Thursday, October 18, 2012
The man next to the room your dad was staying in played this song. You didn’t know what it meant. You were just about 4 or 5 years old. But you liked it for some reason. Thinking back, maybe he played it over weekends. He had a machine, which you later learnt was a gramaphone. It was fascinating that a spinning disc with a needle could produce songs. Who was singing? Where did they hide? When you were not being captivated by this machine, and this song in particular, you climb the short wall next to your dad’s room onto the tiled roof. You remember the mornings when your dad took you to the ‘hotel’ nearby for breakfast through a market selling fruits and vegetables. The whole restaurant smelled wonderful. It had a counter with the cashier sitting behind at a height. The counter had a red Coca Cola sign. You don’t remember what you ate, but you remember your father transferring coffee from tumbler to the ‘davara’ which is a flatter vessel to cool it down.
You remember the smell of jaggery being made. That’s what your parents and your family members you went with to see the new house they were buying. It was far from where you were living, with your cousins on one side, and the friendly neighbour who gave you a teaspoon of ‘powder’ which was ‘Ovaltine’ and a biscuit every morning. You remember the medley of smells from the small ‘petty shop’. An old woman is sitting behind a row of bottles, handing out cigarettes and candy to customers. She has huge gold jewellery hanging from her ears. You can see the big hole. In her ear from which the piece of jewellery is hanging, and you wonder if it hurts her. The smell of ripe bananas, cigarettes, groundnut cakes and other candy hit your nostrils. But dominating all is the smell of jaggery on this warm day. This song comes on from the small transistor radio in the shop. Later you would go to the place where they were making the jaggery. There was a well, and a thick tube stuck out of the well all the way out into a tank. The water rushed out like a frothing, liquid snake. You still the smell of the jaggery in your mind, and the song. Statue, statue, he was saying.
You were probably 4 or 5 years old, and it was the first few months of having been admitted to a school down the road from your house. You were playing with your cousins and friends all day long, and suddenly you were yanked from your familiar routine with familiar faces and thrust into this school with total strangers. You hated going to school every day. You hated saying good-bye to your elder brother who sat you on the front bar of the bicycle and took you to school every morning. You sat there on the edge of the bench and kept thinking of when your sisters will come with your lunch. After a while, you seemed to be getting used to the routine, not whole-heartedly, but whole enough not to feel so sad. Because you learnt that the kids you played with were also going to school. One day, around 11 am, while not listening to the teacher going on about something and daydreaming, your sisters come to your class and you see them talk to the teacher. Your new found friends want to know what’s happening. Soon, you are told to take your bag and go with your sisters. You couldn’t be happier. Once you are home, your mother is waiting for you. She says for you to get ready as you are traveling to meet your dad who is working in a town some hours away. You just follow her and go to the bus stop. Strange women smile at you and talk to your mom. It’s warm inside and you wish the driver would start the bus so some breeze would come in. There’s a smell of sweet fruit. Some mother buys ‘murukku’ from a vendor for her kid. You don’t get that as you are not allowed to eat outside food. Then you hear this song, rendered quite badly. You look around and see a girl with a small boy, and she is singing this song, and stretches her arm out for alms. You don’t remember if anyone put any money in that hand. You just remember the song.
Monday, April 30, 2012
It’s annual school holidays in your new neighbourhood where your family has just moved into. You’ve made a friend across the street. It’s an unusually cool summer morning when you go to his house which is in the back of the owner’s house. It was a standard practice when the owner of a house wanted to make some extra money they rented out the small ‘portion’ in the back to people they knew or friend’s friend’s relative. Your house was also in the back come to think of it. Your friend is in the owner’s house, and he introduces you to them, two brothers. They seem like nice people. One of them has made some sweet dish and he is offering it to you to taste, you have a taste and it’s quite nice. It’s a fairly big house but not as clean as your house is. Bachelors are like that, you remember someone saying in connection with something else. Later, your friend takes you outside where the owner’s tractor is standing. It’s a blue tractor with a trailor, and you get on the trailer, and he tells you you can see air if you look real close. You strain your eyes and all you can see are those vague dots swimming in front of your eyes. He says that’s air. You can see it now, can’t you? When you go back in, this song comes on the radio, it sounds beautiful.
