Archive for September, 2012

Special K

Posted: September 16, 2012 in Delhi life
Tags: , , , , , ,

I suppose it was inevitable. Japanese imperialism may have stalled just east of India, but its most (in)famous invention has screechily colonised much of Asia and primetime TV worldwide. (Incidentally, my grandfather was very vaguely involved in the former, with a quiet dignity that seems characteristic of the family. He received a war pension for injuries sustained in Burma—turns out he tipsily fell out of a house-on-stilts and broke his nose. Other lion-hearted ancestors include miscellaneous frauds and drunkards; several Bengalis who greeted the opportunity to become imperial minions with unseemly boot-kissing eagerness; and one shipwrecked whaler who allegedly ate a cabin boy.) The surprise is that karaoke took so long to get here.

Baffling video for Simon & Garfunkel

The popular Japanese drug hit D-Town in January 2007 and its abuse has increased exponentially since. It caters especially to the increasing numbers of East Asians in the city—so we found ourselves in a very nice Korean restaurant, furtively edging towards the microphone across puddles of seafood broth. The karaoke menu was a vast weighty tome, 95% full of either Korean or Wingdings. This was a professional operation.

As enema-loving Karaoke Sauron Simon Cowell has realised, we all secretly believe we have innate musical talent. In my case I appear to be pathologically unable to keep this delusion secret.

Rarely am I accused of an excess of gravitas or reserve at the best of times—and then I was introduced to soju, a Korean liquor that tastes deceptively innocuous but in fact is ‘composed of one part thunder-and-lightning, one part remorse, two parts bloody murder, one part death-hell-and-the-grave and four parts clarified Satan‘. These, it turns out, are the ingredients of a karaoke monster.

Keep your friends close and your microphone-enemies even closer. Note the fetching monsoon Jewfro.

I’ll gloss over the events of the next painful hours of despotic mic-hogging, yowling, rapping (oh god), eyes-closed Cher renditions, and spatters of grisly-looking kimchi. Suffice to say my voice was even better with the chorus of mucus a summer cold had brought. The other customers were evacuated, white-faced. Every video was accompanied by an entirely inappropriate video—Queen with a Lord of the Rings tribute, ‘Mrs Robinson’ with what looked like a ham sandwich commercial. Some oaf put on Jingle Bells. Every now and then a Korean-language song came on and we’d bawl ‘Wonderwall’ over the top with all the cultural sensitivity of the Beijing Olympics—the staff were near tears, and on reflection we were quite possibly massacring the Korean national anthem.

Weirdly, though, the clientele was heavily expat, with a smattering of overseas-stricken locals. Indians love singing and Delhi loves camp—you’d think Bollykaraoke start-ups would be on every street corner. But maybe its pure unadulterated uncool is the reason it hasn’t really taken off yet. Being a Bourgeois Young Dilliwallah is all about performance—looking sophisticated, fashionable, and composed. Most B.Y.Ds drink photogenically, not with the liver-nuking bingey zeal of Westerners; they go to chic all-you-can-eat brunches and sushi places and nibble cucumber rolls; to huge spasming beats they dance sleekly with sky-high stilettos and without sweatiness. Everything is self-conscious, earnest.

Karaoke, on the other hand, is ritual public humiliation—and you walk into it voluntarily, tongue ostentatiously in cheek. Like kitsch (or blogging…), it attempts to tread the fine exhibitionist line between irony and cretinous narcissism. Are your buddies laughing with you or at you?

With that unnerving thought, I’m off to hyperventilate into a paper bag.

That’s right, Delhi—I’m here again. Didja miss me?

Well, he was mooning about Delli, that highly pestilential place, possibly in search of some undiscovered facts  —Joseph Conrad [h/t Charne]

My visa arrived on Wednesday. By Sunday I was in the air. The babies cried in relays, the food was terrible, and I was fiendishly sleep-deprived after a characteristic London nightbus snafu. Throw in a red colour scheme and I feared things could get a bit Alec Baldwin (or, god forbid, Gérard Depardieu). Fortunately Virgin Atlantic has mastered the art of distraction, and I am a sucker. Proudly clutching a swish bilingual menu, unusably dwarfish toothbrush, and foxy airhostess, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip.

Indira Gandhi International Airport was just as I’d left it—like someone else’s low-res dream of a 1980s soft furnishings store. Anticlimactically the first shop to greet you is WH Smith. At least the irritating tourist quotient is only 1% of Heathrow’s vast semi-permanent population of milling zombies. It did feel alarmingly like coming home. ‘O frabjous day!’ I cried joyously at an alarmed taxi driver (always hit the decrepit pre-pay stall on the left before the exit, kids). My Hindi was as rusty as my feel for comical similes. ‘In Delhi I was living, and now I back come is!’

The traditional moist overshare

Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.  —George Carlin

It’s a lucky 13℃ cooler than when I left. Chronicling my involuntary bodily secretions was the highlight of older posts, though, and I can happily report that I’ve discovered a whole new species of sweat. Back in the heady ’40ºs, you’ll recall I spent most of the time lying semi-naked in a gently steaming heap of misanthropy. Delhi was brown and disgruntled.

This time it’s the clammy tail-end of the monsoon, and the city feels entirely different. Everywhere there are erotically dark sticky pools and thronging people and eruptions of green. Without warning the bloodshot sky has psychotic breaks and frantically pisses on everything. It feels almost obscenely fertile—you could, as Ondaatje writes, ‘spit on the ground and a bush would leap up’. The Victorians must have had panic attacks.

Weirdly, I feel fantastically cheerful in the humidity—I keep finding myself emailing people saying, ‘I feel like an Amazon or a horse! I taste salty! My arms are glowing like Serena Williams!!!’ Unsettling. Most likely I’ve got dengue fever.

I’ve even renovated that all-important pillar of Dilliwallahood: a phone. The SIM card form makes all sorts of irrational demands for proof of address and other bureaucratic extravagances. Unless, of course, you make it clear you’re topping up a princely foreigner sum. As a bonus, I have all these extra passport photos—which the thoughtful young man even took it upon himself to Photoshop for me, just like the Border Agency enjoys.

By Jove, it’s good to be back.

Burn before reading

You played hard to get at first, but I won’t deny I found myself weirdly attracted to you.  —Past Me

Incidentally, the observant amongst you might have been wondering why the previous post falsely claimed to be the summer’s ‘penultimate entry’. Fear not, ElectricMasalettes: this was no blunder in the blog’s characteristically pungent English. There did exist an Ultimate Entry, the glorious Platonic überpost of which Nuremberg was a mere shadow.

Romantic snapshot I planned to send Delhi

The U.E. was a break-up note to Delhi, scribbled and erased and rescribbled over a dozen heat-crazed moments at the End of Days, on yellow Post-Its that disintegrated with sweat and smeared ink up my twitching forearms and forehead. There were phrases like ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ and ‘We both need therapy’. It had kisses on the end. I may even have called Delhi a cougar. (In an early draft, it may have been ‘big boy’. Oh god.) With the 5am airport taxi honking below, sleepless and full of wild blurry joy and the last drams of Feckless Brother’s whisky, I was finally about to whack it up online.

About four minutes before I clicked Publish—hey, my mind wasn’t exactly working like Speedy Gonzales by this point—I thought: It is extremely odd behaviour to write a break-up note to a city.

I scratched myself and fell over an overweight suitcase.

Then—brain crinkling with the effort—I thought: Perhaps your.   Mind.     Has finally.

. .   .   Bro k e n.

I sweated a bit more, fell indecisively over the suitcase again, and into the taxi. Some things ought to remain between me and D-Town.