DEEP BLUE SHE

World overboard!

Better love your daughters more!

Raise your sons to lay down swords!

Steer this city back on course!

The winds are changing…

Dear Fellow Tribes of The Other.

Please find a link here to DEEP BLUE SHE, from my album Bombay Spleen (songs based on my novel Bombay Blues). Scroll down for the lyrics.

This song–a female-POV modern-day take on “A Sailor Went to Sea”–was written for these daughters and sons, and all who gloriously inhabit the infinite in-between. Us.

DEEP BLUE SHE was selected for the #VogueEmpower playlist for Vogue Fest, Vogue India’s social awareness initiative for women. My intention with it was to write a modern-day female/human empowerment-themed dance track, a kind of call to rise up: to love our daughters more. Raise our sons to lay down swords. Stand up for ourselves and each other. Love who we want to love. Be who we want to be. Make room for and celebrate each other.

And create safe spaces for that embrace. East, West: All the world round. All things—necessities–that feel increasingly urgent to counterbalance (and hopefully dissolve, transform) the opposing forces that seem to have flexed in many parts of the world.

The winds are changing. And now is not the time to give up, fellow tribespeople/dreamers/doers—but rather, gather our forces for the good fight ahead. Turn that heartbreak to heartmake. We Are Here. And You are You– and that’s muscle, mind, heart, soul…and a very strong, steady light in the darkness indeed, one not to be underestimated.

Our hurricane lamps are bright, will not be blown out.

In memory of Nirbhaya:“Six thousand Darjeeling guitars strum ‘Imagine’ for a much-missed girl gone too brutally, too young, so many miles from home. A dreamer’s dying declaration (echoing from the New York Dakota pavement): Would we someday live as one?” –from Bombay Blues, page 524

 

DEEP BLUE SHE

Words by Tanuja Desai Hidier. Music by Tanuja Desai Hidier & Marie Tueje. Produced by Dave Sharma.

 

Blackout across the bay

Except where the pretty party people stay

Paying for their ship to come in

Bottom’s up to sunup at Lands End

 

Eye to the telescope

Marauders all around me grope

Yet my lover ain’t allowed to dive in

Antiparty posse turn you in:

 

You blew me.

Blue me.

 

All quiet on the eastern cun(try)

Bolo how the West was won if 3-

-77 say we won’t escape

‘Less you wedded, then by all means rape!*

 

Got no permit for a long stiff drink

How a girl supposed to think?

Bar bala bleach and barter her skin

Motherland, turn to friend!

 

And they don’t want our hurricane lamp on

 

Mumbadevi can you tell me

Why they how who can be?

This city still divided now

That Reclamation be?

Devadasi, make me crazy

Dowry, sati, serve tea

If you the goddess, why the girl

Not safe upon your streets?

 

And they don’t want our hurricane lamp on

Walk the plank; won’t keep the blindfold on!

 

M-U-T-I-N-Y!

Staring out to sea

Y-U-N-I M-T?

Crumbles beneath our feet

 

A sailor went to sea!

To see what he could she!

And all that she could see see see

Was the bottom, the bottom!

(Her bottom, her bottom!)

He bought her, he pawed her!

(We caught him, we caught him!)

 

Hands on deck,

From this wreck,

Fortress we seizing!

We will rise

Still entwined

With who the frock we please!

 

M-U-T-I-N-Y!

Lookout for the enemy

Y-U-N-I M-T?

He’s sitting on top of me

Dressed in a suit and tie!

Morality police

21st century?

Puh-leeze!

 

M- (uh-oh)-N-E-Y

Driving their SUVs

Down a village street…

 

World overboard!

Better love your daughters more!

Raise your sons to lay down swords!

Steer this city back on course!

 

The winds are changing!

The winds are changing!

The winds are changing!

The winds are changing!

 

U-N-I: U-N-I-T-E!

 

*This song was catalyzed by Nirbhaya/the 2012 Delhi gang rape. Please note, to state what is hopefully the obvious, that this line is an unequivocally anti-rape/rape culture reference to and criticism of sections of India’s penal code which do not recognize marital rape as a crime. DEEP BLUE SHE is also Bombay Spleen’s most direct anti-377 track (Section 377, which criminalizes homosexuality in India, was declared unconstitutional in 2009…but reinstated in 2013) and stands by LGBTQ rights. Which are, of course, HUMAN rights.

 

LIGHT YEARS

LIGHT YEARS

 

Ever had the dream where you are falling, falling down

Waking with a sweat in your own dawn, dawn; done, done

But dreaming in my dread, by day I’m running, run run run

Til you stop me in the street, say, Take me home?

 

Home is not a place that we can hold on to

Still I thought I saw it

Nearly caught it

Floaters in your eyes

Could you light the way cause I keep trying to

But seems I’m only at home under unfamiliar skies

 

Don’t know much about the destination

All I know is love is a direction

Time is distance travelled

The further I’m away the longer gone

Is this absence fonder?

Were we written in the stars?

Now watch them fall

 

LIGHT YEARS…

 

Every road leads back to you

Every heart beats back to you

Though we try our best to encompass it

We’re lost

In the dark

Depths of a nomadic heart

I’ll follow it to wherever you be now

 

Don’t know much about the destination

All I know is love is a direction

Time is distance travelled

The further I’m away the longer gone

Is this absence fonder?

