This weekend I lost my iPod. It's been my constant companion over the last two years, a birthday/congratulations on your new top job/don't come back soon! present from my parents, one of the loveliest things I've ever owned. Now, on the cusp of a new turn of life, my demonic hands went and lost it in somewhere between airports. I hope whoever has it now treats it well, and loves the music in it at least a little bit as much as I have. I hope Santana's guitar will make their eyes sting in the middle of the night. I hope they will dance to the sound of Goran Bregovic's mandolin. I hope they understand English so that they will know where the words, "do not say the moment was imagined/do not stoop to strategies like this," come from, and hopefully what they mean. I hope their chests will swell appropriately at the sound of Puccini. I hope they will find it useful to put the A R Rahman playlist on repeat from nine to five on a dull working day.
Oh god, I thought, when I discovered what I had done. Does this mean I'm going to have to go out and meet people now? Will I have to relearn how to bear the great embarrassments of listening to music in public? Nobody does that any more. Music's biggest asset is its portability, the ability of its bassline to trump the sounds of traffic and keyboards. It should fit so snugly in your ears that it won't fall out when you're pounding the pavements in rush hour. You should be able to loop it endlessly. It should come out of your pocket. It should be civilised and non-imposable on the life of others.
But most of the music on my iPod was recorded in uncivilised times in uncivilised countries. If people could bear it then, I suppose I'll have to learn to bear it now. Most of the music on my iPod wasn't made with privacy in mind. They are festival songs, and film songs, blaring out of the middle of trucks in Bombay streets, and cinema theatres. Some are played by philharmonic orchestras, and some sung by sopranos who don't need a microphone to make themselves heard to an audience of five thousand. Some of them are part of eight-hour concerts in sweaty little blues bars by drug-fuelled trumpeteers and rock guitarists. Some of them are used to wake up every South Indian within ten kms of a village temple every morning at six am to this day. Some of them have travelled down the centuries and across continents. Some of them have changed the world.
Maybe keeping this to ourselves is not the way civilisation intended us to go, at all. If music really has the ability to break barriers, then maybe we should give in to our compulsion to listen to what other people are hearing, once in a while, just as we eavesdrop on their conversations and peek at the names of the books they're reading. Music is hawked so persistently at us that perhaps we should find ways to hawk music back at the hawkers. Maybe the ability to switch music off whenever we like has increased our tolerance for the sort of music that we're always reaching to switch off after half a minute.
Whoever it is who has my iPod, I hope you know the story about how, when Lennon and McCartney finished working on Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, they took the recording to the house of Mama Cass in the wee sma's, and flung her windows open and blasted the new songs out of her apartment, and that this is how her neighbours woke up in the dark, and raised their shutters, coming out one by one to listen to the sound of the changing times.
I hope you listen very carefully to my favourite songs. I hope the voice of the Beatles in your dreams makes you wake at four am and open your window, wishing that the neighbours would turn the lights on, look outside, and start to sing along when you teach them how to sing Hey Jude.