You came singing through my soul

“And now, Carlos Santana coming to you live from Galgotia University grounds”  (Seriously?!)… is not a sentence I ever expected to hear. But I did. And it was music to my ears.

After the Metallica disaster I’d given up hope of any big act making it to Delhi/NCR. But Korn and Enrique (neither of whom I was interested in) played to packed audiences, and went off super-smoothly. I did want to go for Megadeth and headbang (so what if my knees wouldn’t last beyond the first 3 minutes of shaking like a maniac?) to A tout le monde but that was the weekend Tambi was in town with Baby Button (yes!!). By town I mean at my parents’ place so we all trooped back there. I kept telling him it was a testimony of my love for him that I picked him over the chance to see Megadeth live. The OA on the other hand was all – “Eh? Megadeth? Who?” I think I should have had these on a checklist before I married him. He also caught Iron Maiden in the US and even Alice in Chains. And he doesn’t even like their music. :( I missed that night because I had made plans to meet a friend who I never thought I’d get to meet in this lifetime. But seriously, where is the justice I ask you. And how did I marry a man who isn’t a fan of any of these bands? Oh well.

And when I heard that Santana would be playing after the F1 in Noida I jumped at the chance. I don’t know how other cities do it but the idiots here (DNA again, of course!) had not arranged for parking. The F1 parking and signage was brilliant and we followed the arrows naturally assuming that we’d park in the same place, only to be told that the parking lot would shut at 7pm once the F1 audience had departed. We asked the traffic cops milling around on duty, where we should park –  We don’t know, they shrugged, just don’t park here, because we’ll tow you away. Gee, thanks, that is helpful. Finally we just parked down the road in broad view of two tow trucks. Entry was to have opened at 3pm but it only opened at 5pm. After two hours of mucking around in the dust I was this close to collapsing. Why is it harder to stand than it is to walk?

We finally got in and my bladder was about to burst (does this fall into the realm of TMI?) and the port-a-loos that had barely opened up to junta were filthy and already wet and out of water too! WTF?!

After all that misery (can you tell how old I am?) I collapsed in the grass and then Soulmate began to play. The OA and I always try to catch them when they’re in town. Something about them makes my toes curl. I love Tips’ vocals and attitude and Rudy has a voice that sounds like smoke over whiskey. Yes, okay, it is clear we love them.

They were the perfect band to open for Santana because they set the mood and it was almost a spiritual experience to just lie in the grass, dusk falling, staring at the sunset- tamed and hazy through the settling smog and then watch a sliver of silvery moon peek out. To be invited to open for an act like Santana is huge and I think they picked the right band for it.

That said, I feel bad for opening acts. The audience has paid a solid price for the main act and many of them may not have even heard of you. And so it was for Soulmate, with most people getting impatient, the anticipation for Santana getting unbearable. Frankly I’d have driven from Gurgaon to Greater Noida just to hear Soulmate anyway.

And then a ripple ran through the crowd. We weren’t quite sure what it was about, but we sat up anyway. And there, standing behind Tips, his trademark hat on, was Santana, playing for her!!! I can’t tell you how excited I was. My first big gig, the great man Santana himself, and such humility, yet such confidence. He came in with a blast of smoke and when it cleared, not too many people lying back in the grass and semi-dark noticed the extra person. Until someone saw the brightly-patterned jacket and hat and froze.

It was overwhelming, and I felt like a college kid, tears of excitement springing to my eyes. He didn’t try to steal her thunder, playing a tiny bit and floating off the stage after his little joke. Soulmate finished the act as the audience courteously stayed mum but impatiently shuffled around, waiting for them to wrap up.

And when Santana finally came on, the crowd went wild. You will understand this was not easy because half the crowd was over 50! It was cute to see all these older people, some bald, some fully white, wrinkled, all eyes ablaze. Nothing like my shabby jeans and nondescript shawl. These were all in expensive jeans with nary a frayed hem, discreet logos on their neatly ironed pockets and suede driving shoes. Oh yeah, this was another generation coming back to see their idol and this was definitely a far cry from their Peace Brother times.

I called my dad when they played Black Magic Woman. It was the closest he’d ever come to hearing his idol playing live. He’d badly wanted to come but things hadn’t worked out and I was feeling miserable and guilty. Apparently guilt trips come easy to me and I’m thinking of becoming a travel agent for them. It was lovely. Dad singing in my ear on the phone and Santana live in front of me. And then he said, “People below 50 shouldn’t have been allowed in. You don’t know Santana like we did.” True, Dada.