Were we written in the stars?

Now watch us fall

 

LIGHT YEARS…

 

Lightning struck us to the ground

And now I’m waiting for the sound

To catch up and come around

So many years of hanging on

How could we know they were long gone

All the stars we wished upon

 

Ever had a dream where you were flying

Now waking in a sweat to find you gone

Tumbling to the earth I seek your traces

In all these city streets, in all these strangers’ faces

 

LIGHT YEARS…

 

Lightning struck us to the ground

And now I’m waiting for the sound

To catch up and come around

So many years of hanging on

How could we know they were long gone

All the stars we wished upon.

 

(Words by Tanuja Desai Hidier. Music by Tanuja, ATOM FELLOWS, Marie Tueje, Thomas Denman.)

Catherine & Me

 

catherine-tanu

At last, after five years (many of which were spent with her in mind and on page as I wrote Bombay Blues), finally ‘met’ Catherine de Braganza at London’s National Portrait Gallery: the Infanta of Portugal and Tea-Drinking Queen whose dowry to Charles II was the islands that became Bombay–and for whom NYC borough of Queens is named. My three cities converging wonderfully in this moment!Wrote an ode to her with Atom Fellows, produced by Dave Sharma. Listen here!

Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi woh Purple barsaat ki raat

IMG_20160428_163823

Or: Prince, my mother, brother, father (and ur sister 2), & me

by Tanuja Desai Hidier

**2016 BPM**

Dearly Beloved,

My mama she loved U
Wrote me when they found U
New England—North London
En route 2 our girls’ school

 

Trans-Atlantic we mourned U
WhatsApp; Gram-on-phone too…
What’s funny and so true
My memories of U

 

Take me back 2 that shared roof
Mom, Dad, Raj
(Ur sister too)
And a lifetime of U…

**70s RPM**

Once upon a time
In a red-blanc-blue country
A very white neighborhood
Flanked by evergreen trees…

Stood a timid brown house
Turned 1st-generation home
4 a 4-person family
Of similar tones.

Downstairs: kitchen temple
Krishna: Ivory
Sandalwood Ganesha…

**80s RPM**

Up: U watch over me.

Ur poster on pink-
Sugar Walls; shirt undone
Bare chest; like the rest of me:
Pure cinnamon.
(U tender me flowers: Let’s play—c’mon!)

Shag rug: violaceous.
My ear, canals: voracious.
Barbies can’t take it
(U look so dang salacious!)
No way not to say Yes…

Yes! Tap-tip it from sleeve,
(Di)Vinyl betwixt palms
(Life-love-lines protect
‘Gainst smudging print-thumbs).

Needle touchdown
That delish-hiss-pectation…
…silence 2 sound:
Dearly Beloved: Elation!

A young girl’s whirling dervish
Roundbrush microphone
A suburban skirm-wish
2 choose her own tones
Hear a way home…

And before her ears’ eyes
World’s hues magnetize
Swell, gel, synchronize:
A stirring Purple reprise…

* * *

1999: mine
Thanks 2 Raj (my big brother).
Purple Rain (music, movie)
Got (and saw!) with my mother:

U vamp-rev the motor
She back-lit behind
Beckon: Step through the portal
Dare come along 4 the ride?

LP: my bedroom copy
(Wherein lay the decks).
Not 2 be confused
With my ground-floor cassette

Nor my tape of the tape
(4 emergencies).
Or the tape of the record.
4 violet (ins)urgencies:

In my fantaversies
I’d lay U down 2 traverse me
Need not even Kiss
2 Get Offf, Delirious…

Diamonds-Pearls-Cream
My 1st brown-on-brown wet dream:
U, I (and she)’d lie
Listening 2 “When Doves Cry”.

But—ah! (MMMM!) I digress
(Now I’m such a Pretty Mess!)

 

Purple Rain on repeat…
Era at a stretch.
Our brown house filled up its lungs
Stuck out a brave chest

In our little white town
(Western) Massachusetts
Purple reigned, flipped its frown
A surrender Soft & Wet

This harmony hard-won
In many a senses:
As the 1st Indians around
Cowboys built up fences:

MK claimed me a witch
(Kevin: the color of dogshit!)
4 strange brew in our kitchen.
(Resistible Bitch khichdi be dissing!)

A Sign O’ the Times:
We were just too damn different.
But time tocked and taught
And borders kept shifting…

 

**70s-80s-99 RPM**

And in 19-7-8-99…
U redeFINEd (be)witch(ing)!
Nope, they’d no clue what 2 do with us.
U had an inkling:

Hot Thing, U melted
A world that’s so cold…
Proclaimed: D.M.S.R.!
Everybody, get on the floor!
(What the hell’d you come here 4?)

See, if you clap on the 4,
Mix up red/white/black/blue:
Ain’t no surprise:
Purple’s the hue!

