Why "Killing Me Softly" Is My Favorite Lullaby

Every night, the last song that we sing to Baby G is Killing Me Softly. According to Janelle Harris, it is “[o]ne of those songs that earmarks a period of your life and immediately takes you back everytime you hear it”.

For me, that time was 1996, when I was a Sophomore in high school. The Fugees were the hottest group around and Lauryn Hill was everything. I will *never* forget the moment that this song meant something more though. I had just come home from school and my mom was frying onions and preparing tarkari in the kitchen. I like(d) to sing . . . a lot. So, I started my rendition of “Strummin’ my pain with his fingers, singin’ my life with his words, killin’ me softly with his song . . . [Pause: This is the moment when my conservative Indian mother looked up from her onions, with a smirk, and started singing along word-for-word] killing me softly with his song, tellin’ my whole life with his words killin’ me softly with his song (cue the sitar) . . .” I stopped in my tracks, with my jaw on the floor. “HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT?”, I asked my mom. She said, “When I came here (Read: immigrated to the US from India) that was my favorite song. Roberta Flack sang it”. But my mom didn’t sing (or so I thought). She read and recited Q’uran. Full Stop. So you can understand why I was completely shocked. My dad, on the other hand, always had a tune coming out of him. He would break out his old skool Bollywood songs and I would sing along. Our favorite being, Deewano Se Ye Mat Pucho by Mukesh.

In hindsight I can see that my mom was desperately trying to hold traditional Indian food, culture, religion onto her being out of fear of loss . . . in order for her children to eventually hold onto and pass these things on. Enter the double-life-culture-clash trope that you have undoubtedly heard from pretty much every first generation South Asian person ever.

Now, when I hear Lauryn Hill’s version of “Killing Me Softly”, I think of my mom, the moment we sang it together and a time and a place that I can’t access . . . When she was a single, rainbow jean overall bell bottom wearing, recent immigrant who sang along to Roberta Flack’s version.

I’m not sure when I started singing it to Baby G, but it has stuck and it has become our nightly ritual. We always do 3 books and 3 songs. The last song being Killing Me Softly. Baby G hears it, immediately puts his head on the armrest, relaxes and knows it’s that time.

I’m totally not doing this to make sure my son gets nostalgic and remembers me when he’s at a karaoke bar in his 20s and the song comes on… totally not (Insert: Smirk).

Do you have any nontraditional lullaby songs? What are they?