At some point my knees gave out entirely and I sat down in the midst of a thousand stamping, dancing feet. I’d probably be trampled to death, but I didn’t care and couldn’t have done much if I had cared. I was in awe of their energy. Performing, dancing and singing for 2 hours at that age can’t be easy. His wife Cindy drummed for a couple of numbers and was mindblowing. Reminds you that often one half of a famous couple gets overshadowed. My other thought was – damn, but she must have fine biceps!

He spoke a little through the show, talked about peace and the inner light. I don’t know about others, but if my life had Santana playing the background score I’d be at peace and nursing my inner light! I tried hard to live in the moment, closing my eyes, letting the music take over and feeling the energy of the crowd.

Soon the evening was over. Much anticipated and over too soon. But a dream come true and one I would close my eyes and relive for years to come.

And because some of you may have missed Santana, I’m going to share with you, the house pictures of a friend of mine. I love her place. It’s not one of those new modern minimalist characterless places and I love it. I’m always finding something new in a new corner and it always has a fun story. If homes reflect character then hers says warm, inviting, nuanced, interesting, fun, quirky, doesn’t take herself seriously, has taste, eclectic and above all, absolutely original. I’m tired of people seeing someone’s home and lifting an entire idea or wall design. It’s heart breaking for those who spent time coming up with the idea. Enough talk now – go enjoy.

My hero

Compulsory Hero by 1927 was a favourite song when I was a child (Click here for lyrics). I have no idea why such a melancholy song made it to my playlist at that age, but it did.

Last night as I sat in the park watching the kids play as dusk fell, the song came back to me. I usually feel rather cranky when I take the kids to the park. The sun shines down relentlessly on landscaped gardens struggling to overcome the dry Haryana heat and red mud. A bunch of eye-poppingly colourful swings scattered between straggling cactii and palm trees and in some Gurgaon complexes, that funny turf thing to protect kids from getting hurt. There are no trees to climb and no knees getting scraped. I sit there like the antique that I am, muttering to myself and wishing I could set the kids free to run wild like I did instead of being restricted to this tiny patch. I suddenly see why we hear of so many playground fights these days. They are turf wars. In our time there was enough place for everyone to do their own thing and you didn’t have to push someone out of a corner to skip rope. Running along the train tracks throwing coins, playing treasure hunt across the entire old Bengali locality. Never knowing a moment of fear, or a mother who is scared they’ll get hit by traffic on the state highway we live close to or get kidnapped or molested. There is something about the dusk that brings your worst fears out of hiding and even as I wished for a freer childhood for the Brat and the Bean I shuddered at the thought of letting them out of my sight.

The boys were playing some sort of army game, running around screaming, shooting, throwing themselves down in the grass and dying, crawling on their bellies around hillocks with scant regard for the clothes they were ruining. Imaginary bombs were tossed, the enemy was attacked and then one of them got hurt and a real skirmish broke out. The Brat who was part of the commando troupe was hidden behind something and I suddenly saw the bush erupt and this little whirlwind rush out. Oh my God, I said, he’s getting into the fight. But I held my ground and watched. And after a few minutes the noise died down and then the kids slowly drifted back to their positions, resuming the game. Peace was brokered. I was too far away to hear what he said but I sat there smiling, glad that no one could see my eyes shining with tears in the gloom.

Women love men in uniform and since I didn’t marry one, I ended up wanting my son to be one. Years ago I wrote a post my old blog about how proud I’d be if my son joined the armed forces. He was barely a year old and I had a heart full of dreams for him. By the way, that post too was inspired by a song – Lukka Chhupi from Rang De Basanti. I so wanted to wave my son goodbye in his uniform, Bollywood mother style. And on a not so filmy note, I also wanted to see my kids do something for the country/ for the environment/ forsomething other than themselves and not just buy a third house as investment.

But as he grew and I saw the quiet, dreamy child he was turning into, it was clear he didn’t have the temperament for it. His line ‘Even if I hit to protect myself, it is violence,’ ringing in my head, I set aside that dream, albeit with a tinge of disappointment. And made my peace with him coming home with a scratched face one day, a bite on the back the next and an arm twisted behind him the third. I could not always be around to protect him and if he didn’t learn to do it, there was nothing more I could do.

A few days ago I went to school for his progress review and sat there flipping through the wiggles and squiggles his teachers called art. Looked at his awful scrawls that didn’t resemble the alphabet in any language. And smiled at the lumps of clay that were supposed to be dinosaurs. Even as a fond mother I could see no special talent in them. And then the teacher mentioned that they call him the class encyclopedia. Why is the bald eagle bald? Do you know which dinosaur was mistakenly identified as another? Have you any idea which country has the most pythons? The class always turns to him for the answer. But that wasn’t what made me proud. It was what came next.