**50s RPM**

10,000 lakes got U born
“Funk Machine” Ur dawnsong
Whilst: mauve sari draped on
(Future Baby) Mama on Bombay radio sung

**60s**

A dream she folded away
Boarding that Air India plane
Around the World in a Day
4 amber fields of grain
(=Pittsburghian lanes)…

**70s**

There Bapuji made ends meet
My mother: Beginnings
(Lotto ticket in temple
Where Sai Baba prayed: winning)

Polyester and Paisley
Baby-blue(s) airmail stationary…
Big brother grew older
She cut hair hip to shoulder

I was born in blue jeans
In English I screamed
Can-canned Alphabet Soup
On Mango Pulp Street.

**80s RPM**

Sometimes in the kitchen
Over homework, I’d listen
She bubble-bathing the dishes
Wistfully singing:

Zindagi bhar nahin …
Her lychee-sweet refrain
…bhoolegi woh barsaat….
And…Purple Rain.

I will never ever forget 
This night of Purple Rain…
Something stirred deep inside us:
Velvet sweat hope. And grace.

Mama and me leaning in,
Showcase Cinema seats squeaking,
Surround-sound, spell-unbound by U
(Stale popcorn uneaten; screen jammin’ with we-skin!)
And— voilà-aaray-waah!:
A glim, a releasing

Some kind of understanding
Between me and her…
(More kindred spirits; less mother-daughter)
What she’d left behind
We could both reach forward for…

* * *

3/26/85:
My parents surprised
Me and my bhai:
2 tickets 2 see The Purple One—live!
(Lucy cried? I almost died!)

Magenta Mall sweater
(I’d painstakingly dressed)
Faux-fur gold collar
(Wiped the Lipstick Off it).

Heavenbent to earn it:
Ur half-smile—I’d learned it.
In the mirror, confirmed it.
My hair: Flashdance! permed it.

Batted eyes lined in violet;
Nails dunked in twilight
(Nearly hurled with excitement
and didn’t even drink wine yet!)

Sheila E, Vanity, Apolloni-
Ah! What a team!
Wendy, Lisa, U blasting
A New Powerfemale ‘mainstream’!

wasn’t short, brown, big-butted!
Or rather: I was!
Maybe I had The (3rdeye) Look!
(My whole motherland does!)

In Raj’s Little Red Corvette
(=Datsun 280-ZX)
Popped in my cassette
Broke the sound and speed limit

I-91 South:
Goosebumps all the way!
And as we got closer
T’was like a Parade:

Xploding out windows
Fast, middle, slow lanes
Punch a higher floor!
The highway refrain!

Inside: You could squeeze
The thrill in both fists
Glowverripe plum;
Glit-dripping in it.

Sheila E, glampurr-pure
Kicked it off—3, 4!— killed it!
Onlooker onstage she lured,
Genu-pseudo-seduced him.
(Note 2 self 4 the future: this valuable lesson.)

And Prince. Rogers. Nelson.
I Feel 4 U: still feel it!
That rapture of orbiting
Someone who really means it
(What luck we Xist on this earth the same minute!)

Birthing Something from Nothing.
The Everlasting Now.
Electric word: Life…
Mighty 4Ever Wow.

Pulsing purple Om.
Love symbol. Id.
Strumming us home:
A compass. The Kid.

Encore after encore
The Purple One played
(Don’t recall the setlist.
Check my DNA…)

**90s RPM**

And whether 4 1000s, or 100s
Or 1—2 the 9’s
U played Ur heart in and out
When U Were ours, theirs (still MINE!)

Human heliotrope
Spun-swung 2 the sun
A splits-splaying anthem
2 how far we had come…

**00s RPM**

My Reflection on U
2day in the Blue Light:
Around the one like no other…
There Ain’t No “Other” in sight!

Blackbrownbluewhite
We’d all harmonized
Blood brothersisters
Rainbow Child tribe

No either-or….
(1 + 1 = 3)
Not woman, not man
Only some kind of
Friend be
(I.D.= infinity)

A prince both king and queen
The sacred in-between
Boler-oh!, kohl, heels on
Home is a direction…
A musical movement

We don’t have to make sense
A pure state of trans-
-cendance, incandense
No shoulds; all will, can

Lover U never drew
Those soul-sucking divisions
Amalgamate, celebrate—
Copulate past revision
(Kiss where it counts: Ballet into connection!)

Embosom any color
Wholeheartedly listens:
Border-crossers. Rule-droppers.
Nomads. The pilgrims:

My mother, father. Brother.
(Perhaps by now…even Kevin?)

(And ur sister, too).

Me.

U…

1 part red + 1 blue
U declared Joy Rave Un2!
Embraced our little brown roof…
Then bop-launched us on through!

 

**0 BPM**

O, snow this April:
My mother gave me the news.
The Mourning Papers.
Mama, say it ain’t true?

Prince? You mean Prince Prince?
No. Does Not Compute.
Zindagi bhar nahin…
The world felt so much better with U.

Through the tears: to the ears
Eve post Ur #transformation
Tap-tip circle from sleeve
A surreal sensation:

Clasping the intangible…
Age strange-tripping mythical…
(Hadn’t felt U so physical
Since world gone all digital.)

A spiritual circuit…
Full-circle ritual.

Dearly Beloved—
Dearly—?
BE—!
(Please???)

