Friday, October 27, 2006

Thank You For The Music - 2

It would be our last night out together. He was leaving the next day and though the two of us would stay for another year, things wouldn't ever be the same again. In the four years that we had been together the thought of doing this had crossed our minds several times and subsequently, we had spent many night outs singing songs for hostel events as well as just for the pure pleasure it gave us. But the reality of the last night out was what it took to finally get a cheap headphone and an amazing piece of software to record some of the songs we had sung and tunes we had played, henceforth to be remembered as "aakhri nite out"

"Do you sing?" asked the Music Rep of my hostel. It was the summer of 2001 and we were being "ragged". "No, but I can play the tabla nad a bit of congo, Sir" , I said, almost too embarassed to state that I didn't play something cooler like guitar or drums. "Tabla! ok let's see what all you can play"

I still remember the day of our Fresher's Music event. It was the 17th of August 2001 and my Rep had asked me to come running to the hostel immediately after finishing the first Quiz of my college life. It was on Applied Mechanics. There were three songs lined up for the event. "Nights in Blue Satin" would take care of the Western Song, I was playing the Congo in "Chale Chalo" - the Eastern Group Song and the tabla for the solo instrumental. As Venkat and myself started on the mandolin and congo respectively to begin "Chale Chalo", I felt a strange calm descend on me. It was the first stage performance where I had a significant role and I simply loved it.
We came first and one of the most cherished moments of my college life was my hostel mates almost picking me up and dancing on the SAC floor. I felt ecstatic.

I was fortunate to be one of the very few tabla players in the campus and as a result people had to bear with whatever I dished out. So for the first three years of my stay in college, I played in almost each and every event; often pushing in the instrument even if it was not needed just to add to the classical touch. In singing events that we had, for some strange reason there were no points for the accompanying instruments. This meant that in one particular Ghazal Night in which I was the Music Rep of my hostel, I ended up playing tabla for 7 hostels out of the 9. My hostel finished 5th and two of the others for whom I played, ended up 2nd and 3rd. Not bad, ha!!

In my first year we had this fourth yearite who was the best Drummer in the institute and folks from my hostel said that he always hoped that there would be a tabla player so that we could fuse the two instruments and do a sawal jawab in the Fusion Night event (till then the most happening event in the Music Club).

It was a chilling January morning and the time was around 5 o'clock, as we stepped out of the hostel to go the the institute music room (which had the only Drum set) to have the last practice for the Fusion Night. We were almost sure of clinching it. We had a few tunes from Indian Ocean to be played on the Electric Guitar along with the drums and the tabla, a very melodious piece on the synthesizer which was to be played by one of my seniors who of all people I have met had the keenest music sense. Be it keyboard or guitar he could figure out tunes, chords, harmonies with ease. His rythym sense was fantastic and was a true asset to the hostel and the institute. All of us in the first year simply adored him, more so because of the lovable person that he was.
Anyway, the real attraction was to be the jugalbandi between the drums and the tabla.

As the judge stepped on to the stage in the Convocation Hall, all of us could feel the tension in the air. We had made a few mistakes here and there but come on, no other hostel had a drummer and a tabla player. Worst come worst we would be second, I thought.
"The drummer from Karakoram was fantastic."
"The tabla player was also good."
Second Runners Up ............
OK. Good. Now we are either first or second.
First Runners Up .............
Cool. We have almost made it. Just announce it quickly will you.......
And the winner for this evening is .........

I dont even remember which hostel came first. All I remember is that they had played some crap. We were crestfallen. We cursed anyone even remotely associated with the event. In hindsight though, it was to be the most important lesson as far as playing in events was concerned. Never play for the result, play for the fun. Never play for the stage, revel in the practices.

What followed was the costliest and the biggest (in terms of sheer quantity) treats that any Music Rep has ever given to his team in our only hostel cafetaria.
KL? Cafeteria? Anyway...

We mostly lost in the music events. Initially it hurt. Later on it didn't matter. At least not to me. and it was true even when I was the Cultural Secy of my hostel. I was anyway not the "play for win" kind of a guy ever in my life. I took whatever came to me in my stride.

In the meanwhile I also tried my hands at drums and though the process lasted only about a month or so, it was fun. Helped by my senior I practised everyday in the music room and given my rythym sense, I could say unabashedly that I was a fast learner. The pinnacle of my stint as a drummer was the House Day perormance where I played drums with the instrumental rendition of the MI theme and a part of Metallica's Nomad. Take my word for it, it was a hit!

