Archive for March, 2016

This is my second Chekhov long story. It is around sixty pages long – the size of a short novella. The narrator of the story is Nikolay Stepanovitch. Nikolay is a professor of medicine at the university. He is over sixty years old. He has a health condition and he feels that he doesn’t have long to live. The story starts with Nikolay describing how his morning starts after a sleepless night (because he has insomnia), how his wife is the first person who meets his while he is still in bed and comes and have a short conversation with him, how his daughter comes next and it goes on to describe his day – his arrival at the university, his meeting with his two assistants, his lecture, his meetings with students, his work at his office, the constant interruptions by students and other doctors who need his favour, the visit by Katya who is like his daughter. While describing his day, Nikolay also describes in detail the various people he meets. They are wonderful character sketches. After describing a typical day, Nikolay goes on to describe his relationship with Katya in detail and how she came to be a kind of adopted daughter to him and the relationship that Katya has with the rest of his family. In this part of the story, one of my favourite passages is the one in which Nikolay describes his thoughts on the theatre (Katya is a former theatre actress). It makes me smile everytime I read it. It goes like this :

“I have never shared Katya’s inclinations for the theatre. To my mind, if a play is good there is no need to trouble the actors in order that it may make the right impression; it is enough to read it. If the play is poor, no acting will make it good.”

Events in the story move at a steady pace after that and I am not going to describe what happens – you should read the book.


I had a couple of problems with the story. The first one was the title. I don’t know whether Chekhov was trying to say something with that title – that there is more to the story than meets the eye. The story was anything but dreary. The character sketches were masterfully done, Nikolay is a wonderful narrator and the beautiful Chekovian passages keep flowing throughout the book. The second problem I had was with the ending. The ending had two parts. I loved the first part. The second part – I couldn’t understand it. I don’t know whether one needed to be Russian to understand it. If you read the story, do let me know what you think.

The story had many beautiful passages. Some of them come when the narrator shares his thoughts and others come in the middle of a conversation between some of the characters. I think the novella length suits Chekhov very well. It gives him room to tell a story and sneak in many beautiful passages and thoughts. One of my favourite passages was about teaching and lecturing. I think it is the finest passage on giving lectures that I have read. Here it is :

To lecture well – that is, with profit to the listeners and without boring them – one must have, besides talent, experience and a special knack; one must possess a clear conception of one’s own powers, of the audience to which one is lecturing, and of the subject of one’s lecture. Moreover, one must be a man who knows what he is doing; one must keep a sharp lookout, and not for one second lose sight of what lies before one.

A good conductor, interpreting the thought of the composer, does twenty things at once : reads the score, waves his baton, watches the singer, makes a motion sideways, first to the drum then to the wind instruments, and so on. I do just the same when I lecture. Before me a hundred and fifty faces, all unlike one another; three hundred eyes all looking straight into my face. My object is to dominate this many-headed monster. If every moment as I lecture I have a clear vision of the degree of its attention and its power of comprehension, it is in my power. The other foe I have to overcome is in myself. It is the infinite variety of forms, phenomena, laws, and the multitude of ideas of my own and other people’s conditioned by them. Every moment I must have the skill to snatch out of that vast mass of material what is most important and necessary, and, as rapidly as my words flow, clothe my thought in a form in which it can be grasped by the monster’s intelligence, and may arouse its attention, and at the same time one must keep a sharp lookout that one’s thoughts are conveyed, not just as they come, but in a certain order, essential for the correct composition of the picture I wish to sketch. Further, I endeavour to make my diction literary, my definitions brief and precise, my wording, as far as possible, simple and eloquent. Every minute I have to pull myself up and remember that I have only an hour and forty minutes at my disposal. In short, one has one’s work cut out. At one and the same minute one has to play the part of savant and teacher and orator, and it’s a bad thing if the orator gets the upper hand of the savant or of the teacher in one, or vice versa.

One of my other favourite passages came at the end of the story. It is beautiful, philosophical and very Russian. This is how it goes :

      When I have wanted to understand somebody or myself I have considered, not the actions, in which everything is relative, but the desires.

“Tell me what you want, and I will tell you what manner of man you are.”

And now I examine myself : what do I want?

I want our wives, our children, our friends, our pupils, to love in us, not our fame, not the brand and not the label, but to love us as ordinary men. Anything else? I should like to have had helpers and successors. Anything else? I should like to wake up in a hundred years’ time and to have just a peep out of one eye at what is happening in science. I should have liked to have lived another ten years…What further? Why, nothing further. I think and think, and can think of nothing more. And however much I might think, and however far my thoughts might travel, it is clear to me that there is nothing vital, nothing of great importance in my desires. In my passion for science, in my desire to live, in this sitting on a strange bed, and in this striving to know myself – in all the thoughts, feelings, and ideas I form about everything, there is no common bond to connect it all into one whole. Every feeling and every thought exists apart in me, and in all my criticisms of science, the theatre, literature, my pupils, and in all the pictures my imagination draws, even the most skilful analyst could not find what is called a general idea, or the god of a living man.

And if there is not that, then there is nothing.

I loved ‘A Dreary Story’. I will be reading my favourite passages from the story again. This is the third Chekhov long story that I have read. There are still four more to go. I feel sad that there are only four more.

Have you read ‘A Dreary Story’? What do you think about it?