Apparently he doesn’t get into fights. And when there is a fight in class, the teachers ask the two kids in question – What do you think the Brat would do in your place? Apparently he is the shining example for solving conflicts. And if the teachers are busy, they send him in to mediate and he does! I sat there listening, and couldn’t help but remember all the many posts I wrote on how my son was gentle and kept getting hit and beaten and bullied through his babyhood. I worried, I fretted, I stayed up nights and when I did sleep, it was to have nightmares of him being bullied until he broke down.

In all my years of blogging or even life, I doubt anyone can accuse me of being peaceful or resolving conflicts in a gentle manner. So for my son to be the exact opposite of me is a constant source of amazement for me. Not only has he learnt how to settle a dispute and deal with bullies, he’s also learnt to help others do that.

I guess even without hitting back or being in uniform, my son is my hero.

Interviewed on Blogadda this week

I do have something for you to read today, but it’s not here, it’s an interview on Blogadda. Regular readers probably know most of what I’ve said but you might want to drop by anyway.

What you don’t know though, is that I’m obsessing over this song from Agent Vinod. I’m going to smack the person who asks if it is Pyar ki Pungi. It’s Shreya Ghoshal’s Raabta. I asked around and learnt that raabta means connection. Have been striking poses and singing it to the OA who is most amused. The kids however, are not. They think I’m nuts. I guess it was only a matter of time before they came around to the realisation that their Momma is really Mad!

The word Raabta comes at a good time. I was just complaining to anyone who would listen on FB that I am sick of songs that have khumar rhyming with beqarar and zindagi with bandagi. Show some creativity, lyricists! The OA on the other hand, has been complaining that too many of the new songs have words he’s never  encountered, taking away from the experience. What new word have you encountered in a song and have you figured out what it means?

And oh, Agent Vinod? Sucks. Complete waste of money. I really should have trusted the reviews. Now run along and drop by blogadda.

Yeh raat yeh fizayein

The kids are fidgeting and it’s a hot summer afternoon. I draw the double shades, switch on the AC and let the dark room cool. All the while singing and patting them to sleep. I am running out of songs and I suddenly fall back on an old song that Ma used to sing at parties. Yeh Raat Yeh Fizayein. Like all the songs I grew up hearing my parents sing, I never considered the origin. They were Mama’s or Dada’s song and that’s it. Ma owned this particular song because she has this deep, velvet, smokey voice that makes it richer and more sultry than the original. She slows it down so that you feel each word, each line and have time to let it sink in, unlike the chirpier original. I have a clearer, higher pitched voice that naturally takes away from the warm feeling it evokes when she sings it. Over the years, Dad who doesn’t understand a word just does his bit – plays the guitar and hums along, adding a deep bass to it and the song is now theirs – nothing to do with Rafi or Asha.

Growing up between Rafi on one hand and Black Sabbath on the other, I picked up bits and pieces and one day sang this song in class during a free period. Once in a while a teacher would be absent and the substitute would be from the science section and a complete waste in our commerce section. The easiest way to keep a class shut (we were 94 kids in a section!) was to get one from among us to stand up and entertain. It was almost always me and one day I skipped the contemporary numbers and hesitantly sang this, testing waters and wondering whether this smokey almost seductive number would be acceptable to 80 male and 13 female 17 year olds. It worked. Everyone loved it.

And then we went for the school picnic, playing antakshari all the way in the bus. On the way back I was sitting with the girlfriend of the class umm…. bad boy? And I don’t mean the bad boy in a brooding way. He was rough, brash, big built, barely interested in studies, carried a country pistol to ease his way through things and was at the helm of most of the school violence. She was pretty, slim, had the most beautiful curls, shapely long legs and her laughter was almost musical.  I don’t know what she saw in him but I am guessing no one figured what I saw in the anti-social geek who only worked out, avoided events such as the school picnic like the plague and read esoteric literature while the rest of the class struggled with the lone piece of literature that was part of the syllabus for the year.

Anyhow. It was naturally too much to ask of this bad boy to be seated like the rest of the class and he prowled the bus aisle restlessly, a caged lion. It was still a long way home and he growled at me – “You, why don’t you sing the song you sang in class the other day?”

Which one, I say, determined not to let my voice quake in fear. He tells me, I nod, and then I sing.

