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Six Years of Hide and Seek: A Personal Retrospective on ‘Is This Biodegradable’

Perfection in art—whatever the word might signify—holds a scarcely tested position. Revisions, redefinitions, reorientations and the myriad words emblematic of incurred change, perhaps justifiably rouse the artist to question themself. They nudge them to a state of saturated perdition, to interrogate themself as to whether what they have produced is good enough; if art is inseparable from the artist, then whether they are good enough. 

I write this as a personal essay, wielding the first person pronoun, for what I have to say here is incomplete without my selfhood. I have always been in love with first drafts. Give me the seedy, grainy ideas I say; give me the pups that are yet the runt of the litter. Above all, give me what captures the nascent purity of thought, before you accessorise it with the valorous armaments of art. I am the happiest kid on the planet to look at the early drafts of a poem, for example, or the drawing-board sketches of my favourite cartoonist. I am the happiest kid on the planet when an artist announces a compilation of demos or b-sides.

When I first came across Is This Biodegradable in 2018, I remember SoundCloud being my go-to haunt (on some days it still remains so). I noticed the name Morning Mourning beneath the title, chuckled to commend the alliterative power, and I was floored within seconds of the first song. To my discredit, I had listened to the album quite a few times before I went on the world wide web to look up this curious moniker, when, to my dismay, I found it to be a brainchild of Shantanu Pandit.

I shall try to absolve myself as much as I can when I say that tonally speaking, Is This Biodegradable sounded nothing like the admittedly monolithically Dylan-esque Skunk in the Cellar, Pandit’s debut album; neither does it quite match the supple waltz of the eponymous release by Run it’s the Kid, another songwriting brainchild of his. As a collection of home-recordings, it is brazen; it shows its teeth, unbrushed and cigarette yellow, and sounds like a kid lost in a fair who comes to tell you that this is not their first time being lost. Just let them tell you about the time they chewed through their own leash just because home did not feel like home.

As an album so inhibitedly tucked into a niche of Indian independent music, Is This Biodegradable accords itself a lot of malleable breathing space (which the average listener, yet, might be unaware of) to its own benefit. Six years on, Pandit admits (on Instagram) that the songs on the album were written during a time when—at the wake of Run it’s the Kid being split, his morale regarding performing live being at a nadir, and a move away from Delhi—he was “severely depressed”. Speaking to Platform, while still in the thrall of Morning Mourning, Pandit also reveals his music to come from “Pre-teen Protein”. Is This Biodegradable—named after the juvenile query Pandit as a child would repeat to his fond mother, pointing at random objects he saw—reiterates his testaments: it is, to the keen listener, a quite heavy listen, and not everyone might be prepared to sit with the songs till they stir emotions that are, mostly, not exactly pleasant.

I was eighteen when I found the album, about to move out for college, at a tumultuous stage in my life as well. What began as a candid fascination at the murky, cemetery-laden world of the album, soon turned into a sordid crutch when I was forced to live a half-life amidst pretence and parochiality, in a place where the city and the people alike perhaps had never learnt how to be human. Like Pandit, exactly six years on, I now fully realise how depressed I was back then, with experiences whose bitter dregs I keep discarding to this day, at a time when listening to the songs on the album felt a cure not because I wanted anaesthesia for, but on the contrary, redoubled awareness of, the pain I was in. Amongst the handful of songs on the album, “This Winter” is perhaps the most popular, possibly owing to its unabashed candour. A line like “I don’t even know where I belong” is powerful precisely because it is unadorned in its confession; there is no performative dross, and what is left is a shard of truth that houses immense resonance with anyone who has found themself collecting unbelonging undoings. I would listen to “Jojo” on my daily commute, and the hazy privacy of the song—essentially a phone-call recording sampled with instrumental backing—would soothe me like nothing had ever before.

With all the years on its back, in the vein of the aforementioned malleability of the album, Is This Biodegradable has just received a surprising and welcome Bandcamp-exclusive update on its sixth anniversary. A lot has changed in the six years; as Pandit has matured as an artist and a live musician with Milk Teeth and its ensuing tours, living contexts for both of us, fortunately, are not what they used to be. His maturing and progression have finally allowed him the safety of looking back at Is This Biodegradable not just as a temporal phase, but also as a body of music that he can be deservedly proud of. Consequently, what is to me the best song on the album—“Fingernails that grow Forever”—has been reintroduced, along with a new, previously unreleased, song called “Windowpain” (both changes reflect on the Bandcamp version of the album only; “Windowpain” is included as an unlisted bonus track). “Fingernails that grow Forever”, six years on, is as achingly haunting as it was in its inception, holding the essence of the album in its position as the intro track. “Windowpain” is a fitting and somnambulant outro to the album, its raw, unabridged sound made only more potent with the solitude of the acoustic guitar.

“I could live here”, Pandit half states, half laments in “Windowpain”, and we believe him. Of course, the assertion has semantically evolved after all this time; what began as a sordid awareness of his own tolerance, is now a realisation that dust is but a hollow allergen. This is, truly, the legacy of Morning Mourning, and of anyone who has truly mourned and come out of it. It is a broken stitch, beautiful if not beatific, suggesting a method of safe remembrance of the past. When one bathes in the light anew, the cave starts to look different; it is not saline still, neither is it dark. The outside is not the inside anymore.

Purchase Is This Biodegradable here: 

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