So by now most agree that Beijing had money but the London Olympics opening ceremony had soul, and that it was gloriously, quirkily, quintessentially British. Yet, for me the reason it resonated with so many around the world is because it actually did speak an universal language. Danny Boyle's real genius lay in the eclectic yet strangely familiar musical soundtrack he drew up to accompany the visual spectacle of the evening.
As one song after the other rolled, rocked & strummed its way through the evening, I wondered why the music made me feel jubilant, excited yet uncomfortable. Perhaps because listening to I don't get no satisfaction took me right back to a bus ride as a teenager through the dusty streets of Bombay, listening to the bootleg recording of the song on my walkman, as I mourned the loss of the first crush who had introduced me to the Rolling Stones; as I looked around me on that crowded B.E.S.T bus, I realized that not one of the people in that space would have had any idea about the Rolling Stones. A perverse thrill had run down my spine. It had felt brave, as if I was breaking new boundaries, doing something quite illicit, the odd one among the ten-million population of that city. Flash-forward twenty years and here I am, perched on the edge of my well-worn-blue-sofa in the very civilized living room of my London home, listening to the same song now broadcast to an eighty-thousand live audience and another billion around the world. In a flash of insight I realized that the musical composition of the opening ceremony had tapped into a jukebox of memories:
Jerusalem, sung during a primary school-play at the St. Joseph's Convent Girls' High School in suburban Bombay. I didn't really understand the words, definitely did not get the pronunciation. Yet, here I am sounding so very like them, today.
God Save the Queen, which I often heard on the BBC World Service, my only company as I swotted for school exams late into the night. It felt as if I was the only person awake in the entire Universe, except for the DJ in the music booth on the other end of the radio, somewhere very far away, a country of which I had no comprehension of except from history text-books.
Arrival of the Queen of Sheba-- I heard this first when I was perhaps ten years old on a classical music compilation which a visiting relative from overseas had left behind. It was my first exposure to Western Classical music if you didn't count the music for the opening credits of To the Manor Born, it was a revelation that classical music could elicit a certain kind of adrenaline, albeit not quite like that of hard rock, but a different flavour.
Pink Floyd's classic Eclipse, from Dark Side of the Moon, I wasn't the only eighteen year old in India, who took refuge in this song, playing it over and over again as I sulked & raged against the injustice of it all. What was I rebelling against? Family, society, the world? Everything. I couldn't wait to grow up then. I didn't know then, that I would still be waiting to grow up even as I turned forty.
Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), first seen on black & white television, on a late night showing of The Top of the Pops on Doordarshan, the national broadcaster. With this I discovered music which echoed my feelings. It captured the direction that my teenage hormones were pointing me towards--a course in direct contradiction with my conservative South-Indian upbringing where dating was unheard of. What a dilemma!
Led Zeppelin's Trampled Under Foot--the Anthem of my youth this, it will forever be laced with technicolour memories of hearing it amped up by an Indian Indie Rock Band at the closing night of Mood Indigo--the inter-collegiate festival held by the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. The notes still ringing my ears, I had made my way home shivering in the early morning chill, contending with the high from the previous night's alcohol-fuelled binge slipping away leaving me desolate, while not looking forward to the bollocking I was sure to get from my Mum for having stayed away from home all night.
The James Bond Theme--Ah! Diamonds are Forever was the movie I saw on my first date with a fellow collegian ummm! Suffice to say that I didn't see much of the screen, busy as I was trying to avoid his over-eager amorous advances while studiously ignoring the snickers from those around us peering to see when we would finally kiss.
Eric Clapton's Wonderful Tonight, is etched forever in my memory, for it was the last song which played, on what was to be my last day as a student. Tradition had it that the last song of the evening at any student gathering during my MBA course had to be a slow one, a chance for couples to have one last dance, before retiring for the evening. The usual choice was Lionel Ritchie's Lady in Red, but for the farewell party of the senior MBA year, the DJ's choice was this one.
London Calling, the first song my Anglophile husband--then boyfriend had played for me soon after we started dating--a foreshadow of my future.
The Chemical Brothers' Galvanize, to which I have danced, countless times at the Hoxton Bar--a refuge in my first years in London when the city had felt cold and alien. Yet this track never failed to elicit that feeling of wanderlust, of never having to grow up and take responsibility, of being a free-spirit at heart, one which the world could never take from me.
MIA's Paper Planes, brings me to back to the present. It takes me to the very real landscape of a ruthless Bombay portrayed in Slumdog Millionaire--the movie which led me to re-discovering how much the city of my birth had etched itself on my soul. I could run but I could never hide from it. It was in thus acknowledging my roots that I found my voice, and my obsession with a dystopian Bombay set thousands of years in the future, a recurring theme of my writing today. So even though I had grown up in a very different society, in a country many thousands of miles away, I had listened to the same music that someone of my generation would have grown up with, here in Great Britain.
What about you? Where did you grow up and did the soundtrack of the opening ceremony spark off similar memories? Do write in and tell me.
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