The OA would probably say the poor singing brought tears to their eyes, but the noisy bus quietened around me and they all listened. And as I sat there, understanding dawned. I was singing this for her – from him. I saw her eyes well up and by the end she was openly sobbing. He turned away and looked out of the bus window, his eyes wet with tears. I didn’t really see what there was to cry about. We were young. A lifetime and so much promise lay ahead of us. We had so much time with the ones we loved. So much we wanted to do.

A couple of days later we had our first board exam and his body was found floating down the Ganga in the early hours of the morning. Gang war, family fight over property, the rumours flew thick and fast. It was the first time in our young lives we’d encountered a violent death and we were all in shock. She walked into class and a deathly silence fell. We all moved away from her. Death is a scary thing and no one wants to be associated with it. Not when your biggest concern that morning was the English Language paper or your un-waxed legs. She broke down and before long all the girls were crying. He may not have been our favourite classmate but the experience was a shocker. And all I could remember was singing for the young lovers barely a week ago and wondering what made them so morose when all I felt around the chosen one was elation. Maybe they had a premonition that it wouldn’t last.

I was talking to some people a few days ago who were talking about frogs in wells and travel. At some level they were right. If you don’t get out of your little well, you don’t see much of the world. But life, it comes to you no matter where you are. There in that small town, living an unremarkable life, those two met intense love, great loss and murder without taking a ticket to anywhere.

Here’s the song, by the way.


You want to what??

Dear father of my children,

I grew up in a home where we all trained in classical music. My grandmothers played the piano. My father and brother were rockers with the best. And so were the men I dated. I married you even though you had none of the credentials. Because I am generous that way.

I really didn’t even imagine you’d have anything to do with the introduction of music to our children. And without really intending to, I have introduced them to a variety of music from Pink Floyd and BB King to Abida Parveen and Illayaraja. Just while I am around the house, not deliberately.

And then you go and introduce them to  this

and this.

And then the three of you bop around the house screaming the lyrics and dancing while I go purple in the face. THIS is what you’re teaching my kids? Even Cousin J introducing them to Rihanna and Eminem was preferable to this.

The divorce papers are in the mail.

Your heartbroken wife,


Please don’t stop the music

My dad sent me this link and I thought of sharing it with you all even though it’s a fairly popular song. This song, STand By Me, holds a special place in my heart because my brother dedicated it to the OA and me at our engagement and sang it for us. Sweet child.

I love the way they’ve taken street singers from around the world and overlaid the voices and mixed it to create one song – music uniting the world.   Over the last couple of months I find myself gravitating towards jazz, blues, R&B and really soaking it in (I’d be happy for any recommendations from you all). They send these little shivers down my spine as I sit entranced, marvelling at the talent that goes into something like this. As I rediscover music that my parents played day after day, it feels like a rebirth. The angsty days of hard rock and the love struck days of Bollywood fade into the background as I put on CD after CD of soul music and hope that it will soak into my children’s very bones as they go about their daily business.

I remember my grandmother lying between my brother and me every night, patting us to sleep and telling us about stuff around the world. One of the things that made a deep impression on me was her telling us about the atrocities that the Africans suffered. It built a great deal of empathy and her words still run through my head at the oddest of times… She’d say “Africans have such beautiful voices because that was God’s way of carrying them through their darkest hours. The kernel of sorrow they carry manifests itself in their singing and that is how why they are blessed with so  much music.” Prevented from reading, writing, praying, living freely, all they had left was the music in their souls. The songs were mostly about freedom, but very often they carried codes as the slaves helped each other escape. As part of the human race I feel the burden of guilt for what they’ve been through. I remember crying when Obama won, not because I’m interested in American politics, but because the walk was such a long and difficult one. Over 12 million slaves were shipped to America starting in the 16th century until just 150 years ago.

People often tell me that driving a car is the ultimate in freedom and self-sufficiency. I think you are truly self sufficient only if you have music in your soul and an instrument at your fingers. Walk, hop on to a truck, hitch a ride… as long as you have some music to keep you company you won’t feel the lack of anything. What more can a person want if they have a song in their head and a melody running through their heads? Can you ever be truly alone if you can pick up a guitar and strum? Now that it is winter I go for my walk after the children go to bed, my head wrapped up to my nose in a shawl, hands dug into my pocket, singing loudly to myself in to the cold dark, windy night.

I envy musicians more than I envy writers, inventors, doctors or any other professional. Actually I don’t even think of music as a profession. It is part of who you are – like your nails and your skin. There’s no getting under it. There’s no getting away from it. You can always have it along with someone or something else. Your lover might leave you, your parents will die, your children may desert you and you might lose your job, but music? No one can take that song away from you.