The year seems good for decent grades, especially in math, a bit unusual. There’s a sense of relief in the air as the eminently forgettable two years at the not-so-top of the line school are coming to a swift end. And come June, the so-far-near-drab life would take on an exciting turn with the next step being in a college. College! In other word, freedom. Freedom to go and come as you please, freedom to ogle girls, freedom to talk about things you couldn’t till recently, freedom to watch movies that were certified ‘A’, freedom to come home late … you can taste it now as you go to your school. The hope of a new beginning makes even this dowdy affair seem interesting. As you take the bus in the morning, and as yo leave for school, they pla this song on the radio. It’s captivating, jazzy, unusual (like the high grade in math), and its guitar work is like nothing you’ve heard so far. Then, when you are in college, in the hilly, cooler part of your town, enjoying the unalloyed freedom of being above reproach from family members, your friend plays this song on the guitar and wins a gold medal. Years later, very many years later, you would pick up this song on your guitar too, and it would be one of the most satisfying experiences of your life, especially when you play the last interlude. Bliss!
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
It’s during the first few months on your new job in the new city. You’ve come to work on a Saturday and the office looks deserted save for the few other people working on the same project. Time dilates on a weekend shift, especially when your wife is waiting at home. You finish your work as best and as quickly as you can and take your friend up on his offer of a lift, he is going your side of the town he says. There’s still someone at the office who will lock up later. You take the empty elevator down to the lobby that has a few tourists looking for a bargain at the shops selling cameras and watches. Your friend says he has parked his car a few blocks away, about a 10 minute walk, so you walk to the car park in a mall. It’s an old beat up Toyota. It has character, feels strong somehow. The streets start getting emptier and emptier, wearing a lazy weekend look as you reach home. This song comes on, accentuating the emptiness further. Your friend looks at a passing car and says, ‘red merc’. You laugh at the way he says it. He drops you off outside your apartment block and you walk up, feeling a bit drained but looking forward to the evening.
Monday, April 9, 2012
It's early days in the new city you have moved to, and you are on your way to work or is it a weekend and you're on your way to the mall in the downtown area with your newly wedded wife? You don't remember now, but you remember the day was pleasant. It was a cool tropical morning and the air con in taxi make sit cooler. Rain drops slide down the window blurring the view of buses, cars and pedestrians on either side of the road. Everything feels refreshingly different, the newness of the place hasn't left you yet, there will be time for that, years later when it would be not so different as it is now. The cab with its air-con and the almost silent clicks of the indicator light, the smell of the interior which is quite pleasant, the taxi driver's accent, the sights of the city ... everything feels so different. The taxi is at a traffic light, you look out at all the foreign-make cars you never saw back home, as a yellow taxi pulls up next blocking the view, and this song comes on the car radio.
It’s still early days in the new city. You are settling in, with your colleagues, in your new home, the new surroundings. You take the train which is everything the trains in your town were not. These are clean, new, efficient, and nobody hung out of carriages like the did back home. You take the train with your wife to the mall in the shopping district. There are cosmetic counters on the first floor, clothes and household stuff are sold on other levels. You watch a movie in the hall which is located on the top floor, and you look down at all these shops on your way up the escalator. Later you will have dinner at a pasta place you’ve become a regular at over the last few months. It’s a routine now. As you go up, this song comes on again through the speakers.
You always heard this song on your taxi rides in the tropical city you moved to recently. They played this song mostly in the mornings. You don’t remember what the days were like now as you try to remember. Not specifically, but they seem very pleasant. “everything looks and feels different”, you said to yourself as you soaked in the feel of the new city, with its new people, foreign faces, colleagues who looked nothing like your countrymen, roads that were totally unfamiliar, sights and sounds and accents that were nothing like you had ever seen so far…. Living in a different country, travelling out of your familiar womb was always going to be laced with a thin line of nervousness. Wasn’t that what excitement was all about? Like a rollercoaster ride. And every day almost they played this song on the radio, which too was a new experience, for the taxis in your previous city didn’t have a radio. They didn’t have air con, let alone radio.