Gathering myself here today
Halo gently down I lay
Such a Long (wide, dense) Play…
Soundwaves inundate my face

Once-upon-a-time hug-tugs
Young girl cuts the shag rug
A wish to hear home…
2 choose her own tones…

Ur songs in our spines style-us
Revolution: We wise up
(Tune in and turn up)
Over time rising proud:
Living Out Loud.

From 7-year-U’s funk psalm
Our hole-2-whole lives long
U bare The Beautiful Ones
We been all along…

A needle lifts up
Secret space between rounds…
I like to imagine
That’s where U are now
(U just can’t be lost! U helped us get found!)

All up 2 me and U
We won’t let U down
I miss Adore thank U
(4 Taking Us With U
[Nothing Compares 2 U])
2 where we belong:

You live through our love.
We love through your songs.

 

Tanuja_reunited_with_Purple_Rain

1000 X’s and O’s,

Tanuja D (H)

London, USA, Bombay

7 hours and 13—17 days

The Dare-2-Drape Challenge: Seven Weeks, Seven Saris

sari5a

When I was asked to take part in Triveni’s Dare-2-Drape Challenge, American-born-and-raised half-Marathi-half-Gujarati me had never before draped a sari…and hardly ever worn one either! The challenge proved to be a lot of fun: seven weeks, seven saris (though I was a little on IST –Indian Standard Time!– in terms of the seven weeks). In a sense, the process was similar to the one my protagonist inBorn Confused and Bombay Blues goes through: redefining the C in the moniker American Born Confused Desi to stand for Creative. So, though these started out as American Born Confused Drapes…over time they evolved somewhat into Creative ones (with a lot of help from my family!).

Week 1: “The Writer’s Drape”

Week 2: “The Vendée Mataram Drape” 

 

Heptanesia: The Story Behind the Song

Article originally appeared on the MTV Indies blog on August 26th, 2015.

 

Hello harmonic people,

I’m an author/singer-songwriter, Boston-born and now based in London, though Bombay was my primary mental residence —impassioned (pre)occupation —for the last four years. My second book and album are inspired by it: Bombay Blues (the sequel to my first novel, Born Confused) and my accompanying ‘booktrack’ of original songs, Bombay Spleen.

Bombay was a mystery to me (I’d only lived there two years as a Suresh Colony baby)…but a mystery in my blood, a literal motherland: My mother was Vile Parle born and raised; my parents met in med school in Parel; my brother was born near Marine Lines.

I always longed to know this city of family history, as well as forge my own connection to it; this eons-old desire—deepened and amplified by becoming a mother myself–fueled both the book and album.

The album title is a reference to Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen-—his prose-poem to Paris, which my protagonist, Indian-American photographer Dimple Lala is reading when the story opens.

And Bombay Blues/Spleen are kind of my prose-poem to Bombay. My ode to the mother lode. Though they can be read/heard independently, for me they’re one story relayed across multiple media. The prose and songs developed organically side by side; I don’t recall it being a conscious decision so much as a natural way for me to explore and express the story, as books and music have been a big part of my life since I was a child; as an adult (or, older child!) I was the frontwoman in bands in NYC and London, and also made an album of original songs to accompany my first novel, Born Confused two years after that book first released: When We Were Twins (which was featured in Wired Magazine for being the first ever ‘booktrack’, which was lovely).

As well, music is a main theme in both my books: how it brings people together, as a universal language, as well as the way it transforms with culture and chronos —moves its grooves with the diaspora. It’s also what some of my characters actually do/pursue (both novels are populated by fictitious DJs, musicians, producers, nightclubs, live music gigs—and mentions of ‘real’ indie/under-and-over-ground influencers from the music scenes in NYC and London, and of course, India, as well).

The writing process for both Bombay Blues and Bombay Spleen was fully intertwined from inception to fruition: It took me three years to complete both—and they were finished within days of each other, during a very hectic NYC April spent in-studio in Brooklyn with producer Dave Sharma by day, and doing my final book pass for editor David Levithan by night. All along the way, each form helped me to dive deeper into the other — both lighting paths to arrive at the story.

I knew from early on that I wanted Bombay Blues to have the feel of a piece of music (the book is an exploration of the blues on many levels, including the musical sense, too—but the joyful tones too). Likewise, I wanted Bombay Spleen to have the feel of a story—and to not only create an arc that would parallel the heroine’s journey in Bombay Blues, but also one that would trace (not necessarily chronologically) the story of Bombay itself, from its beginnings as seven islands later reclaimed to become the city we know today. Wreckage rock was the term that kept coming into my mind as a guide; the feel of the sea, sunken treasure rising from the ruins, a kind of tidal hello-goodbye.

Bombay Spleen opens with “Catherine”, an ode to Catherine de Braganza, the Infanta of Portugal, whose dowry to Charles II was the islands that became modern-day Bombay. It’s the ‘beginning’ of the story in this sense, a birth of a version of the city (the album bookends this with track “Lady Liberty”). The Spleen songscape includes Bombay settings Chor Bazaar, Juhu Beach, Mount Mary, Colaba, Mahim, Mazagaon, Parel, Old Woman’s Island, Chuim Village, Union Park, Lands End, Worli Fort, Reclamation (and even NYC and London) — and Heptanesia.