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I have wanted to read Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Steppe’ for quite sometime. Chekhov has written many short stories and is an acknowledged master of that literary form. Generations of writers have been inspired by him. Chekhov also sneaked in a few long stories among his shorter ones. These were not technically short stories, because they were closer in length to a novella. ‘The Steppe’ is the longest of these long stories. It is around a hundred pages. I read it slowly in a few days time. Here is what I think.


Yegorushka is a young boy. His mother decides one day that he should be sent to a good school in a bigger town. She asks Yegorushka’s uncle to take him and put him up in a friend’s place and get him into a good school. This place is far away. Yegorushka’s uncle is a businessman who makes frequent business trips and decides to take Yegorushka with him during one of these trips. An old priest accompanies them alongwith the coachman. They travel through the Russian steppe, stay in an inn, meet interesting people there, then the uncle has to take a detour and leaves Yegorushka with a group of peasants who are travelling in a group of coaches with bales of wool. During this trip Yegorushka meets an old man called Panteley whom he treats like his grandfather and who tells tales in the night by the campfire while everyone is having dinner, he sees all kinds of strange things in the steppe, meets a stranger who joins the group in the middle of the night and tells his own story over a campfire dinner, encounters a storm, gets unwell and then gets back well and finally ends up in his mother’s friend’s place where his uncle and the priest bade him goodbye and Yegorushka cries and wonders poignantly how his future will pan out.


Though Yegorushka is the main character in the story and we see events through his eyes, the story is really about the Russian Steppe and Yegorushka’s journey through it. The Russian Steppe is one of the main characters in the story and we can feel it breathing, feeling happy and sad and angry and indifferent to the humans who travel through it. Chekhov’s prose glows in those parts in which he writes about the steppe and makes it come alive for us. Those were some of my favourite parts of the story. I also loved the way the different characters were sculpted so beautifully in the story and the way they were distinctive from each other, starting with the uncle and the priest, an inn-worker called Solomon who doesn’t care about money and who is not afraid of anyone and Panteley, the old grandfather-ish man from the coach caravan. Those storytelling nights around the campfire were also some of my favourite moments from the story. Though Chekhov is regarded as a master of the short story form, he equally excels in the longer format. The beautiful descriptions of the steppe and its features, of the characters and their quirks, the graceful pace at which the story runs, the poignant scenes and the beautiful ending – they were all a pleasure to read.


‘The Steppe’ is regarded as marking a turning point in Chekhov’s career. It has been described as a ‘superb and sustained prose poem’. It has also been described as evoking the soul of Russia itself. I loved that last description. I think it is perfect. I think ‘The Steppe’ is a love letter to Mother Russia, to the Russian soul and the soul of Russia, to the Russian way of life of a bygone era which is almost mythical now. It is beautiful to read, it gives goosebumps and one longs to be in the middle of the steppe and listen to Panteley’s tales while sitting next to the campfire while having some hot stew.



I wish Chekhov wrote more novellas. There is only one more story of comparable length to this one – ‘The Duel’ – and there are a few more which can be regarded as short novellas (between 40 and 60 pages), and if I keep at it, I know that I will finish reading them in a week. I wish there were more. Chekhov died in the prime of his life – when he was forty four years old. I wish he had lived for more years. I wish he had written more novellas. I wish he had written a sequel to ‘The Steppe’. I would have loved to read that.


I am glad that I finally read ‘The Steppe’. I want to read Chekhov’s other long stories now. ‘The Steppe’ is one of my favourites of the year and it is a story that I will be definitely reading again.


Here are some of my favourite passages to give you a flavor of the book’s beauty.


The song was subdued, dreary and melancholy, like a dirge, and hardly audible, and seemed to come first from the right, then from the left, then from above, and then from underground, as though an unseen spirit were hovering over the steppe and singing. Yegorushka looked about him, and could not make out where the strange song came from. Then as he listened he began to fancy that the grass was singing; in its song, withered and half-dead, it was without words, but plaintively and passionately, urging that it was not to blame, that the sun was burning it for no fault of its own; it urged that it ardently longed to live, that it was young and might have been beautiful but for the heat and the drought; it was guiltless, but yet it prayed forgiveness and protested that it was in anguish, sad and sorry for itself.


And then in the churring of insects, in the sinister figures, in the ancient barrows, in the blue sky, in the moonlight, in the flight of the nightbird, in everything you see and hear, triumphant beauty, youth, the fullness of power, and the passionate thirst for life begin to be apparent; the soul responds to the call of her lovely austere fatherland, and longs to fly over the steppes with the nightbird. And in the triumph of beauty, in the exuberance of happiness you are conscious of yearning and grief, as though the steppe knew she was solitary, knew that her wealth and her inspiration were wasted for the world, not glorified in song, not wanted by anyone; and through the joyful clamour one hears her mournful, hopeless call for singers, singers!


When you gaze a long while fixedly at the deep sky thoughts and feelings for some reason merge in a sense of loneliness. One begins to feel hopelessly solitary, and everything one used to look upon as near and akin becomes infinitely remote and valueless; the stars that have looked down from the sky thousands of years already, the mists and the incomprehensible sky itself, indifferent to the brief life of man, oppress the soul with their silence when one is left face to face with them and tries to grasp their significance. One is reminded of the solitude awaiting each one of us in the grave, and the reality of life seems awful…full of despair.