Monday, March 26, 2012
It usually comes on in the afternoon, a hot afternoon. You can’t recall why you were home when it came on the radio, maybe it was your time off from work, perhaps you were in between jobs, maybe it was the job hunting days right after college. You have been asked to go and get some tea bags for the evening, so you step out not much wanting to, as the girls you liked to see come back from their schools or college will be on the way anytime now. You don’t want to be caught with cheap tea bags, it would be embarrassing. Luckily, the shop is close by, less than 5 minutes’ walk. The street is a sleepy, a banana vendor is sleeping on the cart which is under the shade of a big tree. Milkman sees you and waves from his cycle. You nod and walk on, and buy your tea from the small petty shop round the corner next to a tea shop that’s a bakery as well. Vacant stares from strange people as you pay for the stuff and cross back. The putrid smell from the rotting vegetables at the entrance of the market hits your nostrils along with the assorted smells from the shop, a medley of cigarette smoke, burning rope for lighting cigarettes, fruits, candy, and ageing biscuits. The song comes on as you walk back, and your friend is at the gate. You signal to him, pointing to the teabag, saying you’ll drop it and go to his house, which is just across from yours. It’ll be just about right to watch the girls.
It’s around 8 in the morning. You have to get ready for school that’s about 10 minutes by walk. In fact, you can see the school, which is a single big room with an asbestos sheet, from the terrace. The school is to the the left, beyond the well and a plae called buttin factory, which for some reason has sharp glass pieces stuck to the top of the wall surrounding it. To the right, there’ another well, and beyond that is a row of thatched roof houses made of clay which sit by the railway line. Two trains pass by in the morning, a slow passenger around 9 and a fast express much earlier around 8.30. It comes back in the evening in the opposite direction. Sometimes you see that from the back entrance, standing near the water tank, and over the back wall. The familiar starting tune of the morning programme comes on as you are getting ready to take a bath. It’s a one hour programme, and you usually leave after the last song. When this song comes on, you tend to think of the train that’ll pass by soon. You don’t know the meaning of the songs, you like the way it sounds.
Friday, February 17, 2012
It’s a Sunday afternoon. Lazy, uninspiring, uninteresting drag of a day. Not a bad day, but just drags. And the programmes on the solitary channel are not helping. A regional movie is on with unknown actors and landscape. You have to wait till evening for your language programme to come on, till then you watch this ditchwater dull show. A couple of other guys are around, lolling in various postures on the sofas. Your friend’s cousin comes in with something they’ve cooked in their house. Smells like jaggery and ghee, probably a festival you don’t know about. The ceiling fan’s wings rotate slowly, as lazily as the afternoon. A cobbler comes to the door and is sent away. You hear the door latch being lifted and another friend comes in, not bringing much to accelerate the slow-setting lethargy. Some ads break the boring programme on TV. When this comes on you don’t know which is worse, this annoying ad or the insipid offering.
It’s a day of no work. You’ve just finished college and tried your hand at a job your cousin recommended you didn’t like it, so you quit. You are in your friend’s house, where you most of your waking hours with other friends. Today there’s a cricket match. An important one with Pakistan. Soon, the rest of the unemployed friends come and some smoke, most don’t. A supply of betel nut (pan parag) is ensured by some instead. The match starts and the opposition is batting, so you don’t pay much attention. You keep the TV on mute, and listen to some songs on the system. After a quick lunch at home, you are all sitting around the TV, on the floor, in the sofa, on the arm rest, wherever there’s space, it’s occupied by friends, friends’ friends, colleagues of brothers, strangers who become friends instantly. Pan gets passed around, there are jokes, banter, and hope as the match progresses. You make fun of the opposition players, give nick names to your team players, someone answers a call from your brother’s office asking for the score. And then this commercial comes on. And you all know instantly what this means. India will lose. It’s happened more than once, and it’s no coincidence. This is a cursed commercial for a great bike, and soon enough your team stumbles to a loss, leaving you all distraught. You retire to your regular bakery run by two guys, and discuss what was the turning point of the match.