Heptanesia. What a word! Too good to be true—though it is true: the earliest documented name for the islands that were Bombay, from the ancient Greek for ‘cluster of seven islands’. When I discovered this term along my researching way, I knew I just had to use it. Such a mysterious term—yet so official sounding, authoritatively evident: like a secret clasped in your own very hand. The word immediately evoked ideas of amnesia, anesthesia, synesthesia. Remembering, forgetting—and the feeling too much that can lead to this—and the thin line, the bridge, really, between truth and fiction.

These are all themes in the “Heptanesia” chapter of Bombay Blues too, both in terms of the protagonist’s dynamic with Bombay as well as in a personal relationship (Heptanesia is also the name of a fictitious music venue in the book, where some major shifts occur for Dimple).

It felt fitting, necessary that a take on this semi-mythical place be a part of my book and album—as the city that Dimple (and I) were seeking is in many ways semi-mythical: a space of memory, history, aspiration, imagination.

But isn’t any place, experience always a mix of these things? Of whatever the dweller brings to the table? And there are at least as many cities in a metropolis as there are inhabitants—far more than that, as one doesn’t have to physically live in a place to inhabit it…or be inhabited, even possessed by it, in a sense (see: the power of nostalgia).

Humans have avatars; so do places. In Bombay Blues, Dimple explores Bombay—the place of a personal past, of family history and mythology that she is seeking her own connection with (which I, on my parallel journey, was doing writing it). But she also explores Mumbai—the modern-day metropolis and perhaps a future one too; Unbombay—a fictitious zone that she unexpectedly discovers when she drops the map (less a place, more a mental space about existing in the present moment); and Heptanesia–the ancient, the before the ‘before’ that goes so far back—nets the past into the future—so it’s full-circle here again.

For me (and Dimple), Heptanesia is a kind of meeting of all these spaces, pasts, presents, futures. Like a chord, a set of notes composed of the various avatars of the city, when played together these strands approximate the sound of one city, but a city with many layers. And it was interesting for me to explore the moments these metropolitan avatars could strike a chord…or not—their harmony, but also the dissonance between, for example, Bombay and Mumbai (or, when your preconceptions/familial history in a place rubs up against your actual experience of it today).

Dimple is a traveler on unknown (however in-the-blood known) terrain; as an Indian-American in India, and perhaps even more so, as the writer and songwriter of a new story I was still figuring out: I was, too. And a traveler’s anonymity, unknownness: It allows you to get to know other layers, potential versions of yourself as well as of a place, people, a situation. You become strange to yourself in a strange land (your known land can shift its own landmarks, too). This can be a real portal. An opportunity for (or even to consider): change.

Inhabiting a song, a story always feels like this opportunity.

I’m fascinated by these avatars of ourselves. I believe reincarnation happens within this lifetime—all at once, even: life viewed from different angles, played at manifold tempos. Mixed; montaged; multiple. Constantly shedding, threading new skins.

Maybe that’s what reincarnation’s about: Reinvention.

And ironically, sometimes we can be most ourself—when we embrace ourselves. All our swimming cities. In all our contradictions—which are no longer so if we widen our frame, deepen our definitions. Throw a light.

Ironically, sometimes we can find our way, or at least a way…when we get a little lost.

Drop the map.

In Bombay Blues, heroine Dimple literally drops the map, loses her way—and in so doing, discovers another layer to the metropolis, goes deeper in. All the way to ‘Heptanesia’. And the parallel journey for me writing her was that I had to let go of a lot of my original plans for what my book and album would be, should be—as soon as I landed in India and began to discover what they could be.

Which is always a more compelling compass: Possibility.

I wrote “Heptanesia” with London/Ghent-based Marie Tueje (I wrote about half of Bombay Spleen with her, the other with NYC’s Atom Fellows). The track was produced by Dave Sharma in Brooklyn and features the lovely legendary Jon Faddis on mute trumpet, and warm wonderful Neel Murgai on sitar. A dream team (along with Gaurav Vaz, who plays bass elsewhere on Bombay Spleen): all fine musicians—and still finer people. I’m lucky to count them as friends. And I think, hope that closeness, that intimacy comes across in the songs.

And no less a part of team Spleen: “Heptanesia” director Tim Cunningham (whom I’d met in an intensive filmmaking course years ago in New York—sweating profusely as we lugged gear around Union Square that summer, we vowed then to make something together one day…and at last it happened!). We met up a few times in SoHo to talk through things. Then in West London to shoot. For the music video, the idea was to go for a torch-singer-with-Bollywood-and-Ingmar Bergman’s Persona-touch look/feel (thank you hair/makeup artist Justine Wade)—an older-era vibe mixed with present-day Bombay footage (converging an old/new city in a time warp, as happens in the song and book). There are some visual references to the Wizard of Oz too (a book theme/chapter is “Home is Not a Place”, another take on ‘there’s no place like home’).