Life is terrible and marvellous, and so, however terrible a story you tell in Russia, however you embroider it with nests of robbers, long knives and such marvels, it always finds an echo of reality in the soul of the listener, and only a man who has been a good deal affected by education looks askance distrustfully, and even he will be silent. The cross by the roadside, the dark bales of wool, the wide expanse of the plain, and the lot of the men gathered together by the camp fire – all this was of itself so marvellous and terrible that the fantastic colours of legend and fairy-tale were pale and blended with life.


Have you read Chekhov’s ‘The Steppe’? What do you think about it?

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I got ‘A Whole Life’ by Robert Seethaler as a Christmas present from one of my favourite friends. I read it as soon as I got it, in one day, which rarely happens for me. It is a German book, it is around 150 pages, it has big font with wide spacing and it is a hardback – all things that I love. So, no wonder, I finished reading it in a day. I have been wanting to write about it for a while, but life distractions got in the way. Last week I saw it in the MAN Booker International Prize Longlist and I was very happy. I have rarely read a book before it appeared in any longlist. I normally read some of them after they do. So, this is a wonderful first for me. So, I thought that I should no longer delay writing my thoughts. So, here is what I think.


‘A Whole Life’ tells the story of Andreas Egger, since the time he was a child till the end of his life. He starts his life as an orphan who ends up in his uncle’s home in the valley. His uncle treats him as the unofficial servant of the family and makes him do all kinds of work so that he can get a proper meal. On the way, Egger picks up different kinds of skills, moves out of his uncle’s home and gets a job at a company, does all kinds of risky work, falls in love, gets married, goes to war – well you have to read the book to find out what happens to him. I think I have revealed more than necessary.


The thing I loved about Seethaler’s book was how it described life from the point of view of an introverted man – someone who is painfully shy, keeps to himself, whom everyone generally ignores, who likes learning things but does it slowly, who lives a rich interior life which others are hardly aware of. In some ways Seethaler’s hero made me remember the great introverted heroes of Patrick Suskind’s novels, ‘Perfume’ and ‘The Pigeon’. Egger has all kinds of experiences that the world throws at him and at times he seeks new ones that don’t come his way. And in the end he looks back and decides that he has lived an interesting life – it was satisfying and contented though he could have done without some of the sad moments. The book also made me remember Christa Wolf’s ‘August’ which has a similar plot, but the details are different – Wolf’s book is more like a short story while Seethaler’s book is more fleshed out.


There are many beautiful passages in the book, some of them about nature, some of them about life. I will share a few here so that you can get a taste of Seethaler’s gorgeous prose.


Sometimes on mild summer nights, he would spread a blanket somewhere on a freshly mown meadow, lie on his back and look up at the starry sky. Then he would think about his future, which extended infinitely before him, precisely because he expected nothing from it. And sometimes, if he lay there long enough, he had the impression that beneath his back the earth was softly rising and falling, and in moments like these he knew that the mountain breathed.


Up here the ground was soft and the grass short and dark. Drops of water trembled on the tips of the blades, making the whole meadow glitter as if studded with glass beads. Egger marveled at these tiny, trembling drops that clung so tenaciously to the blades of grass, only to tall at last and seep into the earth or dissolve to nothing in the air.


I have other favourite passages, but they all seem to have spoilers and so I didn’t want to share them here.


I have to again say here that I was delighted to see Seethaler’s book in the MAN Booker International Prize longlist. German books normally haven’t done well in international prizes recently from what I have seen and I don’t know why this is the case. Because German literature is beautiful and I love it. I don’t know whether Seethaler’s book will win the prize (I think it is up against some tough competition with Nobel Prize winners Orhan Pamuk and Kenzaburo Oe to contend against), but I will be happy if it gets into the shortlist. That is a win for me. Here’s three cheers to Seethaler for writing this beautiful book and three cheers to contemporary German literature.


I know we are still in the first quarter of the year and it is early days yet, but I have a sneaky suspicion that Seethaler’s book will end up being one of my favourite books of the year.


Have you read ‘A Whole Life’? What do you think about it?

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I think two months have already passed in this year and this is pretty late to write a ‘Favourites’ post for last year. But I thought, it is better late than never. Last year, sometime in March, my TV stopped working one day and it was out for nearly two weeks. I am totally into TV shows and it was hard for me, but I am not one who will be brought down by such things. I thought I will make the best of a bad situation. My music listening has gone down over the past few years and I thought I will redeem that situation. I got the CD of the latest Grammy nominees, listened to the songs from the first to the last, went back to my favourites and listened to them again, and then went back to my most favourites and listened to each note carefully, trying to find out why I liked them so much. Then one thing led to another and before I knew my music CD collection was expanding beyond control. (I have a huge book collection and a huge movie collection – they went out of control a long time back – but my music collection has always been under control. Well, that is changing now.) I am still not a digital music guy – I don’t buy online and download music or rip them off free from Youtube – I still buy music the old-fashioned way, I buy the CD and look at the cover, and the back, open it and see whether there is an essay about the artist inside or whether the artist or the band has said anything, read the lyrics if they are present – I do all the stuff that an old-fashioned music fan does. I am not that connoisseur, classic fan though – I am not into vinyls. I am just a traditional music fan. So, one CD led to another and before long I was listening to pop, rock, folk, country and this and that, music which was difficult to qualify and categorize. I am happy to report that my music buying has still not stopped, though the TV has long been fixed and is working happily now – my newest batch of CDs arrived a few days back and I have listened to many of the songs in them and have some new favourites now.


