Listening to Ilaiyaraja in a Park Slope Coffee Shop

Park Slope, in Brooklyn, is hippie haven. Well dressed intelligent looking people of all ages congregate in coffee and tea shops tapping away on their macs denouncing corporations and toting organic bags. Coffee shops abound with barristas disdainfully nodding to indie music. Sitting here I have a deep sense of guilt, not unlike what a charlatan might feel in front of a huge audience.

Which is why I sometimes plug my headphones and listen to old Tamil and Malayalam classics and close my eyes. Having grown up in Madurai and with a(n) (in)decent amount of Thiruvananthapuram influence to middle class parents, I do not feel at home always in these plush and sanitized surroundings. A curious mix of guilt, alienation and melancholy descends on me. A feeling I have learnt to relish. Why? Because it is in such pensive moods that I really feel some songs. When Yesudas sings Saayanthanam, or when Jayachandran croons Aareyum Bhavagaayaganaakkum, or when Ilaiyaraja sings the interlude in Thaamarakkili Padunnu I am not sitting in carefully cool coffee shops sipping espresso and americano.

In these compositions, I search for elusive emotions of nostalgia and longing. I do not pretend to call these listening sessions appreciation of music so much as a need to belong. To understand. To revel in the perfection that someone has created. And I wonder what the coffee connoisseurs of Park Slope would make of the music if I plugged my playlist onto the public speaker.

It would strike a chord with some. To some it might jar. To some it will be harmony. The last are the pensives. Across the world. And they can be found everywhere. From Park Slope to Pudukkottai.

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