Towards liberalism

I was raised in a fairly conservative family; my father’s atheism not preventing him from being socially conservative. Until I went to college, I never blew candles for my birthday, for they were deemed to be “against Indian culture” at home. I went to RSS Shakhas, my seniors at RSS stuck BJP posters on my door, and except for the 1989 Assembly elections when BJP didn’t put up a candidate in Kanakapura, my parents always voted for that party.

My wife comes from a different kind of family. They are religious but can be described as being more “secular” (her name (Priyanka) might suggest to you their political leanings). So she grew up doing poojas and keeping vratas on all sorts of random Hindu festivals, but also blowing candles on her birthday and calling up “Santa” and getting Christmas presents also. Yeah, you look for compatibility on several axes when you’re searching for a long-term gene-propagating partner, but political leanings are usually low down on that compatibility list.

Last year, I totally and completely failed to appreciate her celebration of Christmas, instead treating it as yet another random holiday, before and after which nobody did anything at work. I failed to give her any gifts, or organize any “christmas events” for her. Yeah, the in-laws came over, we had set up this little crib based on dolls we’d purchased in Sri Lanka on our honeymoon and all that (unfortunately we misplaced that set, else we’d’ve displayed it as part of Dasara too, this year), but I must admit I’d failed to “celebrate” the festival. And in my defence, it was never a festival that I had celebrated, so “forgot” was actually a valid excuse.

So this year we decided to have a Christmas party at home. Basically called a few friends over, most of whom responded with astonishment (thanks to my RSS legacy), but were kind enough to land up. And once again we searched hard and found that “crib set” and set it up. And started playing Christmas carols, until I got bored and switched the music to Black Sabbath, which nobody really minded. Much alcohol was consumed (especially wine, given the Christmas spirit), plum cake was had and Chinese food ordered in.

In the intervening years I’ve found myself becoming more and more socially liberal. It probably started when I moved to IIMB; I think that was the time I stopped being judgmental of people based on their backgrounds, and stuff. That was the time when I started respecting individual rights, and those leanings got stronger as I slowly opened up, joined a libertarian-leaning mailing list, and realized that this was actually what I (as a person, irrespective of my background) was about.

On a foreign vacation earlier this year, thanks in part both to the lack of interesting vegetarian options and the availability of fairly succulent-looking meat, I stopped being vegetarian. A few months after that I participated in a “Ramzan meat walk” (though I didn’t consume much meat during the walk, since a lot of it was ‘hardcore’). I find it silly now that I’d actually joined a group of hostel-mates that campaigned for a “vegetarian table” at the hostel mess because the non-veg food “looked too gross”. But when someone starts singing “Silent Night”, I only remember that variation that a chaddi dost and I had come up which changes the song’s lyrics in a way that it ends with “and two souls become three”.

Given a chance, if I were to register as a voter and there were elections tomorrow, I might still vote for the BJP, following family tradition, but that would be more in line with economic thought and lack of options rather than my conservative background. I oppose the forced 11pm shutdown of Bangalore pubs, but don’t care about it enough to join protests on that front. If the government subsidizes Haj and Kailas Mansarovar Yatras, I demand that I get funding to attend the Pastafarian conference in Texas. And I still intend to open my autobiography (whenever I write it) with the lines “As Babri Masjid came crashing down, I celebrated. It was my tenth birthday and we had a party at home … “.

Teaching Music in Schools

How many of you actually enjoyed your “songs”/music lessons in school? Not too many, I suppose. Actually I don’t think more than a tenth of the students would have ever enjoyed these lessons. And I don’t think there is too much surprise in this given the kind of stuff that is taught in schools.

At some point of time during my schooling, we used to have three (!!) “songs” classes during a week, each handled by a different teacher who would teach songs in different languages. The greying guitar-wielding fag-smelling Samson was a fixture, while the other two classes were handled by different people each year, none of whom I remember. One thing that connected all of them, irrespective of the differences in the nature of songs, was that most of the songs they taught were easily classified by us as “uncool” (back then, and even now I’d consider them uncool).

So earlier today I was trying to remember the different songs that had been taught to me in the “songs periods” in school, and the common thread was religion – irrespective of language. A disproportionately large proportion (yeah I love that phrase) of songs that were taught to us were about God, or doing good, or some such thing which could be approximated to a prayer. I remember that Samson also taught us some Christmas carols, but I would argue that even those can be classified as religious music.

There was no wonder that most of us dreaded the music lessons, and the only way we could look forward to them was to replace every significant word in a song with its opposite, or to simply replace it with moTTe (egg). No offence to any of the Gods in whose praise we were supposed to sing those songs but this was the only way we could make the lessons even remotely interesting.

I’m sure most of you would have also gone through similar experiences. And now consider this, courtesy askingfortreble:

Yeah that’s a bunch of schoolkids singing O Fortuna by Carl Orff. If you are done listening to that, then look at this – again being performed by students of the same school.

You heard right! They were singing Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters! Don’t you wish they had taught that to you in school? And made you sing it during the annual day? And if not anything else the bragging rights that would’ve given you later when you went to college? Or the coolness?

Thinking about it, Samson did teach us a couple of songs that were, in hindsight, cool. Ok we did enjoy them when he taught them to us also but they got lost in the midst of so many uncool songs that we never realized we knew such cool stuff. Harry Belafonte’s Jamaican Farewell and Dylan’s Blowing in the wind. Yeah, we learnt them in school but nobody told us they were cool.

Looking back, I wish we were taught many more such songs back then rather than having to substitute words of other songs with “motte”. For all you know, I might have actually taken up singing (ok that might be a stretch; even though I’ve learnt to play the classical violin for 6 years I hardly play it nowadays – ok that also maybe because most of the songs i know are uncool). Yeah I’m such a wannabe.