I have always wanted to write a year-end music post inspired by my friend M—–l from Outgoing Signals and my friend Delia from Postcards from Asia. I have always loved the music posts of M—–l. His is the only music blog I follow and his year-end lists are legendary. (In addition to music, M—–l also writes about many other things like books and ephemera, but music is the prime theme of his blog – atleast I think so). For example, check out his wonderful music acquisitions during the past two months, here and here. Also, his famous ‘Ba-Ba’ songs list. It is always an education to read his year-end lists and discover and explore new music. I clearly remember that I discovered ‘Scottish Pop’ and ‘Iron and Wine’ because of him. My friend Delia from ‘Postcards from Asia’ occasionally writes about music. For example, this wonderful post about her favourite music. And this beautiful one about that haunting music collection called ‘Saudade. Now, inspired by these two wonderful bloggers, I thought I should write about my own favourites from last year.


So, here is the list of my favourite musical moments from last year. I have called them ‘musical moments’, not because I am a cool, stylish, classy guy, but because some of them didn’t involve listening to music but reading about it and sometimes learning a new fact about it. However, it was mostly amazing music and songs and singers that I discovered or went back to. I have to add a couple of qualifiers. Last year, doesn’t really strictly mean last year. I have also included music from the first two months of this year. I didn’t want to wait till next year to write about something that is fresh in my mind now. I wanted to share it now. The second qualifier that I want to add is this. My music taste is unashamedly populist. It is more on the pop-culture side of things. I am not going to apologize for that. That is the way things are. But, if your music taste is sophisticated and is the musical version of literary fiction, I hope you still find something here which appeals to you and which you like.


So, here is my list.


  • To Have and Not to Hold (Madonna) – Madonna is one of my favourite singers. Probably my most favourite. It is odd, because I never liked Madonna when I was younger. But I hadn’t listened to her music then. I had only read about her in the papers and whatever appeared in the papers about her was always controversial. I don’t remember anyone saying nice things about her at that time. It was always one controversy after another. She didn’t help herself by calling her autobiography ‘Sex’ and kissing fellow women singers on the mouth during award ceremonies. At some point I listened to my first Madonna song. I think it was ‘American Life’. I think I first heard it in a bar on a Saturday night and everyone was dancing to the song. I didn’t even know who the singer of the song was at that time. After I went back home I googled and discovered that it was Madonna. And then I got a collection of her songs and before long I was head-over-heels in love with her music. And then I got one album after another and discovered that her voice was always fresh, contemporary. Though she explores some of the same themes across the years – like the Catholic school girl repenting for her sins, or songs on love and heartbreak in which she uses the f-word and the b-word liberally – her music has always stayed contemporary to the era in which it was created. Her music from the ‘80s is different from her music of the ‘90s which is different from her music of today. Critics have blamed her for this, saying that she has no talent or distinctive style and she just sings according to the current fashion to please the audience. Some of them have even mocked her, calling her ‘La Diva Ciccone’. My own take on that is that ‘La Diva Ciccone’ has adapted to the times well. It is hard to stay relevant in the musical universe for long – the average career of a singer is only a few years (and many long years after that of singing the same songs again and again). But Madonna has managed to be an exception to that and she has done it exceptionally well. Even Michael Jackson or the Beatles didn’t manage to survive that long. That Madonna has managed to do that – survive and prosper and succeed as a musical artist for more than three decades – is an unparalleled achievement. It must have been even more harder because she is a woman. Of course, the controversies keep coming. In the most recent one, Madonna turned up drunk for her own concert and she arrived three hours late. She probably reached the venue and started swearing at everyone. It is sad. This kind of news might make it hard for some fans to like her. But I have reached a stage in my life as a music fan, in which such controversies have ceased to matter. I love her work and so I love her for that. Sometimes I love her inspite of her controversies. Sometimes I love her because of them, for showing the middle finger to her critics and not being scared of anyone and not worrying about what people think. Well, after this long song of praise for Madonna, I should get to her music. It is hard for me to choose a favourite song, most of which I listened to during the previous year. Her voice has an incredible range (something which she doesn’t flaunt but wears lightly on her sleeve) and she has sung on a wonderfully diverse range of themes, that it is hard to pick just one favourite. But if I have to choose one, it would be ‘To have and not to hold’ from her album ‘Ray of Light’. In that song (and in that album), she tamed her wild, strong, bold voice, she made it soft, and showed that she can sing melodiously divine songs as well as anyone. When she sings – ‘To have and not to hold, To love but not to keep, To laugh but not to weep, To look but not to see’ – well, how is it possible to not love that? It is one of my favourite Madonna songs and everytime I listen to it, it reveals the magical possibilities of musical art that only a great artist can make us discover. You can find the song here.


