Archive for February, 2007

remembering rsj

February 24, 2007

This blog is all about the nonsensical. We have talked about troupes of dancers seducing mongooses, tricks you can do with a kielbasa, and spitting cobras turning up on power-point slides. We have sung ditties from 80’s indian television commercials (with translations to boot!), and we have described strange nightmares full of howling dogs and hummingbirds. We have even prescribed optimal bender strategies. The point is .. er… not there. So, where was I going with this? Ah, yes. Music. Wow, talk about logical prose.

You know what it is like when you suddenly rediscover something you used to love but had forgotten about? In a recent conversation on music from the nineties, the name Agni came up in the context of indian college rock. Since I used to be a fan, I ended up digging out a copy of Agni’s first album “Wind dance with fire” (1994?). As I relaxed in my chair, slightly doped out from cough medicine (I’ve come down with a minor bout of the ‘flu), the music brought back memories of smoke-haze filled rock concerts, of hours spent jamming with extremely drunk mates – of cool college rock band names like Urja (which stood for the names of the four founders) and “An ode to Urja”- and of a quaint little periodical called the “Rock Street Journal” that was published out of (of all the places in the world), Allahabad.

I have always liked Indian rock. Listen to some of the good indian bands – the aforementioned Agni, Orange Street, Krosswindz, Indus Creed (formerly Rock Machine), Pentagram, and of course, Parikrama – There are some really great original compositions there – far far better than some of famous names on the Indie rock scene in the US – and yet, they never have had *any* success outside of India. (For some strange reason, Pakistani rock bands seem to have done better.) I have often wondered how an Aussie band like The Mark of Cain, or for that matter, Jet, make it big in America, while Indian rock is almost never talked about. There are a couple of possible explanations – i don’t know whether any or all of them are true.

The first is the curse of the familiar. There are thousands of rock-acts here in the U.S. – most of them never get noticed even if they produce great music – so why should an Indian band be respected. That of course, does not explain the success of Aussie rock. In addition, the concept of “indian” music is so strongly associated with either a sitar-playing ravi shankar, or kitschy bollywood crap in the west, that most of my american friends have a hard time believing that India actually has a thriving college rock scene.

The second is the range of topics covered. While a lot of music here is full of pimply angst, there is a considerable body which cover more pressing political and social issues (not implying pimply angst is trivial, but still.) This is possibly made worse by indian bands, though not always, when they heavily resort to culturally non-transplantable Indian themes – song titles that reference mythological figures and all that. Don’t get me wrong – it is highly appreciable artistically speaking, but it does not make for good cross-over material.

But I think there is a third- and more fundamental reason. It has something to with conditioning. Growing up in india, it is hard not to be influenced by Indian Classical music and its bastard child – Hindi Movie music. Indian music tends to be exclusively melody based – attempts at harmony being limited to a tanpura playing a constant drone. The vocalist (and even Indian instrumental music is fundamentally *vocal* music – all indian classical instruments are evaluated on the basis of their ability to emulate the human voice) sets the pace and the rhythm, and the percussionist merely follows on. This influences all of us – musicians and listeners alike. Consequently, a lot of indian rock – even the heaviest stuff – has an emphasis on melody – a certain discipline while ascending and descending the scale, that is not entirely appreciated by a western audience – but appeals to an ear that is conditioned to it. Many of my American buddies, while appreciating Indian fusion music, don’t quite get the point of it. Perhaps, something like this is at work in case of Indian rock too.

There should be some kind of cultural award for coming up with insights like these. We could call it the Heh-heh award for gyaan-dispensing, and its first winner would be Heh-heh. Or maybe not. There are loads of desi-bloggers who seem to have taken it up as a full-time profession.

happy indi-bloggy to me

February 19, 2007

Oh, and one of the things that got missed out in the last few days was that I got nominated for indi-blog of the year at the indibloggies. (Thanks, Nitin)

Now, not to disparage the judgment of the jury and all that, but hey, all the other people on that list are heavy-weights like falstaff, Amit Varma, and Manish Vij.

I expect great things to come about because of this.