Amidst all this I was spotted by a certain stud. Stud Singh for all those who have ever been to my college! So along with a Mohan Veena , Violin and Guitar player and perhaps the best classical vocalist of my college we formed a fusion group. To say I enjoyed the association would be a gross understatement. We spent time composing tunes on certain Ragas (I mostly listened though!) figuring out jugalbandi between tabla, ghatam and the pakhawaj, trying out pieces from Mrigya, playing Vande Mataram on the mohan veena accompanied by the tabla, singing bhajans and ghazals. It was probably the most enriching experience that I have ever had as far as music is concerned. There was so much to learn from each of them. We became quite popular in the campus and it was fun to be congratulated on the superb performance in the inauguration of the Tryst or Rendezvous. I think I upped my tabla playing abilities by a few notches during those days.

So while I went about trying to fulfil my craving for playing the tabla, there were performances by the stalwarts of Indian Classical Music in our campus which left me dumbstruck in awe and amazement and gasping for more. I didn't look for company to go to these concerts and remember in my first year attending a Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar concert in the Siri Fort Auditorium , sitting in the steps all by myself. In the campus itself I was fortunate to see Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma, Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Dr. L Subramaniam, some of them , multiple times, accompanied by the lesser known but no less talented tabla players like Ustad Shafat Ahmed Khan. It was heavenly. At the end of the concerts as the performers stirred up a storm with their amazing speed and dexterity, it seemed almost out of the world. Throats went dry and heartbeats became faster. God I miss those days.

I never wanted to be stereotyped as someone who listened to a particular type of music or played only a particular type of instrument and so always wanted to learn playing the guitar. You see, tabla was great, it's one of the most difficult and beautiful instruments. There's nothing like hearing to a tabla player in full flow. But as a college goer there was only one thing which was cool. Singing songs with friends and playing the guitar alongside. I knew I could sing at a certain level which would hopefully prevent my listeners from throwing footwear at me. So the fact that one of the nicest guys around and a very good guitar player was one of my closest buddies coupled with the realisation of the approach of a two month long summer vacation of nothingness, prompted me to finally take the plunge and get the first few lessons from him to be honed at home.

My first and until recently, only guitar was a Hobner Jumbo and boy, I remember the first chord I played on it . It was wonderful. It was the summer of 2003 and spirits were high. G C D & Em formed my life. I was sure of why I wanted to play the guitar and so it made things easy. I never wanted to be a Joe Satriani ( I didnt even know his name back then) and so I concentrated on learning to play the easiest chords. My mother bore the brunt of it all. From morning till night I would keep playing (rather try playing) chords at random The thrill of learning was mine again and it was awesome. It was painstaking and boring at times but I somehow kept my interest levels up with the vision of singing "Take It Easy" and "Every Rose has its Thorn" firmly embedded in my eyes.

As third year started I began playing the guitar more freely. My guru would teach me all the songs he knew which meant that we ended up knowing the same songs and no more. There was also the thrill of taking the guitar along on visits to my home. Yeah there was the rare occasion of a few girls (ya you heard me right , Girls!) saying to me the lines I always dream to hear whenever I carry my guitar along with me .."So you play the Guitar.....Kuch bajao na..."
Soon I was the dependable rythym guitarist of my hostel, doing all the easy chord playing while others played the leads. I loved it all the way. My first appearance with the guitar was the most beautiful song I have heard called "Dust In The Wind".. (that's where the title of my blog comes from) and do I even need to say it, we came first.

Then there was that incident where about five or six of us sat on the road in front of the hostel through the entire night, waiting for the keys to the music room to arrive. There was some dirty politics involved in it and I dont wish to reproduce the details here. But it was the most amazing of nights as we sat in the middle of the road waiting for the keys to come, frustrated, angry and amused at the same time. Somebody brought maggi for all of us and we sang a few songs. It was dreamlike.