  • Birthday (Katy Perry) – When my TV went off, the first new favourite singer I discovered was Katy Perry. I was listening to a Grammy nominated song collection and a song called ‘Dark Horse’ popped out and it was wonderful in all kinds of awesome ways and when I went to find out the identity of the singer, I discovered that it was Katy Perry. Katy Perry has, of course, been around for a while, and she has even performed in my city, but I have never bothered to listen to her music. Until now. And I am glad I did. Her voice range is amazingly broad and deep, she gives depth and mystery to vowels and consonants like no one else does, she pronounces every alphabet in the word beautifully which adds enormously to the song and it makes one wonder why others don’t do that. She exploits the range and beauty of the singer’s language so magnificently that it is a pleasure to listen to her. When I first discovered Katy Perry and fell in love with her music, at some point I went and read everything about her that I could read and listened to different versions of my favourite songs of hers and even went and watched her movie ‘Part of Me’ and laughed and cried with her while watching the movie (and cursed Russell Brand). I don’t know what it says about me as a music fan when I say that Katy Perry is one of my favourite singers now, because though I see grownups in the audience in her concerts, most of her fans, atleast those who talk about her, seem to be teenagers. Probably, I am still a teenager at heart. Though Hilary Clinton also says that Katy Perry is one of her favourite singers. Which means that I seem to be in good company. It is hard for me to choose a favourite Katy Perry song – she has the kind of hit ratio in her albums that no one has ever had before – and I am trying to include only one song by a singer or a band here and so that is an impossible task. ‘Dark Horse’ is, of course, wonderful, and I also love her other perennial crowd favourites ‘Firework’, ‘Roar’, ‘California Girls’, ‘Teenage Dream’, ‘ET’ and the song which made her a star, ‘I Kissed a Girl’, a song which I love so much. But the one which I want to mention here is ‘Birthday’ from her recent album ‘Prism’. There are two video versions of it – an actual video version, which is quite bad in my opinion (I have found Katy Perry’s videos to be hit-and-miss – the ‘Dark Horse’ video was pretty disappointing, but the videos of ‘I Kissed a Girl’, ‘Roar’ and ‘Firework’ were totally awesome), and a lyric video version which is totally awesome. It is one of my favourite birthday songs and makes me happy everytime I listen to it. You can find it here.


  • If You Were in My Movie and Song in Red and Gray (Suzanne Vega) – I love Suzanne Vega. I love all her songs. I was pretty late to the party though. I discovered her music only a few years back (and she has been around for nearly thirty years) and I can’t remember how I discovered her music. I thought my friend M—–l from Outgoing Signals recommended her music, but he says he didn’t and so I am not sure. I must have read about her during my initial days of blogging and I can’t remember exactly where, now. It led me to the discovery of her songs ‘Luka’ and her a capella version of ‘Tom’s Diner’. In recent years Vega took many of her famous songs – around fifty of them – and re-recorded them with minimalistic music, with only the acoustic guitar. Amazingly, this improves the original songs beyond recognition. These re-recordings were called ‘Close-Up’ and came out in four volumes, each one arranged by theme. The first one has love songs. In the inside flap, Vega introduces each volume and in the first she says that though this collection is supposed to have love songs, they are also songs of attraction, flirtation and confrontation. That description always makes me smile. Because it is perfect. And the song which fits that description perfectly, atleast the attraction and flirtation part, is this one – ‘If You Were in My Movie’ . Whenever I listen to it, I listen to it on repeat-mode. You can find it here. The second Suzanne Vega song that I love so much is ‘Song in Red and Gray’. It is also part of the love songs collection. It is about a woman who looks back on an affair she had with a married man years back and the woman addresses the song to the man. It is a song about love and loss and the aftermath. It touches the past and the present, has some surprises, and it makes the heart ache deeply in all the right ways. You can find it here.


  • Lights (Ellie Goulding) – I discovered Ellie Goulding’s music by accident. I was browsing through music lists online and her music appeared in one of them and when I listened to one of her songs – I can’t remember which one – I liked it enough to get one of her albums. This album was called ‘Halcyon Days’ and most of the songs in it were wonderful, but the one which I loved the most was ‘Lights’. Ellie Goulding brings all the glorious beauty of the British accent to the fore, in her own unique way, in this and other songs in this album. Sometimes we like one song of a singer very much, but when we listen to another song we like the new one more. So, I wanted to see how ‘Lights’ will fare on this front and so I tested it with other songs of Goulding and it came out with flying colours – it was still wonderful and my most favourite though others also got added to the favourites list. And sometimes as it happens, this and other Ellie Goulding songs suddenly started cropping up in all kinds of places – I heard them in an episode of a TV show called ‘Jane by Design’, in an advertisement for a new TV channel and in other places. Sometimes we listen to one thing and like it very much and suddenly we discover that the whole world is filled with it. You can see the video of ‘Lightshere.


  • L’Ultima Diligenza di Red Rock (Ennio Morricone) – This one is just music. No song here. When I recently saw the recent Quentin Tarantino movie ‘The Hateful Eight’, I loved the music during the opening scene. It was bleak, dark, haunting – it started slowly and then picked pace and rose to a crescendo and made my heart explode. I discovered that it was composed by Ennio Morricone. Initially I thought he had come back from retirement and composed this music for this new movie. Then I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation and discovered that he must be in his late eighties. Then I thought that Tarantino must have taken music composed by Morricone for one of the classic Sergio Leone movies. But I wasn’t satisfied with the situation. I wanted to find which one of the two possibilities was true. I went and did some digging. I should have trusted my instincts. Morricone did indeed compose this music, especially for this movie. It made me so happy. And when I watched the Oscars and saw the master getting an Oscar for his brilliant, haunting score, it gave me goosebumps. This old, frail gentleman with thinning white hair, probably finds it difficult climbing stairs. He probably can’t speak a word of English. But he knows one or two things about composing music. If you don’t believe me do check it out here.