Tim directed, shot, and edited the video here in London. Additional Bombay footage was shot by ace Bombay-based filmmaker Shanker Raman. The video also includes some of the footage I took in Bombay during my research trip while taking visual notes for Bombay Blues (for example, one time crossing the Sea Link Bridge—which is almost like a character, and definitely a muse, in Bombay Blues–I just held my camera up to the window a few seconds to remember the phantom-ship feel of the structure; this shot ended up interspersed through the video).

The video features two little mergirls that make a home for and of me every moment of every moment. And the street sounds are from a videoclip I took during a fishmarket visit with my beloved Suresh Mama (in Pune—shhh!).

I hope you enjoy this love song to Bombay, in all her incarnations.

Xx,

(Hep)Tanuja

 

Between the Rock & the Ether

 

This is the music video for “Between the Rock & the Ether”, my collaboration with much-missed beloved synchro-bro Sam Zaman/State of Bengal (directed by Tim Cunningham, edited by Atom Fellows).

We wrote and recorded it a little over two years ago, very soon after meeting properly for the first time (although I’d danced many a Mutiny night to Sam’s wonderful music; he is mentioned in both my books: the first time as an innovator and inspiration; by the second book, he was a dear friend and coconspirator for life).

When Sam and I met properly for the first time, at the London screening of the late great and much missed Prashant Bhargava’s film Patang … we walked directly into a hug, and later that same day, into musical mischief.

Every experience I had with Sam felt like this hug. This glow.

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When he sent me the musical track for what became this song, it was a glowing day as well. I immediately felt lifted and excited when I heard it. Looped it on repeat in our sundrenched North London kitchen. Wrote the lyrics/melody on top and sent his way.

The day we recorded in his wonderful home in Upton Park, again: ceaseless blue sky, magnanimous light. A perfect day of music, laughter, endless conversation, comfortable and comforting silence. And lots of chai with raw honey. I recall many many times during that day thanking my lucky stars to having been granted such a joyful experience and such a special friend.

Sam had the window flung open that May 2013 afternoon and I remember I asked him if we needed to close it before we recorded. He said, Never: Listen. Outside the birds were having their own jam session, and there was this soul-smiling sound of children playing in the near distance. Even the sun seemed to be singing.

So the window remained flung open. And I’m sure somewhere embedded in this song are those many merry creatures of a feather.
The day we shot the music video, January of this year: another day of brilliant, near tangible light. We filmed at Ally Pally and then headed home.

Sammy came over. And the last shot of the day, he danced in our back garden, me singing accapella for him, all of us laughing. Just … feeling … GOOD.

Then we sat around the table and talked and ate and talked for hours. My parents were visiting from the States, B and the girls were home (the whole family had already met and fallen in love with Sam two years before; instant connection).

We three generations sat together with Sammy, at a tableful of love and laughter—a perfect end note to another perfect time together.
The last time I saw Sam, this May, he said he held that meal, that time around the table, very close to his heart and that it always gave him strength.

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Sam—though I know I told you many times what you meant and mean to me, I need to say again: How much strength you gave me too, and give me still. I still feel buoyed up, inspired, and so loved–like you got my back, synchro-bro…but you’re making sure I’ve bloody well got it, too.

I know you touched countless people. Deeply. Lastingly. You are so enormously missed—and felt.

I’m so lucky I got to know you. The world, to hear you.

The last time I saw Sam this May, just three days before he passed fully into the ethereal, he asked me to release this video on August 5. At the time I thought we’d be together for this, clinking huge mugs of chai with raw honey. And we are still together–and all of us, in all of this–just at another layer, in another way.

Though on one level I was writing the words to the track in connection to my novel Bombay Blues (the lyrics are based on themes therein, and some drawn directly from the novel), ultimately the song was fueled by the pure exhilaration of having been granted the gift of meeting this kindred spirit and immense soul.

So, to me, this is a love song to Sam. At the time, it was written about the joy of sharing the path in the ‘physical’ world, too…though now when I hear it it seems it was also somehow written even then …for this moment.

Between the rock and the ether…
The clock and the eternal…
The dock and the deep end…
Is where I will meet you.
Again again again…
Coconspirators and friends.

We rise.

Synchro-bro, I miss you. I love you. Fly.

Happy birthday to your beautiful son, and dear sister.
Love, Synchro-sis.

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Deep Blue She – International Women’s Day

Mumbadevi can you tell me

Why they how who can be?

This city still divided now

That Reclamation be?

Devadasi, make me crazy

Dowry, sati, serve tea

If you the goddess, why the girl

Not safe upon your streets?

 

Here’s to International Women’s Day (as far as I’m concerned, which is every day)—to #IndiasDaughter, to all of #IndiasDaughters, and all the world’s (and the sons who know how to value them, too).

Please find a link below to “Deep Blue She”, from my album Bombay Spleen (songs based on my novel Bombay Blues). This song was written for these daughters and sons. Us. I wanted this track to be a kind of call to rise up: to love our daughters more. Love who we want to love. Be who we want to be. Make room for each other. Because there’s plenty, and we will not be contained.

Catalyzed by Nirbhaya/the 2012 Delhi gang rape, there are also references in the song (and Bombay Blues) to sections 375, 376 of India’s penal code, which does not recognize marital rape as a crime. To the issues of dowry; sati.

