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.