A day like this doesn’t come often. No school and a chance to watch a movie! It’s summer holidays and your parents have agreed to let you go watch a movie with your neighbour across the house. It’s an English movie at a cinema that has the best sound system in town. You can hardly contain your excitement. A movie! Wow! By 5 pm your friend comes over and after nodding your head to all the advice (cross the road carefully, keep your money safe, don’t eat oily stuff during the interval), you start walking. It’s a good 30 minute walk, talking about this and that, mostly a cricket match, or a ‘favourite’ teacher. When you reach the cinema, there’s not much crowd and the queue is short, which is good as you don’t like long queues, and the potential houseful sign. You stand in the line in a narrow concrete roofed structure, the three rows separated by iron railings. Soon you are at the counter and you buy two tickets for 2.90. That’s a decent section of the hall, just far enough from the low life seats and near enough to the high class, a palatable middle ground. Relieved at the ease with which you got the tickets, you walk a bit, wonder if you should have the famous coffee and ‘keera vada’, you shelve it for later, during the interval. You enter the cinema and the halls’ lights dim. Instead of the movie you paid the money for, you get these ads. You hate them, they are so intrusive and stupid, you think. You make fun of the ad with your friends. Not just this one, but every one that follows. But this will play for a long time, as long as you went for the movies, this particular one would out last all of the others.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
It always came on your radio in the afternoon. Around 4 pm on weekends. The people in your house have woken up from the slumber induced by the heavy meal and now are ready for some hot coffee. The aroma of filter coffee wafts in from the kitchen. It doesn’t have to waft far as there are only two rooms. Someone switched on the radio and this comedy scene comes on again. You’ve heard it many times but it never tires you or your family members. It stays fresh and funny no matter how many times you hear it. You’ve never seen the movie though. You remember seeing the poster on your trip to your sister’s town. The black and white posters on the wall right next to the party symbols running for the assembly election that year. One of the symbols had a cow and a calf. Someone had thrown cow dung on another poster next to it. You try to paint a picture from the sound of the characters and as always, you are far from reality. Later, when tape recorders came into households, your friend’s folks had this on tape as well, and you borrowed the mono set and heard it like you’ve never heard it before. Timeless.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
There’s a music shop that has opened down the corner on the first floor of the two storeyed building that has some random shops, like a travel agent, a Xerox shop etc. You go there in the evening with your friend to check out the price of recording songs. You’ve just learnt things like TDK, Sony, Maxell tapes and that they come in 90 and 60 options. Your friend’s got a new mono player in his house, while you’d have preferred a stereo you can’t force his dad to buy what you need so you settle. There are lots of brand new vinyl records with sexy images of women in skimpy clothes, abstract visuals, guys with funky hair style … as you browse and ask if he has the songs you heard on Radio Australia, you hear this rather catchy tune coming on. And you ask him to record this immediately.
It’s a winter morning in the small town which has its own weather system that separates it from the big cities. Water gets real cold without freezing, coconut oil somehow freezes and becomes greasy snow in a bottle, door fronts feature rangolis with pumpkin flowers on cow dung mound, it’s December back home. You look forward to the school half yearly holidays, and soon, in the coming month, there will be a longish break for the harvest festival. As you walk to the bus stop, watching people shiver in the early morning cold which has made some shop keepers sleep a little late in opening the shutters of their shops, the sun breaks through the clouds bringing a brief respite from the biting cold. You try to keep to the slivers of the sun on the ground but it disappears again. Somewhere on a radio this song comes wafting through like the aroma from a gently cooked meal.