“Deep Blue She” is also Bombay Spleen’s most direct anti-377 track (Section 377, which criminalizes homosexuality in India, was declared unconstitutional in 2009…but reinstated in 2013) and stands by LGBTQ rights.

Which are HUMAN rights.

 

The song started off when I began (mentally) riffing off that children’s tune “A Sailor Went to Sea Sea Sea” on the tube in London. I had this image in mind of a woman standing on Worli Fort (National Heritage site, yet nonexistent on an Existing Land Use Plan at the time I was writing Bombay Blues), keeping a telescoped eye out on the bay for approaching marauders…when all the while, the Fort’s crumbling under her very feet, and the pillagers (and literal pokers) are all around her on dry land (even those in ‘law-abiding’ guises; the nightlife crackdowns in Bombay happened soon after my last research trip there and are referenced in Bombay Blues as well).

Everyone trying to blow out her, our, hurricane lamp. But ain’t gonna happen!

In our music session (just after this tube ride), to get into it, my collaborator Marie Tueje and I sang over and over through the opening lines of “A Sailor Went to Sea Sea Sea”—but a much slower, slightly lamenting version. The song spun into its own zone from there.

So, here’s a call-out for us to keep working towards change. I believe there are so many of us doing this—living this. As well, there’s still a frock of a lot of work to do.

We mustn’t bleep out our histories, our geography—our Charlies.

When we deplete our voices, deny our stories—ban them, no less!–we repeat grave errors. Defeat our very hearts.

So, please, here’s to keeping them beating. And learning to view them in all their diversity as a collective dance rather than duel. They—we—are bigger than boxable. Bigger than bannable.

And our hurricane lamps are bright, will not be blown out.

In memory of Nirbhaya:“Six thousand Darjeeling guitars strum ‘Imagine’ for a much-missed girl gone too brutally, too young, so many miles from home. A dreamer’s dying declaration (echoing from the New York Dakota pavement): Would we someday live as one?” –from Bombay Blues, page 524

Running into Dimple Lala (literally!)

 

A surreal moment from my recent nineteen-day Jaipur/Bombay tour in support of the Bombay Blues book/album India release (same number of days heroine Dimple Lala spends in Bombay in the novel!):

Remembering being here at Crosswords bookstore, Kemps Corner almost exactly four years ago for Bombay Blues research trip number one…when this day was a distant dream.

A sankalp that slowly manifest itself into something you can literally hold in your hands.

It was funny in the best possible way seeing heroine Dimple Lala here. After years spent ‘being’ her here: seeing the world through her eyes—and camera.

Although most of those years were spent trying to write her Bombay clear…from London, England: where pretty much all the writing took place.

Although I was in Bombay three times over the course of 2011 and 2012 to research Bombay Blues — and 24/7 in my imagination (and onscreen) until the book and album were finished and released in the USA last August 2014–this Jan/Feb 15 India trip was the first time I’d been back to the mother/fatherland in just about exactly three years.

And the first time back with both projects complete.

To be honest I was a little nervous about returning in a way. Whereas with my first novel Born Confused, writing about NYC, where it’s set and where I’d lived for many years, was like making a record of a lived landscape, interestingly, and fittingly, with Bombay Blues, writing my/Dimple’s Bombay was more an experience of a land-escape:

For in a way the Bombay I was looking for, that I’d been working so hard to find my connection to…slipped my fingers the moment I’d fully written about it.

Or, rather, the Bombay I was looking for…turned out to be the Bombay in my book—returning that metropolis to being a mythical city, a city of memory. From mapping to unmapping. Which brought me full circle back to the very point I’d started from: when I’d embarked on this writing journey in part to make this myth ‘real’.

A part of me worried about going back and not finding that constantly challenging, creatively rewarding muse in this metropolis—the muse I’d lived, loved, and wrestled with these last three to four years. Because though the lows were low—the highs were high: The intensity of the creative process was addictive.

When I landed in Bombay this January, I realized that this was the first time in my entire life I’d ever gone to India not seeking something (usually a sense of home, connection…or at least a SIM card).

And, turned out, it was…a relief!

I guess as Dimple discovers many times in Bombay Blues, you can never know how you’re going to feel about something, somewhere until you’re in it.

It was pretty much hit the ground running once I landed, with eight events in two cities (actually, there were meant to be eleven events but I completely lost my voice and had to cancel three talks). The Zee/Jaipur Literature Festival book and music events (and getting some lovely QT with my panel moderator, author Monisha Rajesh, Bombay Spleen-mate/accompanist for the music stage Gaurav Vaz, and Jeet Thayil and his Still Dirty bandmates who I joined for a couple songs as well). Visiting schools with some lovely inquisitive and inspiring students. The absolute blast of the official book/album release party at Café Zoe in Lower Parel (which began at 530 in the afternoon….and went til 1? 2 ? am?)—organized by Sweety Kapoor, with Naresh Fernandes moderating a really enjoyable panel where he and street artist/muralist Jas Charanjiva and music journalist Kenneth Lobo and I talked culture, cities, home, identity, followed by our own music set, and DJ Uri’s 3Stylers, and LoboCop (Ken’s DJ avatar). It was a buzzy lovey dancecrazy slew of a crew of not only India-based folk warming up that room, but even people I know from London, NYC…and, by chance (he was there on a business trip), even Paris!

