Friday night I think it was. I was motoring home in a suitably rickety Mumbai black and yellow. The audio was tuned to 94.3 I think. But I really wasn't listening. Instead I was intently reading a New Yorker. The subscription was a gift from the missus. Something about housing in New York and how some 80-year old guy sold his ramshackle old home for 3 million dollars.
Something irrelevant but written well enough to grab attention. I had to hold up the magazine right up next to the window to read in streetlamp light.
Then at some point over Wadala bridge, a few minutes from home, the cabbie began switching stations and he flipped past a tune I was sure I had last heard a long long time ago. I asked to switch back.
Nazia Hassan was singing Boom Boom.
The cabbie didn't seem to mind. So he left it on after a few seconds of waiting to see if I was interested.
I was glad. Boom is one of an array of songs that takes me way back to my childhood jaunts to Kerala from the gulf. And to my mother's home in Irinjalakuda in particular.
(Irinjlakuda. Even mallus get tongue-twisted a bit on that one. But not as bad Cherpullasery or Njarakkal.)
It was always one of the the highlights of our annual vacations. Bouncing along the roads and up and down hills as we took a bus first from Pavaratty to Thrissur and then from Thrissur to Irinjalakuda.
The bus to Thrissur was not such a big deal. We did that shuttle several times each vacation anyways. Thrissur was the closest 'city' in those days and you had to go take the forty-five minute bus trip if you wanted Corn Flakes and Maltova and the like.
But the Thrissur to Irinjalakuda detour happened maybe once or twice in a vacation and we absolutely loved it. More out of anticipation than anything that actually happened or we saw amid trip. Same paddy fields. Clean little houses. Churches and photo studios. Little AKG Bhavans wherever the reds built an office by the main road.
At Irinjalakuda there was a big showcase built into the wall on the left end of the living room which had a whole bunch of mostly NRI mallu memorabilia.
Optic fibre lamps that rotated slolwy and changed colours. Weird ornamental cigarette lighters in shape of brandy bottles. Plastic camels that crapped Marlboro Lights when pulled up its tail. Little cups and saucers and platters with company logos in half arabic. Fake foliage of varying respectability. Wall calendars with pictures of ships my uncle sent every year.
And on one of the central shelves, occupying pride of place, was a huge (by todays' standards) Sony radio and music player.
This was one of those those behemoths that had child-sized external speakers, Geiger counter like volume meters and a big round volume control in cloudy steel. Room for one tape in the front and a a row of push-down buttons that jutted out like flat little toes.
And just underneath this shelf there was a drawer stuffed to the gills with audio tapes.
Nazia Hassan, Santana, Bee Gees, Osibisa, Boney M, ABBA, Various Jacksons, Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, a dozen volumes of Best Disco by some forgotten label.
You can still find a lot of those tapes in that drawer. The plastic and paper inlays have yellowed and most of the tapes have been ravaged by fungus. But no one has the heart to throw them out.
There was also an adjacent tape stand. One of those revolving '80's plastic' things in a cube shape with slots on each face for tapes. It was always kept a to one side in a shelf with a yellow dusting cloth over it.
That had Laawaris, Disco Dancer, Kabhie Kabhie, Cooolie, Zanjeer and so on. It also had several Kishore and Lata anthologies. I never completely took to the tape stand though. The covers there were so boring compared to the Disco balls and hot pants and shiny sequined costumes of the Funk Drawer.
All these exotic tapes found their way to this medium sized town in Kerala thanks to my daredevil maternal uncle. His list of achievements are pretty impressive. Ship radio operator.Movie extra. Trainee priest. Expat in Sharjah.
And committed audio tape exporter.
I can actually smell the room as I write this. A musty, warm, slightly moth-eaten smell mingled with the scent of Nycil powder. Lots of pastel colors everywhere. The floors were shiny hard black oxide that never cut and always bruised when you fell down.
As soon as we ran in through the front doors, that are incidentally still locked by interlocking bits of wood, we were fed and patted and hugged. Then the elders got on with their thing while we hit the Funk Drawer.
It was a Nazia Hassan special on the radio. We were stuck in traffic at the east end of Wadala bridge. I was no longer reading.
After Boom they played App Jaisa Koi. The RJ, overly excited as her Job Profile and HR manual demands, bubbled on about Ameen Sayani mentioning how App Jaise Koi ruled Binaca Geet Mala for 14 sight weeks.
The funk drawer had both tracks. And Nazia Hassan ruled.
But my absolute oldest music memory has to be those two tracks from Laawaris that got all of us kids leaping abut like idiots and making up words that broadly rhymed with the real ones:
Mere anginemey thoomara kakaamyey
Apni to jaise waise (or) Apni jo taise waise (or) Apni jo waise aise (or) some combination of the above.
We leapt around like idiots with the music on high till dad got pained and screamed at us. Or we fell over the coffee table and grandpa's newspapers. Or till the domestic help agreed to take us to the top of the hill and then roll us down on his bicycle.
Or someone fed us something.
By the time I got out of the cab and went into the lift I was very pleased with myself
I haven't been to Irinjalakuda for a long time now. Must go there next time I drop by.
Though now grandpa spends all his time listening to mallu evangelical music.
It's not quite the same.