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.


Just wanted to post this as a filler until I make a real post.

Stupid Me

I had not made any research about Bharathiraja's background until now and I assumed he was from a Dalit caste (because of his proverbial friendship with Ilayaraja). Turns out he is from the Thevar caste.
Now that I know the truth about Bharathiraja's caste, I'm so embarrassed by the misjudment. Damn! His movies and all makes sense now.


The health effects of second-hand smoking is one of the fiercely debated topics by policy makers and lobbyists in all countries. This debate has come to the fore again, at least in the Indian media and blogosphere, following the ban on smoking in public places.

A problem that I face almost everyday: when I get out of the subway and run to my office every morning -- when I'm panting and breathing heavily -- the sidewalk is hogged by a series of smokers. I usually try to get ahead of the smoker right in front of me only to find there's more. I don't know if going through this cycle everyday for a few years is going to give me lung cancer, what I do know is that it gives me a bad headache and nausea immediately.

Smoking in bars, restaurants and other such 'public places' has been banned for a long time in Canada. What's interesting, though, is that these are places that I can actually avoid. It's the 'public space' that I'm more concerned about. Especially busy sidewalks where one out of five is always smoking, making it virtually impossible to escape it. That gets us to the question on infringement of others' rights. If I called for a smoking ban on roads and parks, am I infringing on the smokers' rights to pleasure themselves? or is it the other way round? Whose rights is superior here?

Personally, this issue is a little too complex for me to take a stance. Because, I'm a proponent of the "right" to self-inflicted harm -- through drugs, adventure sports or masochistic outbursts -- as long as it doesn't drag others into it. But it's a very problematic stance in that people who "care" about you are affected invariably. It's even more problematic in countries like Canada where the State guarantees comprehensive health care to all its citizens. If I jumped from a building trying to kill myself and ended up alive with a broken spine, the State will not only prosecute me for attempted suicide, it will also spend public money to get my back straightened. (India's health care system may not be as good, but legally they are obliged to do the same.)

Cigarette is one of the heavily taxed commodities in Canada. The rationale behind it, in my opinion, is similar to auto insurance. A driver who is statistically more probable to get into an accident pays more premium. The same logic is applied in self selected health insurances: a person more prone to physical ailments -- generally based on his/her medical history and habits -- would be charged more premium. But in universal health care systems taxing the product directly is the only way to balance out, at least in principle, the extra burden caused by the high risk population. However, I'm not sure if kitchen knives and roofing equipment are taxed as much.

What's ironic in all of this is the opinions voiced by some self proclaimed anarchists. The idea of individual right stems only from the acceptance of a statehood and its legal system. Any system that is completely anarchic will still go through prohibition, compensation, risk and consensus before a practice is established as 'acceptable'. A characteristic shared by most States. So if the State deems that my right to not have a headache is superior to others' right to give me one, there is little to argue over it (unless it's with the State itself). Of course, the anarchists do not have any other option because they exist, in most cases, within a State. For they cannot escape statehood and still proclaim the space that gives them the "right" to be anarchic.

So all the talk about rights boils down to one perspective: I think smoking should be banned wherever I go. And if I were a smoker, I would probably say the opposite.

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