Monday, July 23, 2018

My Musical Notes (Radio, Vinyl Records) - Part 1

Not very different from the manuscript prepared by Vinay Pathak in 'Bheja Fry' of his tryst with music, I have a story too. One that I will tell through 300 of my remaining cassettes that are till safely locked up, stuff that I can use as bricks to build my dream house when I want to.

The musical notes story begins way longer than I can remember. I am talking of those days when the mind is in some kind of a haze and you don't remember much except some crazy emotions or near death experiences. I am talking of the age between 1 and 5 years. I was subtly influenced by music even then simply because my father loved his music and like me, spent all his money mainly on his music systems, radios, books and the odd spot of experimental food for us at home. 

My first memory of music and Dad, was of him bringing home a giant-sized Phillips radio with knobs "big a car wheels" as the servants said. It blared music, none of which made an impression on me, but the size of the instrument, the grandness of it all and the songs it played must have registered someplace! For a while, in my later years, say 13 years from the date of purchase of the monster, I quietly usurped it and shifted it into my bedroom and used its speakers to generate more sound from my small cassette player. By then of course, the player was in bad shape and we wondered how to get rid of it. Needless to say father also had a record player at home - a Phillps again - and operating both the radio and the player were his prerogatives. 

The records fascinated me with their different colours and sizes. I quickly learned to differentiate between EPs and LPs and realised that the smaller ones went by faster and the bigger ones went around slower. The smoothness of the surface, the problems caused by scratches on the surface, the odd breakage or two all added to the mystery. Most records were black but I remember that he bought a transparent red one from Japan or someplace. But it was their covers that were most interesting.

An early traumatic musical memory was that of one Rajesh Khanna movie and the screechy and scary ‘Kaanton se kheechke yeh aanchal..’ which till date reminds me of some unknown fear. I also hated with equal fervor the song ‘Happy birthday to you…’ which started like ‘O nanhe se farishte..’. Again incredibly sad for a birthday song. In those formative years my troubled soul was further affected by viewing the movie 'Papam Pasivadu' and the haunting ‘Amma…choodali..’ knocked out all my interest in music. It was a sad and scary proposition.

Then out of the blue came ‘The Sound of Music’ and my life changed. The songs were happy and we could sing a few lines along. ‘I am sixteen..’ or ‘Raindrops and roses’. Wow. Life became happy and exotic. I was just getting the hang of it when I realised that Dad would buy a record each time he went to Vijayawada. Even there, he experimented and one horrendous record he bought was an English song sung by P.B. Srinivas. It had a song about man landing on Mars. I still remember the lyrics – "After landing on the Mars, Man will get some golden bars, And from Mars to Mercury, Man will fly in a century". Forgettable. And then a record of the Ventures – with a young, buxom lass wearing a silver bikini that was enough to knock all morality out of six-year-olds. I am sure she had a role to play in my life too. Dad’s record collection grew and I have some vague memories of listening to the songs he played on his record player at night. But by now, music had made a small entry into my heart and remained there.

Some faraway impressions of 'Yaadon ki baraat' and its songs were registered in my mind, mostly from posters and songs heard on the radio. My next recollection of music was in Warangal by which time I had grown to be 8 years old. Now I could actually enjoy the songs of Hugo Montenegro – with the Beach Boys singling out 'Good Vibrations' as one of my favorites. In fact the whole album was brilliant. We kids would shut all the doors and play a few records loudly and feel rebellious. It was our way of celebrating Woodstock or getting high I guess.

"Sholay" came and every single one of its songs was known by heart. I remember the songs of "Dharam Veer" which I saw on screen in Warangal and was profoundly impressed by the song ‘Mere Naine..saawan bhaadon..’ in the movie Mehbooba of which I saw nothing but a trailer. Definitely my musical boundaries were expanding and I was enjoying it in all types, languages in a very intuitive manner.

Meanwhile, I made a useful discovery. I discovered the healing power of music. It was my eldest sisters wedding and I had somehow developed a solid headache. Everyone was busy. Someone offered me tea. I could see no escape from the noise and no respite from my throbbing ache. I decided on an intuition to go close to the mandap where the band was playing the nadaswaram and focused on the rhythm and immersed myself in it. All very intuitive you see. Voila, after a while I cured myself of the headache. I still remember the entire incident clearly and my intuitive decision to listen. I used the same method when I went to Srisailam when grown up and used the rhythm of the 'Om Namah Shivaya' to rid myself of another headache.

By the time we came to Hyderabad when I was 12, my musical sense was primed. Suddenly my exposure boomed. AIR Hyderabad had a radio station which played half an hour of western music in the morning between 730 and 8 called Yuva Vani and we would not miss it for anything even as we dressed to go to school. Suddenly the music of Abba, Boney M, Beegees, Cliff Richard, John Denver, Linda Ronstadt, Olivia Newton John and others crept into our lives. Happy, happy music. Those few half hours were the happiest hours in those days.

My eldest brother in law also bought a record player and he had a small collection too one which I remember clearly – a double LP of 'Hum Kisise Kum Nahin'. I think I memorized all those songs and also fell in love with Kajol Kiran. That record had several pictures on it and I was thrilled to get a sneak peek of all the action. That was how starved we were for movies and visuals of movies.

By now I also had a sense of Dad's record collection. The English collection was rather limited. But his Hindi record collection was extensive and so were the Telugu ones. How those delicate records survived our activities and even the delicate record player I wonder but they did. At home there were five children, including two young boys of whom I was one clumsy oaf, frequently breaking things or hurting myself, but the player and the records did survive, for years.

To drive home the final nail, ABBA the movie played in Tivoli and somehow me and Chanti, the last of my four older sisters, got our brother in law to take us to the movie. It was a complete fan movie - with John Fonda posing as a journalist and following the hugely popular band across. The songs, the crowds, the mood. I was sold. And when Asha, Mohan's sister spun a few songs on  Yuva Vani including 'Ring Ring' my musical loyalties lay firmly with the western chaps. they did a great job of selling it to me. Can't blame them. It was happy. It was inclusive. It was peppy. It was rebellious.

I was now all set for my foray into my own ocean of music. The pond was too small for me. I was in my 8th and was waiting for a chance to break through.

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