One of the significant contributions of the Anglo Indians who proliferated in select areas in Madras, like Doveton (pronounced ‘Dufton’ by them), Pallavaram (‘Pi-laavaram’), Vepery (‘Vepri’), Perambur (as It is) was propagation of Western music, either melodious or peppy; or evangelical. One will not be able to walk down any of the streets in these areas during Christmas time without hearing snatches of Jim Reeves’ jingle bells, Jingle bells, jingle all the way and other carols in his booming but soothing voice.
The affluent among them had German Grundig radiograms, the middle class gramophones, but almost all a radio. Madras station of All India Radio played Listeners’ Choice during Saturday evenings, conducted by an effervescent RJ. The gramophone records could be had from Saraswathi stores on Mount road. A wit said: This store will not proudly advertise the bumper sale of a particular record with the copy ‘all previous records broken’.
I had a staple feed of songs rendered by the triumvirates, MS, DKP, MLV, and Madurai Mani, MKT and the like from our family collections. Furthermore, my two elder sisters used to sing one or two pieces like Jamkara sruti seiguvai and sarasaksha paripalaya after lighting the evening kuththuvilakku in the puja room. The bell from the Sivan temple would sound as if from heaven.
The western music broadcast by the All India Radio introduced me to Cliff Richard, Chubby Checker, Nat King Cole to name a few. I was startled to learn the piece The laughing policeman, by Charles Jolly ‘inspired’ later the famous kalyanana samayal sadam in Maya Bazaar, lip-synched by Ranga Rao in rapturous delight, with the mace propped up on his right shoulder, greedily eyeing the mouth watering rich spread of the Kaurava prasadam.
My otherwise jovial neighbours took me to task for two rash acts. The first one was, bringing down a single reed harmonium from the loft and working on the black and white keys. If this was cataclysmal, the one for which they were prepared to hang me at the crack of dawn by the nearest lamp post was for my acquisition of a bulbul tara. Whenever I started practising on the latter, the street dogs howled in agony and our ever pregnant domestic cat spat at me. My grandpa fearing action by SPCA reportedly sold it in Moore market under cover of darkness.
My next generation had better luck. My son learnt Carnatic music from a corpulent lady who had a booming voice that rattled the window panes. When the door of the music room opened ajar for coffee service, her voice would hit us in the gut like a piling hammer. My daughter, who joined a missionary school for girls, had guitar lessons from an Anglo Indian master who pedalled ponderously from St Thomas Mount in a lady’s bicycle. He sang while he played, in his slow measured voice, as if he had many ‘miles to go before his sleep’. The six evenings in a week were allotted pari passu to Indian and Western music, with the result the numbers Gaja-na-na, in full blast from the lady’s throat, my son’s boyish voice riding piggy back over it, and the strummed notes of Old King Cole was a merry old soul with the dexterous use of plectrum on the cords by my daughter. She did admirable balancing act between the Indian and Western music.
It was customary in those days when important guests visited a family, the kids would be told to showcase evidence of their artistry. Most kids would mercifully refuse, but not mine. Out will come my son’s sruti box and my daughter’s guitar and plectrum. Guests with sensitive ears will refrain from wincing out of politeness. As the progenitor, I knew, ‘as you sow, so you reap’.
A tailpiece, to give proper closing, would be in order: An indulgent uncle of mine who listened to my son’s magnum opus Gaja-na-na and my daughter’s scintillating rendition of Old King Cole watched with amusement when they ate their evening snack after their performance. Idli by him and bread toast by her.
He quipped: "East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet." But in your household, it would be "yeast is yeast and west is west and when they meet they make the best." He did not visit us again.
(The author is a bilingual humour writer)...