How the Happy Mondays helped me understand the meaning of curry
You think you understand something important to you… a phrase, a concept, an idea.
And then you realise you weren’t even close! Something happens that means you have to start again, rip it up… rethink everything.
I owe the Happy Mondays for helping me rethink what curry means to me.
I’m sitting in a London curry house, March 2017, and the evening is not going according to plan. The name of the restaurant (which I won’t share) promises masala nirvana – but it turns out to be pretty much the opposite. The channa saag is maybe the worst I’ve ever eaten; the chicken jalfrezi squeaks under the fork like polystyrene.
But, hey, it’s still a curry. It’s the end of a long working day… the staff are friendly, the naan is good, and I have a bottle of Kingfisher. I’m happy.
The restaurant soundtrack is playing the classics 90s ‘Madchester’. Years back, my younger brother Tom was a student in the city at the peak of the Hacienda scene, and I rode shotgun with him and his friends for a couple of great nights out. I was probably the oldest person in the room – but no one seemed to mind.
Fast forward 20 years, and as I listen to the Madchester anthems in the restaurant, the stabbing keyboard intro of the Mondays’ Step On suddenly cuts through my bland mouthful of channa saag.
Instantly, it changes my mood.
This is music that inhabits you… music that races down your arteries. You can actually feel the melody tweaking the dials of your internal chemistry – turning everything up.
And that’s when it it hits me… THIS is what the sages of Indian cuisine mean when they describe curry as ‘Music in the Body’.
I’d always thought it was a cutesy, abstract concept… one of those trendy, physical-meets-spiritual thingies (‘Landscape of the soul’ etc). Interesting – but ultimately not connected to anything real.
But the Mondays slammed the lesson home.
‘Music in the Body’ has nothing to do with abstraction. It describes flesh-and-blood, on-your-fork reality.
‘Music in the Body’ tells you- maybe better than anything else – about the sheer, tingling delight of eating great Indian food. Curry doesn’t just thrill your senses… it thrills your being.
Your head, your mood, your heart… curry can and does change them all.
Just like great music.
And THAT is the point.
Thanks to the Mondays, I finally get it…
‘Music in the Body’ describes what would happen if you could actually pour the notes of a banging tune onto your plate… and eat them… swallow them whole! You’d wouldn’t feel the music as something semi-remote… a soundwave – but as a tangible, physical presence that inhabits your physical being. You’d feel the tune descending your throat, and literally coursing through your arteries.
That is what Music in the Body means!
And that physical sensation is what great curry means to me.
(PS. if you can translate what the Mondays mean by ‘you’re twisting my melon , man’ – please explain)
Lovely article Ad. I have fond memories of Hacienda, and curry nights out eating naan breads cooked on the clay ovens of Rusholme’s curry mile. As for ‘twisting my melon’, this takes me back to the finest melon’ juice I ever drank, in the market in Jaipur.
Hi Tom, really glad you liked the piece. This blog is dedicated to you, and to the good times shared with you: past, present and future. Thanks for jogging my memory about great curries in Rushholme. Thanks also for translating the Monday’s ‘twisting my melon’. Who knew that the band were such enthusiastic juicers of fruit? 🙂 Love Ad