What I listen to inside the car creates images for me outside, beyond the windshield. And what I see outside searches for a background score inside. With the highways merging into towns and settlements, the driving gradually shifts to negotiating cars, cows, and erratic bikers and reconciling the overwhelming noises outside with the babble of family conversations inside, alongside the imperative car music. In a state of aphasic numbness, I break off from most of what is happening around me and sink into a world of augmented reality.
In the beginning, no one cares about car music. If you start early in the day, it hardly takes any time to get out of our city and hit the highway. My parents sit in this neat posture as if tied to their seats, only moving their heads to look outside. The children slouch on the seats and doze off, drifting out with a changing track and again back into a deep sleep, particularly when the classical flutes begin to sway in the lower octaves. For the first one hour, mostly uncontested, I conduct the music for the road – my selected tracks that match the journey’s color, sounds, and mood. In the past, we usually started with some devotional, not to leave out the older listeners in the group, but since last year the cousins nine, ten, and fifteen- year-old group members revolted and vetoed that choice out.
Later during the trip, when we hit the flat valleys of the coconut hills, with the roads climbing and falling again in steep slopes if I am still not driving, I scour through the playlist and make sure to turn up the folk tunes – the search for the roots surrounded in an almost unsettling green. As the scenes keep changing outside, unless you are alone, you can’t ignore the settings inside – the words, the tuts, the munches, the burps, the coughs, the jokes, the laughter, the fatigue, and the constant fear of finding oneself dangling in the middle of a stray thought.
Treated as merely a source of sensory stimulant, music in a car is relegated to entertainment that can hardly be dissociated from the activity – the act of being in a car. However, when the activity involves surrendering to hours of huddling up with a group and willfully agreeing to drift across substantial geographical distances, that music in the background commands a much more significant role – allowing an immersion, an escape. In that case, music needs to facilitate not just the traveler’s intellectual management or rather the mismanagement of cognitive thoughts, but also sync with the passing flashes of the scenery outside.
Just as driving duties get swapped, like a change of guard, a pull chit decides occupants’ rotation for the navigator’s seat in the front – the one who has the physical proximity to the dashboard and enjoying supreme power in case of failure of device pairing.
This deceptively casual entertainment involves the complicated organization of the sounds and tracks to influence the mood inside and reflect the setting outside. My wife is a brilliant car DJ. With a fair understanding of the fellow travelers’ sensibilities, right where the playlist algorithm slips and snaps, she craftily reconnects the continuum that transcends the worlds outside and inside and designs the experience of a family road trip.
Not every track has to be a high spirited one. Not every anthem demands choral lip sync. Somewhere around halfway, the group’s overall motivation seems to lose sight of the destination -the promise of a fulfilling annual holiday in the family country home. Stopping for a meal and some quick stretching and running around for the kids gets the team back in the mood to carry on, starting with some fresh new conversations. Usually, we make two stops and no more, unless the wild tuskers and their little ones stop traffic again, like last year. Those moments of waiting were passed in absolute silence.
During the second half, my brother drives—the wives zone out in the back seats. The children completely take over the entertainment unit –occupying the front seat in rounds. Headphones or other gaming devices being strictly not allowed, not even for the teenager, we helplessly surrender to the blitz of screeching and grating that pass for music. Except for cluelessly resolving some occasional impasse surrounding which K-pop track should go next, the grownup conversations remain more or less unaffected by the vocals, language, instruments, beats, rhythms, and melodies or its total absence, as long as it plays in the right degree of loudness.
I try readjusting the ambiance once again towards the last leg of the trip. Since it’s the same route we take every year, the timing of the hills appearing at the end of the road is as always precise, right when the sun tumbles from the twelve-noon spot westward in the southern sky, while we are heading straight for the hills alongside a bunch of frivolous clouds. All it needs is a soundtrack of the harmonica in the background. Guitars are excellent while bending along the meandering streams. Finishing with the melodies of local voices and arrangements on touching the familiar soils and vegetation sets the vacation’s mood. When the wives drive during the return trip, with the group’s overall spirits demanding a lot more revival, the choice of tracks needs some serious attention.
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Author: Staff Contributor
Illustration/Photograhy: TDLM Design Team