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.