Consuming Music: School days

Music, as I consciously heard and enjoyed for the first time, came out of a radio. Even though we had a tape recorder at home, my father never got into the habit of buying cassettes. I still managed to listen to a lot of songs because of the people around my house. Someone or the other would tune into a station that's playing something from Tamil movies. Home to school, the songs would have a discontinued play as house after house, shop after shop would take the baton as I proceed in my bicycle. I even developed a common "talent": I used to be able to identify a song within a few seconds of it playing in the radio or whatever the source is. Sometimes I would sing through the entire song, word for word. I've even tried my hand at one of those school "singing competitions." That was Dindigul.

Even though Madras was quite different from Dindigul, I never had trouble "belonging". I went to a very 'middle-class' school. It didn't have too many rich kids, there was no play ground, we didn't speak any English among ourselves and the school wasn't big on "extra-curricular activities". Of course, it had a fair share of "Madras Brahmins" known for their ginormous gobs. They spoke more about cricket than playing any, giving a new meaning to the expression "vaayilaye vada sudrathu". Some of these kids would also sing -- because they'll be asked to -- something "carnatic" if the teacher fails to show up for a class and it's substituted by the music teacher (and you know where she comes from). I have a vague memory of an argument over Ilayaraja and A.R. Rehman with these people. I think I sided with Rehman.

Meanwhile, my musical horizons were widening. No, I didn't learn to play anything. I listened to English music for the first time in my life, thanks to FM Radio and DD Metro. I was struggling quite a bit with the lyrics, though. I could probably make out 10-20% of what they said, but I was now able to appreciate -- however superficial it might have been -- the music and music videos that were produced in the 'West'. There was a subconscious sense of sophistication. My parents' aversion for western music -- the little I got to watch on DD -- validated the feeling.

The songs and the artists were still slippery and I thought the odd mention of Michael Jackson and Prince would suffice to achieve some "hipness" at school. But the dweebs who sat behind me knew more than just MJ. They were both Christian and knew how to play the piano too. I don't even remember any of the names they threw at me during our 'debates' about the "unoriginal music" Indian music-directors were churning out (hail sophistication!). Thankfully, though, they were too "ugly" to make me feel insecure.

Self consciousness is a tricky feeling to tackle, especially when you're young.

Higher Secondary: a lot of new kids from other schools -- usually, the scum of PSBB and KV -- got into mine. Even though these kids were rejects in a sense, they were walk-in alpha males in my school. They did not have to fight other males and establish their territory before their status was acknowledged. Because, they were representatives of the gentry -- they just colonized the rest of us. Yes, there was an untold us and them. Communicating in English and pulling "conventish" pranks on each other and some teachers, they were the quintessential post-pubescent "players". Pretentiousness, their 'game' platform. They were learning French while we were "stuck" with Tamil.

As for music, most of them didn't get beyond Aqua and Ricky Martin -- the most popular of pop music. However, there were a few who would mention Metallica and Aerosmith once in a while. I don't know how, but I became friends with these guys. They introduced me to rock music. As is the case with many, I didn't like rock music one bit. The first time I listened to Metallica I had a headache the whole night. Pop and techno had a straightforward appeal. So the two years in higher secondary didn't change too many things as far was my knowledge and exposure of non-Indian film music was concerned. Next stop, college.

You may be wondering what happened to girls in all of this. Fooling around with girls wasn't big in any of the schools that I went to. The teachers would go "fundamentalist" if they saw anyone "talking too much" with girls; it's worse if it's outside the school. Personally, I had a very low esteem in terms of sex appeal to be worried about girls. So internet porn was a better, non-judgemental alternative to keep my mid-teen curiosities under control. (Related podcasts: one and two.)

More in the next post.

PS. This post was inspired by the movie Ghost World. It became an instant favourite and I highly recommend it.


anudivya said...

That was pretty candid :)

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Looking forward to Part 2. It sounds like you are a brahmin(ism) hater.

Anonymous said...

Will you update the stuffs (political, Weed, Feminist) the on right hand side ?

