat. You look to the right at the bus that’s next to the taxi at a traffic light, you see tired faces staring back crushed as much by work stress as by the crowd on the bus. (and if you are new in the city on a bus from another state, you wonder how you will make it to the exit when your stop comes, especially when you are not sure of your stop). The bus moves off letting out thick heavy smoke and interfering with the Northumbrian flute of the song and you reach for your GoldFlake to counter the soot. Same difference, you tell yourself. It’s getting dark slowly, and if you’re on time, you can catch the last rays feebly trying to reach higher as the deep red orb is finally swallowed by the sea, lighting up the sky in one last attempt.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Yedho Ninaivugal

It’s twilight in your hometown, the whole place glows with the unique orange wash of the sun. Neighbours are chattering over the wall about kerosene prices and gas hikes. The lady who brings fresh flowers door to door is at the door, measuring the garland with her forearm. The fragrance of the flowers blends with the breath of the night queen by the wall. Lights come on slowly and your friend, who had come to visit you, is leaving to go home, wash his face and do homework. You are about to do the same, feeling the fresh, cold water on your face as someone switches on the radio for the 7 o clock news, and the song comes on, you catch the song from the second stanza. You’ll have to wait till the next time they play it, maybe you can hear the full version. Meanwhile, there’s English II paper to master.

unnai naan paarthadhu

Another tea kadai song, only this comes on the radio around 9 am, the last song on the 8-9 am slot. You are waiting for your bus that takes you halfway to school and you have to change to get to your school. You are looking vacantly, not thinking of anything in particular, looking at the crowd getting off a bus that just stopped to unload and pick up, at the people getting in, the dog that’s everyone’s friend. He is not sure what he will get today, a biscuit or hot water from the boiler of the stall. There are a couple of seniors from your school but they don’t talk to you, it’s a senior code. You try smiling but the bus comes, and as you step inside, you hear this song, zippy, fast paced beginning. You catch snatches of the song from different radios, the one at a laundry man who irons clothes, from a house outside which there’s stop, a hotel with Coca Cola sign on the sides of the counter … and you catch the last stanza as you get off to change bus. It stays with you till you get to school. Till you realise you haven’t brought the exercise book.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Gnayiru Oli Mazhayil

Gnayiru Oli mazhayil Sung by Kamalhasan from Andharangam

The scent of jasmine flowers from the flower vendor on the street outside the temple mingles almost sacrilegiously with the dust raised by the town bus that’s sagging from the weight of all its passengers. The tea stall next to a row of shops selling everything from stationery items to spectacles and grocery is busy with its morning customers. The glass counter has biscuits and sweets, coconut buns and cakes that look aged, with a row of jars occupying the top that have other biscuits and savory items. The boiler is busy as are the tea master and his assistants. A dog is hesitantly wagging its tail at everyone coming out of the shop hoping for some generosity. He is ignored by the indifferent men who stop at the small shop next door selling newspapers, magazines, cigarettes by sticks, a rope with a burning end to light the cigarettes, some jars with groundnut cakes and assorted candies. You can tell it’s going to be a harsh day by the way the sun beats down on everyone including the dog who has now found a benefactor. Half a bun the customer couldn’t either eat or finish is now thrown to the dog who wags the tail a bit more vigorously in appreciation of the almost expected kindness. And from the old radio set on the counter which has aged from all the dust and grime, float the first notes of this song, which you’ll learn much later are from a guitar. It sounds different as guitar as an instrument was not a popular. You like the way the song starts, too young to identify the different instruments and how they come together to produce a smooth, haunting melody. The singer is new too, you’ve not heard his voice in any other song that you have heard on your Philips Major set. Soon, you’re lost in the melody of the song, and somehow, even though the words are too mature, they find a place in your mind. And you don’t hear the song until after a long time. But it has never left you.