  • House of the Rising Sun (Scotty’s cover) – This song is old and its origin is unclear. But it was first made famous by a British band called ‘The Animals’ in the ‘60s. Though the story it tells is set in New Orleans. It is told by a man who narrates the story of his life and how he lost his way. It has many versions. The one I heard was not the famous one by ‘The Animals’, but a cover sung in a TV show called ‘The Affair’. It has since become famous as ‘Scotty’s cover of House of the Rising Sun’. The lyrics have been modified a little bit from the original and interestingly they have improved the song. And when I heard it first while watching the season finale of ‘The Affair’, in the context of the story – it was haunting, dark, bleak, plucked all kinds of heartstrings, made my heart ache in all the right ways and refused to let me go. It inspired me to get the version of ‘The Animals’, but that didn’t do it for me. Scotty’s cover was something. You can find it here.


  • Burning Love (Elvis Presley) – I have always wondered what the big deal was about Elvis Presley. Because he is always mentioned fondly and with awe by music lovers and critics. When I first tried listening to his songs years back, they didn’t work for me. I never went back. And then I saw a cover of his song ‘Burning Love’ performed in a TV show called ‘Package Deal’ (the context was this – the main character declares his love for his girlfriend and uses this Elvis song to do that) and it was so funny, and beautiful and romantic and awesome that I went on listening to the song on repeat-mode and then I finally knew why Elvis was cool and stylish and all the other great things that people say about him and I became a huge Elvis fan and went and got a collection of his No.1 hits and listened to them and loved every one of them and sang along with them.


  • Claridad (Natalia Clavier) – I discovered this song through this post by Delia from ‘Postcards from Asia’. It is in Spanish and the only non-English song in this list. Natalia Clavier is an Argentinean singer and she sings both in Spanish and English. This song is part of a larger album called ‘Saudade’ by Thievery Corporation, which has songs by different artists, all on the topic of saudade, a Portuguese word which has a complex melancholic meaning, like a sad ending to a beautiful love story. I don’t know Spanish, except for the few standard regular words that everyone knows. But after listening to this song, I so fell in love with the song, with Natalia Clavier’s haunting, intimate voice and the poignant mood which seeps throughout the song that I got the lyrics in Spanish and their English translation and then read the Spanish version a few times after understanding the meaning and then went back and listened to the song and it was even more beautiful then. You can find the song here.


  • Helen Reddy – I was reading a book on the history of 20th century popular music and it had an article on Helen Reddy. The story went like this. It was the year 1973. Helen Reddy’s song ‘I Am Woman’ won the Grammy that year. When she went to accept the award, Helen Reddy said – “I thank God because She makes everything possible.” I couldn’t stop smiling when I read that J Of course, this created some controversy at that time, probably among the patriarchy – how dare she call God, ‘She’! Well, this is more than forty years too late, but I have to say this – ‘Way to go, Helen! You are awesome!


  • Jimi Hendrix – I don’t think I have ever listened to Jimi Hendrix. Till now. Even when I used to listen to a lot of rock music, I don’t think I listened to Jimi Hendrix. Lots of Pink Floyd and Jim Morrison and people like that. But Jimi Hendrix, no. But I have heard friends rave about him, saying that his guitar play was something. Then I read this description by music critic Tom Moon, of Jimi Hendrix’ guitar play in his first album ‘Are you Experienced’“Throughout this most essential rock document, the Seattle native (Jimi Hendrix)…plays as though handling fire. It’s right on his fingertips, pulsing through his wrists, and as long as he keeps moving, he won’t get burned. His lines sear the wires that carry them. His rhythm playing doesn’t merely dictate pulse – it suggests an almost savage way of keeping time. Inside his playing is a concentrated expression of abandon, freedom seeking, the embodiment of every psychedelic desire.” Wow! Who wouldn’t want to listen to Jimi Hendrix after reading that? Well, I went and got his album ‘Are You Experienced’. And as often happens when the expectations are too high, it fell flat. It was disappointing. I didn’t find anything special in it. Maybe Hendrix did magic when he first recorded it and which others have subsequently copied and so we are so used to it now that it doesn’t feel awesome anymore. Or maybe, it is not my kind of music. Or maybe, Jimi Hendrix is an acquired taste like fine wine and classical music and poetry and single malt whisky. Hopefully that last one is true. Hopefully I will make an effort and listen to the album a few more times and at some point I will be able to see the magic.


  • Who Makes You Feel (Dido) – I first heard a Dido song years back in a song video collection I had. It was called ‘Thank You’. It was a beautiful and sad song. Then I went and got a CD collection filled with songs from two of her albums. And I never listened to it. Well, I got that out last year and listened to it. And surprise, surprise – there was a treasure inside it, which I liked even more than ‘Thank You’. It was this song ‘Who Makes You Feel’. It is a song with simple lyrics, but there is a yearning in the song, which makes the heart ache in all the best ways. I don’t know whether anyone listens to Dido these days, but I will be listening to this song for a long time. You can find it here.


  • I Really Like You (Carly Rae Jepsen) – One of my favourite ways of discovering a song is when it is featured in an episode of a TV show. Last year when I was watching the newest season of ‘Castle’ (which is still running), there was an episode which featured a singer singing in a studio. I think this was the first time a song was featured in ‘Castle’. It was so beautiful and so addictive – I couldn’t stop listening to it. Then I went and did some research on it – I wanted to find out whether it was by an actual singer or whether it was a song which was just composed for the show. I discovered that it was a new song by Carly Rae Jepsen and she was as real as they come. Carly Rae Jepsen is, of course, famous for her iconic song a few years back ‘Call me, Maybe’, which everyone was posting about on Facebook and Twitter. I like that song. But I like this even more. She is, clearly, a wonderful talent. Later there appeared a video version of the song, in which Tom Hanks makes some funny moves. You can find that here. You can find the song version from ‘Castlehere.