Anonymous said...

ok.. looks like suresh is back..

keep blogging

Anonymous said...

hehe brahmin hater..but few ppl are really nice n good

Suresh said...

Anon1 (and 2) - Hate isn't the best word. Of course, I have sharp contempt for brahminism (and as it happens it's often characterized by Brahmins). This post doesn't quite give out my stance on this issue; I've just made a passing reference.

I don't even follow some of the blogs in the side. I'll probably update them if I start following any new ones thought they are worth sharing.


Haha I don't know. I'm just trying to force something out of me until I say something that's less boring.

Anonymous said...

I am a Brahmin and offended by your posts. If you hate a particular section of the society, describe them by their values and not their caste.

By the way, you seem to be a kind of guy who was bullied in school and the only way for you take it out is a blog like this, where you can post your most opinionated views.

Its guys like you who draw lines based on caste/religion. Going by your own standard, Why don't you tell us all what caste you belong to.. so the rest of us (or rather, I) can judge the people of your caste and make generalist statements.

I know you are going to pick on my anonymity or Brahminical roots once again. Nonetheless, I am happy to have had my say.

Sudhir said...

Fun post. It kind of makes me uncomfortable though, when people instantly assume rock to be hard rock and in turn, to be noise. I mean, there's so much rock out there that hardly sounds as chaotic as say Metallica's Enter Sandman or whatever. But well, I guess you were just generalising based on what you'd had heard at that time. Just like you said 'Madras Brahmins known for their ginormous gobs'. So, it probably needs to be left alone, without much poking.

Suresh said...


Who is a Brahmin? How are you one?
If you're going to say that certain values characterize a Brahmin, I have already followed your rationale for criticizing a "section of the society", haven't I?

If you don't believe in "drawing lines", then pretend that I'm talking about those who do.

Besides, there's a reason why quotes are used. Spend some time here:

I don't subscribe to any caste or religion anymore. Nevertheless, as a social indicator -- something that formed my habitus until a few years ago and contributed to my understanding of the world a certain way -- Gounder is the caste that I belonged to. You can say whatever you want about the caste, I wouldn't be "offended".

I never pick on people's anonymity. And don't worry, I won't mention the number of times you've been wrong either.


Rock music isn't usually something that people -- at least that ones that I grew up with -- liked immediately. It was just like some of the cuisines we have trouble getting around initially. It's a case of acquired taste.

On a different note, I think you should visit the link on quotation marks too. (Or were you just stating the obvious?)

Suresh said...

Note: I think I've spoken enough about caste in my podcasts and in the comments section of some of my other posts. But since this post has been reduced to perceived Brahmin bashing, I'll make a brief post tomorrow and expand my stance on caste just for the record. At least I'll have a post to link to in future.

Until then, all the people who are "offended" hold your horses (I know the whole world is against you, isn't it?).

Sudhir said...

Oh, looks like I'm familiar with quotation marks after all. The link didn't have anything new to tell me. It was refreshing to read about the basics, nevertheless.
And no, my comment on Rock wasn't directed at the sentence at your sentence about rock music, alone. In fact, I don’t think I took it all too seriously. It just triggered thoughts of the number of times I’ve heard people say, “Oh, rock. It’s that music that is loud and causes a headache, isn’t it?” It picks on a part of the whole, and attempts to generalise the whole on the basis of that part. Something I don’t entirely subscribe to. Not that you particularly care, but I wasn’t offended one bit. Just in case you thought I did. It’d take a really frail ego and gross neglect of your quotation marks to get offended. The rock bit, I don’t think had any quotation marks, anyway.

Sudhir said...

*at your sentence ABOUT -(Sorry about the typo.)

In Want of Being Me said...

Interesting post about how music at the adolescent age.

Great post actually, I was able to relate.

I have to admit, that I like the controversies, and how things you say, piss people off, and the discussions, it springs. It's interesting to read how both parties handle themselves. :) Will wait for your next post. That will be really interesting.

Jaideep said...
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