How special it was to celebrate the release of the book and album…in the very city that inspired both.

And then there was this moment of walking into Crosswords… and nearly literally into heroine Dimple Lala herself!

A moment to say grace.

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As I crossed the Sea Link Bridge with my Scholastic teammate Satadru on the way to my reading there, I was remembering what a muse this bridge was for me—a near obsession—during my three Bombay Blues writing years. And as thrilling and almost addictively turbulent as that had felt then, this time it was a lovely feeling to have a smooth (mentally, emotionally) sail across the waters.

I spoke to Satadru about this. In a way, I was feeling a kind of pressure, however self-imposed, to grieve the loss of the city I’d written about. And he smiled and said, But it’s not gone. You have put that piece of you on the page, the pages, and they are still there, but now they are out in the world. That part of you is out in the world…

He said just what I needed to hear. And what I knew deep down, or not so deep down, as well.

This idea that when you let go, nothing is lost. Rather, you make room for new avatars and incarnations of a place. Of people.

Of yourself.

Funny being you here.

And so it came to be, is coming to be. A new mother/fatherland map is forming, layering, renewing the old, the olds. A most wonderful thing during this last trip was precisely this:

That this endlessly complex and creative city of Bombay, Mumbai, Bom Bahia, Unbombay, Heptanesia:

She revealed another layer to me—one resonating with new friends, new tunes.

And new tales. For, truth be told, I could still sense that muse, feigning sleep, reigning dreams, somewhere on the premises.

So we shall see about that.

How I Write: “The work itself provides the inspiration”

Originally appeared as an interview with Jeff Tamarkin in The Writer Magazine

“The work itself provides the inspiration.”
By Jeff Tamarkin | Published: December 2, 2014

That Tanuja Desai Hidier’s novels are imbued with an undeniable sense of rhythm and melody is not a surprise: Hidier is also a singer-songwriter. Her new album “Bombay Spleen” is in fact based on her newest book Bombay Blues, which updates the story of Dimple Lala, the now-19 Indian-American protagonist of Hidier’s earlier YA work Born Confused.

On the CD sleeve, Hidier refers to each song not as a track but as a chapter. “Music is a huge part of both of my books,” says the U.S.-born, London-based author. “With Bombay Blues, I wanted the book to have the feel of a piece of music on every level, right up to the concluding double codas. And with “Bombay Spleen,” my aim was for the album to have the feel of the arc of a novel. For me, the book and album are one project, thoroughly intertwined in process and execution.”

Research: Born Confused is set in New York City, where I lived for many years. Bombay Blues is set in Bombay, a city that I didn’t know very well at all before embarking on this project. I’d only lived in Bombay for about a year shortly after birth; I’d visited a few times in my childhood. So very little research went into Born Confused. Bombay Blues was an entirely different process: a living of the questions. Diving so fully into the unknown it became a part of me. Although in my headspace and imagination, I inhabited Bombay for the entire three to four years of the writing and research process, I actually spent six weeks there over the course of a year to research.

Style: I just love language: playing with it, pushing it, pulling it close, closer. I’m in love with the musicality of it – how rhythm and melody can be created not only through word choice, but by the perfectly apt punctuation mark. Em-dash or colon? Comma or ellipsis? That’s the question. Something about quote marks, especially at the end of spoken phrases, feels untrue to me, at least for the books I’ve written so far. Em-dashes – of which I’m a big fan – feel more accurate to me: indicating the moment one begins speaking, but running those words right into the speaker’s headspace. They’re a bit more dreamlike, usher a gentle sliding in and floating into the character’s zone.

Inspiration: I believe it’s always there; you just have to be aware of it. The work itself provides the inspiration. You don’t need it to write; rather, you often need to write to experience it. I’ve learned
I can’t really have a bad day when I write, only when I don’t. Once I’m in, I’m in; the trouble is, in fact, exiting that state. Two huge catalysts that help me find it (and remain in a state of perpetual perspire-ual inspiration): a deadline – which, although they kept shifting during the process, I had [deadlines] both times from the get-go as I sold both books based on proposals – and the ultimate lifeline, motherhood. In the decade between books, I became a mother to two little girls. Morning person? Night person? You become a “whenever you can” person – and as parenthood keeps you in a kind of permanent state of jetlag, the a.m./p.m. distinction requires a thorough suspension of disbelief, anyway. You learn to dive right in during the time you do have to yourself.

Focus: I never write with the audience in mind, only the characters and story (which, come to think of it, is possibly more respectful to the reader). The foremost duty is to be true to them and, in so doing, fall upon some kind of “truth” that resonates with people of any age and background. With Born Confused, I never set out to write a specifically YA novel, but for years I had been wanting to express a South Asian American coming-of-age kind of story. Bombay Blues is in a bit of an out-of-the-box position, as it’s a much more of an adult/crossover story, if one has to put it in those terms, but is the sequel to that of a younger character.

Jeff Tamarkin is associate editor of JazzTimes. He lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with his wife, novelist Caroline Leavitt.

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