Stereos on, boots open: Our first taste of Western music in 70s Madras was courtesy of the Anglo-Indian community


“The popular radio show ‘Listeners’ Choice’ must have been our first attempt to westernize ourselves”

“The popular radio show ‘Listeners’ Choice’ must have been our first attempt to westernize ourselves”

If you were from Madras at a certain time, of a certain age, and belonged to a specific socio-economic background, your introduction to Western music had to be through the prism of the Anglo-Indian.

I’m talking about the middle-class children of the mid-1970s, families who didn’t own turntables, and to whose desperate, impressionable ears, radio was the only purveyor of music from within and across borders. .

The beginning of Western pop music in the 70s was Choice of auditors, a popular radio show that airs Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. And the maximum number of requests came from young Anglo-Indian men and women.

While you’d think the ’70s belonged to Deep Purple, The Stones, Bob Dylan, The Doors and the timeless strains of the freshly disbanded Beatles, thanks to the passionate and persistent postcards, written in arguably convent cursive, of the Cédrics, Sharons, Evitas and Winstons from St. Thomas Mount, Perambur and Arakkonam, our early West Coast musical influences were Carole King, Daliah Lavi, Wanda Jackson, Nana Mouskouri, Tom Jones, Neil Diamond, Tony Orlando and Dawn, The Partridge Family, CCR, The New Seekers, Sonny & Cher, and the most essential of all, The Osmonds: Donny, Marie and the syrupy little Jimmy (with his bathtub My mother), working as a team. With the venerable Jim Reeves making appearances from time to time. And above all, the two Anglo-Indian boys from Madras and Lucknow who had done well, MM. Engelbert Humperdinck and Cliff Richard.

“Our favorite mate was silky smooth, milky warm Rupert Benjamin. When he spoke it was as if he was speaking directly to the Devulapalli offspring”

A bi-weekly radio experience

Choice of auditors and pop music, when I think of it now, must have been my sisters’ and myself’s first attempt to ‘Westernize’ ourselves. It seemed like the music would do what the movies and books couldn’t entirely do. Father and grandfather were proof of that. Both read English literature, although of very different genres, and were avid aficionados of Hollywood cuisine. Yet both remained stubbornly typically Telugu. taatha Wore a lalchi and pancha and written exclusively in Telugu. Dad wore pants and a shirt, tucked in ponytails, and put on shoes on occasion mostly to impress us, but he was always unashamedly Golt. Music, an uninterrupted diet of what the Anglo-Indians prescribed, we perhaps thought, would be the X-factor that would cleanse us of our heretofore boring and ineradicable Goltihood, and make us cool Westerners like our cousins ​​​two blocks away.

Our favorite radio host was the silky smooth, milky hot Rupert Benjamin. When he spoke, he felt like he was speaking directly to the Devulapalli offspring. Our bi-weekly radio experience, huddled around grandpa’s refurbishment Bush from the 1950s, instantly steps up a notch when presented by Rupert.

And now,‘ went the typical request, ‘ for the listening pleasure of Michelle, Sylvester and Baby Gladys from Tambaram, as well as Suraj and Nita from Haddows Road, and Marakadam, Tamilselvi and Karthi from Kodambakkam, and, last but not least, Simon, Letitia, Ambrose, not to mention big – mom and grandpa Briggs from Chromepet – with special birthday wishes to Cousin Desirée who is filming Sweet Sixteen today – we present to you “Knock Three Times” by Tony Orlando and Dawn…

The 70s American pop group Tony Orlando and Dawn.

The 70s American pop group Tony Orlando and Dawn. | Photo credit: Wiki Commons

But it wasn’t like we blindly — or rather, deafly — agreed with all of their choices.

Jim Reeves and his “I’ll Fly Away” was an underprivileged favorite. Our taste for the song was inversely proportional to its popularity. There was a time when this song became a Auditor’s Choice inevitable, to be exceeded or outmaneuvered on a weekly basis. Why would a song by the tear gas baritone of Gentleman Jim about breaking free from the bars of life to reach God’s heavenly shore be that popular on a Saturday night when glamorous British-Indian couples were known to dance with gay abandon around the radio, I couldn’t imagine. For us I’ll Fly Away’ became what the Telugus dubbed the uchcha potato to delineate those songs in the movies that were put in place just to make pee breaks easier.

Another song – one that we totally loved, actually – which was a Choice of auditors unmissable was “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by Engelbert Humperdinck.

What a good taste!

The crescendo of our Radio Days came when the Rupert Benjamin announced, in his own voiceafter what seemed like a brutally endless wait: ‘ Now, for the listening pleasure of Rekha, Revathi and Krishna – affectionately nicknamed Bablu at home – we present to you Tom Jones and his “Letter to Lucille”..’

The postcard may have been written by my older sister because she had the best handwriting. But the song was chosen by me! Shit, we were celebrities now. All Madras would know our names. And what a good taste I had.

As I hit my teens and hormones took a hostile takeover of my faculties, listening to what the Anglo-Indians and the radio recommended, I started listening to my feet. I had discovered dance: an inept, involuntarily epileptic interpretation of what I had seen in Saturday night fever and its spinoffs, which I ruthlessly use on low-budget (mostly) booze-free parties. These backs were hastily arranged at the homes – from Tambaram to Foreshore Estate – of any friend, acquaintance or passerby whose parents had been temporarily taken away for anything from a wedding to a funeral. Almost as important as getting at least half the number of girls compared to boys was keeping the intrusive Madras sun out of the room and getting the right shade of darkness by filling the windows with shading newspapers. balls. It was a time when music only existed for one reason: to dance with girls.

Fly away

As the 70s dissolved into the 80s, ABBA and Bee Gees dominated T. Nagar and its surrounding suburbs. A few tapes each were enough for a mix of romance and rhythm until the host’s parents came back to kick us out. Between the two groups, they had enough fast numbers to warm up and an equal measure of slow numbers to cool down (metaphorically speaking only). For the latter, we danced slow – which was really what it was – awkwardly, in sweat-soaked shirts, sporting silly smiles and ill-concealed bad intentions with the bravest girls in the group.

When the Maruti 800 arrived with its built-in music system, someone thought St. Thomas Mount was a great place for impromptu dance parties. With the stereos on, the trunk open, while the boys took turns dancing with the limited number of partners available, those waiting their turn kept watch to see if the gendarmerie or locals were on their way to poo at our parties . It was one of those nights, while I was slow dancing with a lovely girl on Air Supply, the airport lights flickering in the distance, that something hit me.

I understood why ‘I’ll Fly Away’ and ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’ had been Anglo-Indian favorites in the heyday of radio. They were both talking about goodbyes, and that’s what they were about to do. Fly away, go on jet planes, not knowing when they would return – as the lyrics said – to Australia, the UK and New Zealand. And leave us all poorer.

The writer is a novelist, columnist and screenwriter.


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