Why It’s No Fun Being DJ Wale Babu On a Road Trip


Why It’s No Fun Being DJ Wale Babu On a Road Trip

Illustration: Juergen D'souza

In India, every seat carries its own set of pressures. Whether it is KBC’s hot seat, your exam seat, the esteemed seat in parliament, or the shotgun seat in a car. And with great seats come great responsibilities. In parliament, the power is with the Speaker, and if you are seated next to the driver during a road trip, similar power lies with you. You’re the de facto nominee to make lame small talk, navigate the fresh hell that is Google Maps (especially if you’re still confounded by your left and right), and most importantly, become the official car DJ.

I’d rather risk being crushed between bags and passengers in the back seat than be burdened with the responsibility of playing a song that will invite the wrath of my co-passengers. A backache is bearable, but a bad song hangs heavy in the air, like flatulence.

No matter what you think about yourself as a musical tastemaker, you’re never really prepared to DJ in a hurtling box of metal. A few minutes into the drive, someone from the backseat will just casually say, “Koi gaana bajao yaar, bore ho rahe hain,” and that’s it. Your eagerness to ride shotgun has come back to bite you in the ass.

The only other person who faces similar pressure in this country, is Virat Kohli.

This whole “DJ Wale Babu” business begins with the process of connecting your phone with the car’s music system, and that can be a complicated challenge based on how modern and sophisticated the technology is – and how well you did in your computer science class at school. Everyone loves the old-school aux cable, but if you’re in one of those newfangled cars, you know it can take a while to connect it over Bluetooth or WiFi. Nothing embarrasses young people like knowing they can’t use technology properly in 2018. “Aaj hi bajayega na?” one wiseass will ask, and already aspersions have been cast over your ability to do your job.

Make no mistake, it’s not like the new DJ is going to do any better. And the one taking potshots at him is you.

Instinctively, you start with your favourite song from a playlist named “Street Smart”, and when has that ever gone in your favour? Your song choices will be questioned and scrutinised more than the death of a High Court judge in India, and you haven’t the foggiest idea about how your friends will draw conclusions about your sex life based on the opening bars of “Tip Tip Barsa Pani”. You know it’s real when even would rather focus on giving you the death stare than looking at the road; his concern for everybody’s safety is overpowered by his hatred of that Ariana Grande song you are playing on full volume.

If you play pop music, you’ll be asked if you’re 12 years old. Try playing classic rock, you’ll be asked if you’re 100. Crank up some Arijit Singh, you’ll be asked if you broke up recently. “Summer of 69” will only lead to you getting accused of being a cliché. Play EDM and they’ll threaten to throw you out of the car (which you probably deserve). You could put on some Punjabi music, but with that comes the risk of being branded a Yo Yo or Badshah fan “4 lyf”, and no one wants that kind of reputation. You might as well have gotten a tramp stamp.

Yet, you soldier on, fighting back with your silence and steely determination to do better.

But out of every five songs you play, only one will be a crowd hit, and that’s the best you can do. So basically, being a car DJ is a lot like being Shah Rukh Khan. The song that follows the crowd hit is always most hated, because you can’t keep up with that kind of success.

If it’s not enough that you are constantly music-shamed – there are also operational challenges in being a car DJ. Like Vodafone, splendid provider of 4G at Edge speeds, screwing with a good song. Everyone screams at you for pausing a popular song they were humming, but it was actually Vodafone’s connectivity that bailed out on you. Or the time Sukhbir goes “Oh ho ho ho” and everyone is excited to sing the chorus, but you get a call from mom and the mood is ruined. Then you have to spend the next two minutes engaging in an embarrassing conversation with your mom on the car speakers as she probes if you’ve reached your destination, packed your underwear, and had the theplas she made for you.

The confrontation between the DJ and the passengers keep on escalating and you know it has reached the point of no return when the DJ turns back at one of them, throws the phone into the backseat, and goes, “Tu hi baja le na!” At the next washroom break, there is going to be a change in seating arrangement, and with it, a change in the car DJ. Make no mistake, it’s not like the new DJ is going to do any better. And the one taking potshots at him is you.

After all, being the car DJ is like being a parent. No matter what you do, it’s never going to be enough. You will always be hated on, no matter how good a job you do. You can’t hear it out loud but they’re all murmuring those familiar chants you’ve heard at parties.

“Change the fuckin DJ!”