Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Nice Girl

Two nights before her 31st birthday, she looked into the mirror before she removed her lenses.

"Shit, I don't look bad at all," she began telling herself, "in fact I look good! Then why don't I still have a boyfriend? Why am I still a virgin?

"Everything else in my life happened with clockwork precision. I started learning the hymns from the age of five. I joined the dance class when I was eight. I gave my first stage performance at the age of nineteen.

"I started working when I was twenty-one, went to Harvard at twenty-two, returned three years later to get triple the salary. Ever since then, have been given handsome hikes and promotions every two years.

"Today my salary is about a lakh. Amma is happy. Appa is happy. They are happy not because of my salary and designation, but because I chose to come back. I can't find a better set of parents. They never try to persuade me to get marry. They tell me I am free to find my own guy.

"But why haven't I found a guy yet? Why am I still a virgin? Even at thirty-one?"

The next morning she shampooed her hair, slipped into the Marks & Spencer lingerie she'd bought only the Sunday before, and applied kajal and lip gloss standing half-naked in front of the mirror. Then she plucked out a pink Fab India kurta and a white pair of churidar from her wardrobe. "Not bad!" she silently exclaimed at the finished package in the mirror.

She waited all day for the clock to strike six. Five minutes before six, she went over to the cubicle of the hunk.

"Can we go for a drive after we wind up, and then do dinner somewhere?" she asked the hunk.

"Oh sure," the hunk said, "shall we go on my bike or in your car?"

"In my car, of course," she said.

The sun had long retired for the day when they finally set out. She debated between two destinations: Marina and the Besant Nagar beach. At Besant Nagar, she was likely to run into people she knew, but Marina promised anonymity. So Marina it was. She drove through Radhakrishnan Salai, drove past the statues of Sivaji Ganesan and Mahatma Gandhi, entered the service lane at Marina and parked between two large tourist buses.

The hunk, excited by the sight of the Marina at night, began to get out of the car.

"Wait," she said.

"What happened?" the hunk asked.

"Kiss me," she commanded.


"Kiss me," she looked into his eyes.

"Oh ok, but..." he brought his mouth close to hers.

"But what?" she put her palm between their lips.

"I mean I am surprised. I thought you were a nice girl."

"Why, nice girls don't want to be kissed?"

"No, I didn't mean it that way. Just that I didn't expect you... I mean, you are such a nice girl."

"Shut up, just kiss me," she withdrew her palm.

And so they kissed.

While they kissed, the hunk tried to put his hand through the pink kurta in order to unhook the bra. He struggled his way up, and was barely half-way up her spine when she said: "Ok, leave it, leave it. I think I am hungry now. Let's go somewhere and eat."

"Are you sure?" the hunk asked.

"Very sure," she replied, as she switched on the ignition.

The hunk sat back.

"This is probably the worst kiss of my life," she told herself as they drove back into the madness of the city. Then the afterthought: "But how can I say it is the worst, when I have never kissed a man before?"

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

SPB Saar

I've been listening to the voice of S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, or SPB, ever since I was 11, when Ek Duje Ke Liye came out (in 1981); and even though I wouldn't count him as one of my favourite Hindi singers, he will remain one of the landmarks of my growing years. Much later when I came to Madras, in 2001, he became my favourite Tamil singer: I didn't have to know the language to sense the magic he infuses into compositions, especially those of Illayaraja. And after watching him perform live in a few concerts that I was fortunate enough to attend, I became a devotee.

To me, SPB is South India's Kishore Kumar: one can try to be him, but one can never be him. Like Kishore Kumar, he effortlessly throws his rich voice into the microphone, making even difficult compositions sound easy to the ear. I've had the good fortune of listening to the live renditions of Ilamaiyenum poongatru, one of the masterpieces of Illayaraja, and Swasamae swasamae, one of the last brilliant Tamil compositions of A.R. Rahman before he went became global and stopped making meaningful music. And no party at my place is complete until I force my guests to listen to Sippi irukkudu muthum irukkudu and Illaya nila. Search for these songs on You Tube, listen to them, and you will know what I mean.

I am writing this post because SPB turned 66 yesterday, June 4, and a tribute is in order considering he has enriched my stay in Madras. But why I really feel compelled to pay him a tribute on his birthday is not because of the Tamil songs that I happen to admire, but because of his Hindi songs that mark my childhood as well as adolescence. True, he is not my favourite Hindi singer -- even SPB won't fancy himself as a singer of Hindi songs -- but some of his Hindi songs brought about a rush of adrenalin back then and they do so even now with the same intensity.

Some of these songs are:

1. Mere jeevan saathi (Ek Duje Ke Liye)
2. Hum tum hum do raahi (Yeh To Kamaal Ho Gaya)
3. Dekho dekho yeh to kamaal ho gaya (Yeh To Kamaal Ho Gaya)
4. Paagal dil mera (Aaja Meri Jaan)
5. Aaja meri jaan (Aaja Meri Jaan)
6. Idhar dekho, udhar dekho (Angaar)
7. Yeh mera dil (Gardish)

I watched Yeh To Kamaal Ho Gaya, on video (which had just come to India), when I was in class 6. Even to my young mind back then, the song Hum tum hum do raahi denoted ultimate romance, and it does even today. If you happen to fancy someone but are unable to convey your feelings, play this song -- executed impeccably by none other than R.D. Burman -- and you might succeed.

SPB and R.D. Burman were always fond of each other. R.D. Burman, when he was going through his lean phase, was hired by Gulshan Kumar to produce an album called Aaja Meri Jaan. To sing the title song of this album, R.D. invited SPB. It was a song R.D. had already sung in Bengali with Asha Bhosle -- Tumi koto je duure -- and he now wanted SPB to sing the Hindi version along with Anuradha Paudwal. SPB found the song difficult and when he begged to be excused, R.D. told him, "Bloody fellow, that's why I called you from Madras. You can do this!" The song was recorded.

Somewhere down the road, Gulshan Kumar, the juice seller-turned-music magnate, decided to scrap the album. Instead, he made a movie called Aaja Meri Jaan to launch his brother in the film industry but retained the R.D. Burman-composed title song in that film. Such humiliation contributed to the fatal heart attack that the out-of-work R.D. Burman was to suffer soon. Gulshan Kumar did not live for long either: he fell to the bullets of contract killers soon after.

But S.P. Balasubrahmanyam lives on, hale and hearty. Touch wood. He is one of the very, very few surviving links between the various eras of music that I've lived through since my childhood. He lives in the present day, and yet is the active ambassador of the eras gone by. Therefore this tribute.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Tamarind City Travels

At Chennai, 15 May 2012.

At Bangalore, 17 May 2012.

At New Delhi, 25 May 2012.

At Gurgaon, 26 May 2012.

At Mumbai, 1 June 2012.