This evening, I got off from work really early, even before the sun could set. So I walked back home, a modest distance of 2 km. As I was crossing Pondy Bazaar, I was suddenly gripped by the urge to buy something -- anything. After all, it is once in a blue moon that I get to smell the evening air ever since I switched jobs 18 months ago, so why not celebrate by gifting myself something. But what do I buy? Wife would kill me if I bought another shirt or a pair of shoes. My wardrobe is full of clothes I haven't touched yet. Each day, I wear one of the /grey T-shirts in my collection and the same pair of floaters to work: who is going to see me?
In any case, Pondy Bazaar is one place I wouldn't be caught dead shopping for clothes, though I have friends who are die-hard Pondy-Bazaar shoppers. Once upon a time, a long time ago, I had a friend who even shopped for her lingerie in Pondy Bazaar. The labels on the undergarments would bear the name of a certain garment store which is always crowded with people who seem to have come from the suburbs or neighbouring towns to do their monthly or maybe yearly shopping. I had no idea those guys were also into manufacturing bras and panties. She would fume each time I pulled her leg about the tags. "How does it matter what I wear inside? Tell me, how does it matter?" I would then seek to extricate myself from the situation by saying that I was only kidding.
But the reality -- no offence meant to anyone -- is that the underwear you wear speaks a lot about your personality. If you wear VIP or Rupa, it means you are either a miser or fiercely Indian or are unaware that we live in a globalised world where you no longer have to ask your cousin to get Marks & Spencer underwear from London (in any case, I have never quite understood why a man should wear briefs with a feminine name. It is like a bra being labelled as 'Dilip' or 'Rakesh': would anyone buy it?) If you wear Jockey, you are smart: the price is almost Indian, and the label and the cut entirely Western. If you wear Polo Ralph Lauren or Calvin Klein, even if you can't really afford them all the time, it shows you are ambitious. The wise ones, however, would mix and match: wear Rupa to the gym, Jockey to work and save the hard-earned Calvin Klein for the night out.
Sorry for digressing. I was talking about my walk back home this evening, when I was suddenly gripped by the urge to buy something. So clothes and shoes were ruled out. The only time when my wife does not complain about me splurging money is when I buy books or music. She gives me a blank cheque: "Buy anything that catches your fancy." But you can't buy books or music in Pondy Bazaar. So I chose the middle path: what is music without a good pair of speakers, so why not a new set of speakers for my laptop? And Pondy Bazaar is one place in Chennai where you can get a good pair of speakers at a fairly reasonable price. So there I was, lugging back home a new pair of Creative speakers.
It was with a heavy heart, though, that I replaced my old set of speakers. Those speakers had been my companion through the best years of my life. I had bought them, in 2004, also on impulse. I had just discovered internet radio, and sitting in the office one afternoon, I suddenly resolved that I must get a pair of speakers right away, come what may. So, along with a colleague, I walked to the nearest electronics shop, in Royapettah, and bought whatever was available. The speakers were dubiously named 'Sambada', and cost me Rs 1100. It wasn't entirely satisfied with their performance when they tested it in the shop for my benefit, but since I had made up my mind, I had to have it.
But by the time I brought them home, the speakers, as if by magic, had undergone a transformation. Even before I could attached the wires, they had attuned themselves to the beats of R.D. Burman and to the throat of Kishore Kumar. The rest, as they say, is history.
It is one thing to listen to music on a large music system, the 2000+ watt type, and quite another on smaller speakers. The large one invariably ends up adorning the entertainment cabinet in the drawing room: it does little for your soul. When you play a CD on it, there is something impersonal about the music, which mostly serve as a background sound while you go about your chores. But when music emanates from the laptop speakers, it usually has your 100% attention. There is a certain cosiness about the setting -- you, your writing, your favourite drink and your favourite music. They all work in tandem to lift your spirits to a level that even years of practising spiritualism can't.
Laptop speakers -- don't underestimate them: their sound quality is often better than the most sophisticated of music players -- are an important tool for anyone who follows the lonely profession of writing. When the rest of the world is fast asleep and when you grappling with words sitting at your desk, nothing can be more reassuring or rejuvenating than the sound of your kind of music. The music is loud enough for you to clearly hear the strains of violins playing in the background, yet not too loud to disturb your spouse or neighbour.
The speakers have been with me ever since the time I did not have a spouse -- when the laptop was my spouse, my lover, my everything. I would get back from work every evening, around nine, swtich on the laptop and pour myself a drink. Then I would start working on either my column or a new blog post. At times, the music would dictate my writing, and at times, it was the other way round. But on the whole, we were one happy family.
Those speakers played so many songs that I had lost during my childhood, including this. As a child, I was not at all aware of the sensuality hidden in many of the songs: it was only the tune that had stayed in my mind and which made me desperately search for them decades later. The speakers also played me Sahir Ludhianvi's songs whose meaning I could not grasp as a child or as a youth, but which tormented me big time now. You are welcome to read this post. The speakers also played me music I had recently discovered -- from Mezzoforte to Madonna to various chants about Shiva and Hanuman. The music would lull me to sleep in that cosy bachelor pad of mine -- the playlist had enough songs to last, non-stop, for three days.
How I miss those days: drink, write, sleep -- with your kind of music playing in the background. If you were lucky on a particular day, you had somebody to share the bed with. And if you were extremely fortunate, the person who shared the bed also happened to share your taste in music. But that was only once in a blue moon -- mostly in fantasy. In real life, it has been impossible to find someone who shares your emotions about Sahir's lyrics in the Kabhie Kabhie song, Main har ek pal ka shayar hoon... There were people, of course, but they lived in far-off places such as Pune or Delhi. What was the use?
Finally, a few hours ago, I unplugged my old speakers and replaced them with the new ones. For a moment it felt as if I was taking the old ones on a funeral procession. But that wasn't the case : they were now going to adorn my yoga room and pep up my yoga practice. So why did I disconnect them from the laptop? That's because one of the speakers had started acting up, and it was too burdensome for the other speaker to do justice to R.D. Burman songs, even though it tried its best.
As for the new ones -- what a sexy pair of speakers!. I almost fell off my chair when I tested them on an R.D. Burman song, Bachke rehna re baba from Pukaar. Wife complained, "Reduce the volume! I can't hear you." But I wasn't even talking. Only listening. Nevertheless I stopped that song and inserted a newly-bought CD into the laptop. It is a rare compilation of Tagore songs sung by various old-time singers including K.L. Saigal. I had bought it in Kolkata for my father -- among the many other CDs and books I bought for him in order to compensate for the absence of the woman he had lived with for 40 long years. In fact, my parents were considering to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary on December 4 this year by throwing a dinner party.
Anyway, she is gone now and therefore the new CD collection. So, on my new speakers, I listened to K.L. Saigal singing two famous Tagore songs, Aami tomaye joto and Ek tuku chhoan laage. I felt like crying. I don't know why. Saigal was a hardcore Punjabi and a hardcore drunkard -- someone a Bengali might not have approved of. But Saigal was also a singer par excellence -- which you will realise only when you listen to this album. It was not for nothing that Kishore Kumar was a crazy fan of Saigal. So far, I had heard these two Tagore songs only in Kishore's voice and had liked them. But now, in Saigal's voice, these songs stirred me. They made me tearful. What an auspicious inauguration of the new speakers. The old ones saw me through happy times; while these, I am sure, will see me through difficult times.