On that note I leave you with another song I am tripping on – The Blues ain’t nothing but a Woman crying for her Man -Dinah Washington.

Oh who am I kidding? Here’s more 

This brilliant Coltrane take on My favourite things

and oh my God, this.. .

and how will this list be complete without Ray Charles? Actually it isn’t even a list to begin with…


Last night we went for a wedding reception. It was late and today is a school day but the couple are close friends and I thought it would be fun for the kids because the guest list was small and intimate and the venue beautiful. Things began to go wrong within ten minutes of leaving home but clearly we can’t take a hint. We were stuck in the mother of all jams. The kids began to whine after a while, sitting in the dark and irritating each other. I kept threatening  scolding to throw them out of the door. I’m glad I didn’t have to act upon that threat because the traffic was too heavy for me to even crack open a door.

An hour and a half of being in traffic and the Bean began to say she was feeling pukey. I took her in my lap and rolled down the window for some fresh air. Unlikely that there’d be any fresh air, stuck in the midst of traffic and fumes as we were. And then as we sat there cursing, there was a sound behind us and the Brat threw up all over himself and the car. I took one look at my peacock blue kanjeevaram and mentally kissed it goodbye. The OA pulled over and we hopped out and I begged a bottle of  water off a kind driver somewhere (Salaam driversaab, I’m sorry we left you waterless). We tried to wash him out but he was beyond repair. His shoes, socks, pajama, everything was caked in puke (I don’t think we feed him as much as he expelled). We cleaned him as best as we could only to realise that now he was freezing to death.

So we pulled off his by now sopping wet but still miraculously puke-encrusted pajama and the OA put his waistcoat on him. It went down to his knees and stiffly stuck out a good foot on either side of his shoulders.  The poor child was wet and shivering in the nippy early winter night and the OA and I were this close to smacking him for not warning us. He can talk ad nauseum about blue whales and stingrays, but can’t tell us he’s feeling like vomiting?! At this point he decided to break the ice by pointing out that the moon was blue and moving. Argh.

At this point I had what I like to think of, as my brain wave. The  Bean was in a brand new anarkali crushed kurta and churidar – I took off her churidar and I made him wear it. It just about went up his legs and left him unable to walk. The Bean didn’t object but looked rather sad. And then the OA and I surveyed the situation and laughed. Our son was in a maroon kurta with his sister’s purple and gold churidar, minus his socks, and floating in the OA’s large oversize waistcoat. The Bean was in a pretty purple and red crushed cotton anarkali kurta with a chiffon dupatta, ending in a pair of black skull and cross bone socks and Mary Janes – what? I hadn’t anticipated her having to take her churidar off!

We walked into the wedding looking bedraggled and smelling of puke (what? we couldn’t have bunked it – the couple were too dear to us and we were starving and in no position to drive another 2 hours back home) . The bride and groom were gracious and laughed with us. We figured the kindest thing we could do to them was to stay away from them and not pose for the mandatory picture. Fortunately some kind souls lent us some clothes and we put the Brat into a pair of tracks under his kurta, took off his thermal and wrapped him in my shawl, and returned the Bean’s churidar and her dignity to her.

By the time we were ready to eat, the OA and my sanity was hanging by a thread. The kids had forgotten the ordeal and were running around happily after eating a good meal. The entire evening had got derailed and it was way past their bed time. We finally left, dragging them behind us, back into our car that was stinking of puke. We got some paper from the caterers and cleaned up the floor as best as we could. Then we laid out fresh paper and made them sit down quietly, telling them they were not to move an inch or they’d know the reason why.

We’d barely driven for two minutes when I realised they’d both fallen asleep in the back seat. We haven’t carried a baby bag in 2 years or more and these are the times that I suppose we should have one. On the other hand, it’s good for the kids to rough it out and not take themselves too seriously. I wish I’d had a camera to record the moment we walked into the wedding venue, looking like a bunch of castaways.

The roads were empty, the night RJ was playing some good music and the OA and I were soon smiling and laughing over the kids’ antics. Mimicking them, discussing their temperaments and so on. He often asks me how women go through a second pregnancy and delivery after the discomfort and pain of the first one. So I gently asked him if he was still exhausted and annoyed.  He looked surprised – Of course not. He’d forgotten all about it. And there you have it, I said. That is how it works. Where your children are concerned, it’s so easy to forget the trouble and only focus on the joy they bring. Do you agree?

As to the songs that put us in a good mood (yes, it’s always about the music…)