  • This Ole House (Bette Midler) – I always thought that Bette Midler was an actress. Till I heard this song. And then I went and did some digging. Well, I discovered that she is a singer, an actress and everything in between and has won every kind of award that is out there. Such amazing talent. I discovered this song last year. It is a nostalgic song about time, change, the past, old houses. It is a classic country song and it makes us nostalgic, happy and sad, all at the same time. You can find it here.


  • Redneck Woman (Gretchen Wilson) – Redneck is not regarded as a good description of someone. But Gretchen Wilson tells us how cool a redneck woman can be. If you don’t believe me, you should listen to this song. When she says ‘I keep my Christmas lights on, on my front porch all year long’, it is hard not to smile. This song made me get a whole collection of Gretchen Wilson songs. She is cool, this redneck woman. You can find her here.


  • The Heart Wants What It Wants (Selena Gomez) – I think I discovered Selena Gomez while exploring music on Youtube. But this particular song – I got to know of it through Delia from Postcards from Asia. It is beautiful and it says everything in the title – it is about how we sometimes want things that we cannot have or which we should not desire, but that is what life is, dreaming about things which are beyond our reach and occasionally experiencing glorious happiness when we realize our desire. You can find it here.


  • I Lived (One Republic) – One Republic has been around for a while but this is the first time I am listening to one of their songs. When I heard this song ‘I Lived’, it touched a chord. When I heard the line ‘Hope you fall in love and it hurts so bad’ – well, it made my heart ache. Such a beautiful song. You can find it here.


  • Talking Body (Tove Lo) – Once upon a time there was J.Lo, whose songs I loved. And then there was J. Law. And then Cee Lo. Now there is Tove Lo. I have never heard of her before. I went digging for more information. And I was surprised to find out that she was Swedish. And sang in English. But this song – it is so addictive. I couldn’t stop listening to it. Is it a love song? Is it a rebellious song? Is it a song about empowerment? Or is it just a song with a catchy tune? I don’t now. I know a couple of things though. I love Tove Lo’s voice. And I love this song. One day, maybe, I will get more insight into what this song is about.


  • Take Your Time (Sam Hunt) – I have it on multiple collections and so I guessed there must be something about it. And there is. The lyrics are beautiful. When Sam Hunt sings – “I don’t want to steal your freedom, I don’t want to change your mind, I don’t want to make you love me, I just want to take your time” – it made me smile. How can you not like that song? You can find it here.


  • Light in Your Eyes (Sheryl Crow) – Sheryl Crow was one of my favourite singers once upon a time. I think she still is. Her song ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ is my most favourite song from a Bond movie. I like it even more than Madonna’s ‘Die Another Day’ and Adele’s ‘Skyfall’. I have heard every song in every Bond movie since ‘Doctor No’ and I think Sheryl Crow’s Bond song is the best ever. There are other songs of hers that I like very much too. This is one – ‘Light in Your Eyes’. The music starts slowly at an even pace and rises high and high. I let my heart flow with the music and it is beautiful. You can find it here. The other song which I want to mention is ‘Everyday is a Winding Road’. It tells a story and has the same musical style – even pace and then a sudden quickening and rising. You can find it here. There is one reason that I will always remember and like ‘Everyday is a Winding Road’. I watched the Julia Roberts movie ‘Erin Brockovich’ years back when it first came out. Recently, when it came on TV in one of its endless reruns, I paused what I was doing and watched the last few minutes of the movie. And in the last scene, Erin leaves her office and drives somewhere and knocks at a door. And during this sequence a song is played. And it is ‘Everyday is a Winding Road’! I don’t remember that from my earlier watchings of ‘Erin Brockovich’. And I have heard Sheryl Crow’s music before I watched the movie for the very first time. And I have watched ‘Erin Brockovich’ so many times. I can’t believe that I didn’t catch it the first time. And in subsequent times. It is amazing how many new things we discover in a movie when we watch it years later – we have changed a lot in between and we have learnt new things and have had new experiences and this changes our perception of the movie and the things we see in it. It is something to ponder about.


  • Umbrella (Rihanna) – I love Rihanna’s music. And this song is one of my favourites. Its relaxed, hip-hop pace is like a lullaby and makes one happy. It is a good song to listen to at night, dimming the lights and sitting comfortably on the couch and let the music slowly wash over our being. You can find the video version here.


  • Pink Balloon (Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals) – I first heard this on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’. I don’t even know whether the song has been released yet. I loved the song – it was addictive and I recorded it on my DVR and played it on repeat mode. I want to listen to more songs by Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals. Maybe I will buy this album when it comes out. You can find it here.


  • It’s No Good (Depeche Mode) – I discovered Depeche Mode through my old friend Delia. I must be the only person who hadn’t heard of Depeche Mode at that time. Well, I got a collection of their songs and listened. This one is my favourite. The music style made me smile because it is from a bygone era, the kind of music we all loved while growing up. When we hear Dave Gahan sing – ‘Don’t say you want me, don’t say you need me, don’t say you love me, it’s understood’ – well, how can we not like that J You can find the it here.