  1. Resume value: (“You blog? Oh wow, *just* what we were looking for! When can you join?”)
  2. Bragging to friends at the bar (“Dude, your blog got nominated for the indibloggies. You da man!”)
  3. Impressing girls (“*fluttering eyelashes* I’ve always had a thing for indibloggies nominees!”)
  4. Making parents proud (“Aaj tumne humaari barson ki iccha poori kar dee! Ab yeh boodhi aanken chain se so sakti hain!” “Aisa mat bolo, maa!” “Bas ab ek acchi si ladki dhoond ke ghar basaa lo” (bollywood dramatization. the real-life heh-heh parents are pretty unexcitable. i would be lucky if i got a blink.))
  5. Biographies (“In the January of 2007, Heh Heh was nominated for the indibloggies. It was to be a turning point in his life.”)
  6. World peace (“Now that Heh Heh has been nominated for the indibloggies, tensions between Iran and the US should ease”)
  7. Viva la revolución (¡Heh Heh derrota cerdos del capitalismo!)

Anyway, thanks. I’m obviously not going to ask you to vote for me. 🙂

ps: As you can see, I upgraded my template. It involved losing all the changes made to my earlier template and I have had to start from scratch. It is still work in progress. The look will get better, I promise. The principal change, of course, is the addition on the new widget over to the right, where I’ll put up lists of songs I am listening to. Watch out, they might be the one thing that will most frequently be updated.

an old friend

February 15, 2007

At the international terminal at Bombay airport, once you have gone through the arduous process of getting your bags screened, checking them in and going through emigration clearance, you come to an escalator that takes you to a holding area down below. Across from the escalator is the airport bar, which serves fine and expensive foreign liquor at fine and expensive foreign prices. And since i love making the pretentious wait-staff uncomfortable, every time i drop by i ask for a Gilbey’s green label (motto: “smooth as gravel”). When they tell me they only serve scotch whiskey, i mock-recoil in horror, whine and complain, shake my head, and condescend to asking for a laphroaig.

So i was at the airport bar, having performed this annual ritual, when i noticed the guy sitting across from me. He seemed familiar but i could not place him. Then i noticed him surreptitiously pour his drink into a plastic bottle (too bad it would probably not clear security now, what with the ban on liquids and all that), I realized i was looking at generic desi uncle.

Generic desi uncle (and we shall start calling him gdu from now on) and I go back a long way. I have been blessed with his company almost every single time i have flown either to or from desh. He has been my personal bane on all long haul flights across the atlantic, even if i was just visiting london. He is my explanation for why the ancient hindus discouraged the practice of travelling across the seas. Sometimes he changes faces, and minor personal details – one time he was a diamond exporter based out of Amsterdam, the other time he had an “import-export” business (you are free to draw your conclusions). Sometimes he runs a body-shopping firm, although of late he has started venturing into the outsourcing business. But for the most part, I could swear it was the same guy.

GDU is wise in the ways of air-travel. Normally, he holds a British or an American passport, but there was this once when he claimed to be a citizen of Kenya, having been born there. Almost invariably though, he has a thick indian accent. He also has a fascinating story or two to tell. It involves either him or his forefathers leaving the motherland and establishing themselves on foreign soil – East Africa, the UK, the Gulf, America – starting off with nothing, making tons of money in some kind of old world venture. His visit to india is almost invariably about “business”. You ask him exactly what his business is, and he comes with answers that you again don’t understand. What does the diamond business have to do with legal outsourcing, for instance?

GDU has a thing for alcohol. Like all self-respecting desis he *loves* scotch, although of late i have noticed him develop a taste for red-wine. Before the days when security checks made it difficult, he would always have a bottle tucked away into his hand-baggage, which he would promptly retrieve soon as the seat-belts’ sign switched off, and proceed to finish. He also loves to harangue the cabin crew when they come around with the drinks. He will *always* demand more alcohol than they are willing to serve. Occasionally he will also argue with them about the fact that his seat is uncomfortable, or that its too cold or that he did not get the special order of food that he had requested (“Jain-veg”). Polite answers like the fact that he should have ordered 72 hours in advance only serve to increase his agitation. More often than not, he will refuse to let the person in the seat ahead of him recline his/her seat-back.