Meanwhile many events went by. We won some. We lost more. I managed to see some fabulous performances. "More than Words" by Francis and Baijal, "Comfortably Numb" by Mohit, Amitabh Basu on his keyboard (it didnt matter what he played), Jwala on the second year Eastern Night with Basu on keyboards, Jeet on the Mohan Veena and Aravind on the Violin... there are too many to name. Through all of this I came close to so many people, mostly from my hostel. So there was our synth player who graduated from figuring out and playing chords (which he was by the way very good at) to playing Fur Elise and Moonlight Sonata , who became the epitome of determination for many of us, the level headed, wierd at times, genius, the boy house wardens want parents to meet when their kids come to the hostel. Then there was our lead guitarist whose antics generally started after midnight as he plugged in his guitar and distortion, the bundle of energy and enthusiasm, whose rendering of "Toxicity" in the first Distortionaire is something I would never forget. And there was my guitar guru. When he sang "Baby can I hold you tonight" at 3 in the morning, it brought goosebumps.

In the last year in college I had all but stopped playing anything. I didn't learn anything new, the thrill, it seemed, was gone. Coming here though I have realised that I cant live without music. And I don't mean listening to it, I mean playing something, singing to myself. So as I sit in my room with my new Yamaha acoustic guitar trying out "More than words" a sense of pleasure fills me. The joy of doing something to your hearts content.

People who know me say and I myself like to believe that I have a sense of music . If you ask me I won't be able to describe to you in words exactly what it means. The point is as long as I have this sense I would like to keep playing something and it doesnt matter to me whether it's the cool guitar or the classical tabla (or maybe some other instrument someday!)

By the way, if you have managed to reached this far, firstly thanks a ton, and if you still remember the mention of the Applied Mechanics Quiz in the beginning, I scored -1.5. No that's not a typo!

Thank you for the Music.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Change Revisited....

It's a subject that has begun to fascinate me more and more since the time I pondered on the change that was about to happen, as I entered the last days of my college life. Till then though I somehow only thought of it at a very individual level: change in environment, change in the people living around you, different routines. different hang out places. My visit to home this time (the first one as an employed son !) opened for me a new perspective.

There are certain things in life which you take for granted. Or at least I did. Things which to you are eternal. For me it was my hometown. No I am not talking about the physical appearance of the city of my childhood. I am talking about its feels. Its sounds and flavours so as to speak. As kids, Durga Puja was one of the most eagerly awaited events of the whole year and although the attractions changed from getting gas balloons and riding the merry-go-round as a 5 year old to checking out the prettiest girls in town all dressed up as 10th graders and roaming around the city in one's father's scooters (sadly the dad's in my hometown prefer a scooter over a bike), yet the charm stayed the same, unaffected by the growing years.

This time around, as I stood in the pandal with one of my friends, I realised (and this was something which had hit me a few years back also) that we no longer enjoyed it as we used to. The thrill was gone, we were too old for the merry-go-rounds and too young for enjoying the spiritual/religious aspect of it. There were almost no known faces and we were only going through the motions trying to recapitulate what thrilled us as schoolboys. I guess it's but natural that you outgrow your childhood joys and start enjoying newer more mature things but even then it sort of hit me hard.

At home as my father came to me to ask about the nittie-gritties of the latest Digi-Cam that I had brought for him, my mind went back to the days when the roles were reversed and my father would be unravelling for me the mysteries of the newest remote control car that he had brought from Calcutta. I met my grandmother after 6 years. For her mine was a transition straight from school to that of an employed youth. She was delighted and nostalgic at the same time and we spent a lot of moments reminiscing about the days when grandmothers and grandfathers were the most caring and the best humans on earth. As for me I could see that she had grown old. There were the usual joint pains and the daily dose of medicine. A far cry from the Nani who would make me stand on her feet while she sat down and then swing me for as long as I wanted.

When you go home on a vacation, it's mainly for the two things that matter a lot in your life: your family and your friends from the school days. And like family you always expect your friends to be there or at least their families to be there. This time around as I parted with one of my closest buddies I realised that I didnt know when I would meet him next. His father would be retiring on March next year and so his family is moving out. It was as if a defining principle of your existence was being challenged. I always expected home to be this way. Meet family , hang out with old friends, go to their houses irrespective of their being there or not at that moment to feast on the various dishes that their mothers would prepare once intimidated of my arrival! All that was slowly changing. And then I realised that my father would also be retiring in a few years and leaving for Kolkata where he has built a house.

I guess all the while the world around us is changing in its various forms. Sometimes the changes are shattering and sometimes too subtle to catch our imagination. It's only when we sit back and retrospect that we find the way things have changed: relations, perspectives, roles, everything. On a slightly different note, ever since I started maintaining a blog, I think I have become more aware of everything around me. Someone once said to me "The more you write, the more you will have things to write about..." . Now I can fully understand what he meant.