  • The Unquiet Grave (Sarah Greene) – I love discovering new songs through TV shows. They have surprised and delighted me so many times. I discovered this song through the TV show ‘Penny Dreadful’. It is set in the 19th century with the stories of Dracula, Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, séances, Egyptian myths all woven into one seamless narrative. If you love horror stories and you haven’t watched it yet, I would highly recommend it. About this song now. It is an old English folk song. In the story, in the season finale, it is sung by a witch, who walks in after the big cataclysm has happened and sings it, starting with the line ‘My breast is cold as clay’, while she collecting stuff and putting it in a bag and she leaves the burning house while she continues singing the song. This witch is young and beautiful and, of course, she is a witch and so there is more to her than meets the eye, because she is probably evil and she has just seen her rival off, and we know that she is going to be upto more mischief. But the song is beautiful, cold, bleak, seductive, addictive. And the witch sings it and we can’t stop listening to it. When she sings – “And if you kiss my cold clay lips, your days they won’t be long” – our heart shudders with horror, but we can’t stop listening to her sing. You can find it here.


  • Back to Love (Ingrid Olava) – I discovered this song while watching the Norwegian TV show ‘Lilyhammer’. The story is about a New York gangster who turns witness and who ends up in Norway in Lillehammer. Well, he ends up buying a bar, falls in love with a local girl and there is heartbreak. Then he asks the singer in his bar to sing his favourite song. And she sings this. I have never heard of Ingrid Olava – I am happy I have discovered her now. It is a heartbreak song, the best kind of song, and it makes the heart ache. You can find it here.


  • This is My Least Favourite Life (Lera Lynn) – When the first episode of the second season of ‘True Detective’ aired, opinions of fans were mixed. For me, though, it was a wonderful start. One of the reasons I felt that way, was this song by Lera Lynn. The setting is a dark bar, there are only a few people around, and there is a singer on stage singing about hearbreak. And when she sings – ‘This is my least favourite life / The one where you fly and I don’t / A kiss holds a million deceits / And a lifetime goes up in smoke” – it does something to the deep, romantic, vulnerable part of our hearts and the ache doesn’t go away till the song ends. Here is the audio version.


  • You’re Broken Shadow Lines (Ashes of Rome) – I discovered this song through an episode of the TV show ‘Parenthood’. I don’t know whether it is a real band or a real song. I did some digging and discovered that the band is not real and neither is the singer, but the song is real and every time I hear Oliver Rome sing ‘You’re broken shadow lines / Lost and drifting in the busy sky / Do you feel the rush keeps pulling us in a steady line / Where our orbits intertwine’ my heart leaps with delight. It is such a beautiful song. You can find it here.

Parenthood - Season 5

  • Snapback (Old Dominion) – I first heard this song in ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’. The song was nice and catchy. But the reason I liked this song, loved this song was the last minute. When the singing was all done and dusted and the focus shifted to the guitarist, the one who didn’t sing much, and he took his guitar and plucked its strings and did all kinds of things with it which were so awesome and at one point he didn’t care that it was a public concert and that he was playing the guitar to please fans – this guitarist reached a zen state and became one with his guitar and the guitar became an extension of his fingers – then I knew what it meant to be a musician, a zen musical monk at one with his guitar. The lead singer tried joining in the guitarplay, but it looked like he just wanted to show off, while our zen monk was extracting all kinds of magic from his guitar. You can find that video here.


  • A description of ‘Almost Famous’ – I want to round off my list with this description of a scene from the movie ‘Almost Famous’. This description is found in an essay called ‘Chasing the Essential’ by Tom Moon. Everytime I read it, it gives me goosebumps. Here is how it goes.



“There’s a scene in Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe’s semiautobiographical film about his unlikely rise as a teenage rock critic, that illustrates the kinetic thrill of discovering music. The Cameron character’s big sister has just left home, and he’s checking out her record collection – gazing meaningfully at Cream’s Wheel of Fire and Led Zeppelin II as though trying to decipher sacred texts. When he opens the gatefold of the Who’s rock opera Tommy, he finds a note : “Listen to Tommy with a candle burning and you will see your entire future.”

He follows the instructions, drops the needle on the hi-fi, and hears those galvanizing guitar chords, a call-to-arms across generations. Even though maybe he’s ten years old, he promptly gets the glassy look in his eyes which says, “Please don’t disturb this cosmic moment.” With this one scene, which has no dialogue, Crowe makes manifest something music lovers know in their bones. That if you listen intently, you will encounter more than just constellations of cool sounds – that lurking within them is information worth having, perhaps even a signpost pointing you toward the next key step on your journey.

That’s how music works. It can take your blues, dust them in a wicked mojo, sneak them to the crossroads where the Devil hangs out, and swap them for a veggie burrito made by a blissed out Deadhead in a parking lot. That might not be exactly what you ordered, but it might inspire you all the same. Music can shred your illusions, show you ways of getting along in the world, expose vices and vanities, bring calm to moments of turbulence. It can shine a light on the traps that await you on your path, and offer a sneak preview of what life feels like when you fall into them. It can send your fantasies into overdrive and magnify the reality of your surroundings. As Leonard Bernstein once said, music can “name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” But don’t take his word. Or mine. Put one of these records on, light a candle, and see what happens.”


Have you listened to any of these songs? Which ones are your favourites? What were your favourite musical moments and discoveries from last year?

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