His love for cellphones knows no bounds. The moment a plane touches down, he flips out his cellphone and calls someone, usually to talk about some ‘deal’. At take-off, you can find him using the phone over repeated entreaties from the cabin crew to turn it off. Usually he turns it off only when things are beginning to turn nasty.

A brief digression on obnoxiousness. it is funny only as long as its intentional and is being done by a friend. for instance, someone i know went into the exec class of Jet with a fresh green coconut in his hand-baggage and demanded that the cabin crew cut it open (and as testimony to Jet’s quality of service, they *actually* tried, but failed for lack of a suitable implement to do it on board). it was superbly obnoxious, but since it was done on a dare, it was funny. (another friend chose to trump that by changing shirts in the middle of the flight, and powdering his armpits – that, perhaps, was *too* obnoxious.) I have myself thrown a tantrum for chocolate once, but that was only to entertain, horrify and embarass a friend.

Obnoxiousness of the GDU kind is hard to deal with. Which is why I have been trying to throw him off my track for an eternity. I have tried changing airlines. I have flown off-season. I have made connections in cities to which I was sure GDU’s global business empire did not extend.

And yet, every time i board a plane, he is always there, with his beer-belly and bloodshot eyes.

when the beer taxi does not take you home..

February 10, 2007

*groan*
my head hurts. this has to be the worst hangover of the century. it might have something to do with the two liters of beer, several shots of tequila, a bottle of red, and several rum and cokes that were consumed, in that order over a period of three hours yesterday.
to those of you who made my evening special, thanks.
you know who you are.

mera bharat mahan

February 6, 2007

i’m posting this from inside my plane. apparently the mumbai airport wifi is good enough.
wow.
color me impressed.

notes from b’bay

February 3, 2007

There is something about NYC’s superficial, hyper-excited, antiseptic club-scene that puts me off, so I am quite comfortable spending weekends at home there. But Bombay is different. When I am here, a certain people-loving part of me acts up, and gets troubled if I’m not doing ‘something cool’ over weekends- something that happens much more often on recent trips to India, since the fellowship has broken apart.

I was complaining about this to a friend who never updates her blog, and she decided that she must do something about my lack of life. And so I ended up at the Alan Parsons concert, with people I only vaguely knew. The passes were free and I had the pleasure of being picked up from home, which was good.

*

Sometimes, the realization that you are growing old strikes hard, and in strange ways. At the concert, we decided it wasn’t worth the trouble jockeying our way in to the front of the crowd, and stayed at the rear fringes. I caught a distinct whiff of the blessed weed. This in itself was not so surprising. What surprised me was it was coming not from some college kid doping his way through a concert, but from the uncle and aunty standing ahead of me. I remarked about this to my new found friends, who had the courtesy of pointing out that ‘uncle and aunty’ were probably only a few years older than us.

It turned out that i knew uncle. He was, in my former life, a counterpart on another trading desk.

*

India is booming, in case you didn’t already know. Everybody I know talks about how its a long term thing, and how i should totally come back. A friend who is now a big-shot consultant, having said that he was *not* going to sell me on the India story, ended up gushing like a teenage girl at a bryan adams concert. (see, even my pop-culture refs are dated.) Statements like “we are a lucky generation because we are getting to see millions being lifted out of poverty” were made. Terms like “broad-based growth”, “the skills shortage” and “the knowledge premium” are thrown about. In the India of today, it would seem, there are no pessimists.

I mostly agree about their assessment, though. But I also know there will be a correction the moment I decide to move back. My market-timing ability is zero that way.

Sometimes, i think of returning. Then i get stuck in traffic in bandra for an hour and a half, and dream of a log-cabin in the middle of nowhere.

*

After the concert, we decided to grab dinner at Spice Tree.

As I made my way to the loos, someone called out “>My Name<“. As i turned around, i found myself face to face with rant herself, who had coincidentally come to the same place. She yelled at me for not having called.

The other folks were waiting for some friend of theirs to turn up along with his wife of two weeks. He turned out to be a former colleague, and reacted with a “Hey, didn’t you work with XYZ?”

His wife turned out to be someone I knew several years ago as a close friend’s college sweetheart. She mumbled a quiet “How have you been?”, even as the others wondered how we knew each other.

It only lent further credence to my hypothesis that all Indian yuppies know each other.