Snapshots in G Minor

Long ago, in my wild and misspent youth, I used to be part of the band in my college. It took up a fair bit of my time when I was pretending to be a studious grad student, but it remains one of the happiest times of my life.

Singing <i>Pukaarta Chala Hoon Main</i>

Singing Pukaarta Chala Hoon Main

It was called Baro-C, after one of the buses which plied through the remote part of Kolkata where our college (Indian Institute of Management Calcutta) was situated. It’s not a particularly imaginative name, but it was the by-product of a more imaginative one.

You see, there’s another bus that goes from our locality (Joka) to a place downtown called Bandstand. That bus has the words Joka Bandstand emblazoned across its back. Years ago, when a bunch of IIMCians wanted a name for their Western music band, they decided to call it Joka Bandstand, or JBS. And when they decided to form a companion band that would play Indian music, they named it after one of the other buses – route 12C, or Baro-C (Baro is 12 in Bengali). Since most of the same people played in both bands, they were often referred to collectively as JBS-BaroC.

A couple of years ago, one of the students asked me to write an article for the alumni magazine about my experience of playing in that band. So this is what I came up with.


This is a song for all the good travelers

Who passed through my life as they moved along.

The ramblers, the thinkers, the just-one-more drinkers

Each took the time to sing me a song.

— Ken Hicks, All the good people

If any of you have ever been in a situation where you have to change your residence after a number of years in one place, you’ll remember the amazement you feel at the number of things you find that you once thought were lost.

Some of them used to matter. A lot. But that was a long time ago. The fact that they once did matters more now than they actually do. But that’s a fine hair to split. So you pack them all into neat cardboard boxes, and take them with you to your new home where, in all probability, they will lie unopened.

Memories are trickier. You can pack them and put them away in some corner of your mind. But on some idle Wednesday evening, you’ll take a break from work, surf through the web and come across a song you’ve never heard before, and one of those boxes will open itself. And a sepia-tinted photograph of someone singing Annie’s Song in a little room behind the Annexe mess will waft out of that box and onto your desk.

Go away, you’ll say. There’s work to do now. Deadlines to meet, papers to submit.

No response. It’s still there, on your desk.

Like I said, memories are trickier. Besides, I want to write this one while my memories of the experience still matter to me.

So here goes…

I’ve been trying to write this one for a while now. It started off okay, when I came across the Ken Hicks song and realized that it could form the perfect opening for a JBS-12C piece. I had it all planned out – I’d start off there, ease into the article with some kind of analogy, pepper the whole piece with quotes from other band alums reminiscing on Yahoo groups and wherever else, add a bit about the history… a hitchhiker’s guide in G minor, if you will.

Well, here’s the thing: I don’t know how to write that piece. I just can’t do it. But here’s what I can do.

I can close my eyes and hear Sapnoti Majumdar ask us in an improbably squeaky voice if she could try out for the band, and then blow us away with Do lafzon ki. Here we are, wondering if the doorjamb needs oil, and suddenly Asha Bhosle is in the room.

I can remember what it felt like to glance out the window of the practice room behind the Annexe mess at 5 am while singing harmony to Aasmaan ke paar shaayad, and see the first rays of the sun shining through.

I can almost taste the slightly burnt bread that came with the ghugni at the shack outside the gate. Some people love the smell of napalm in the morning, I love the smell of slightly burnt bread. Go figure.

I can remember trying to explain to someone where they were screwing up on a song, and failing miserably because we didn’t have a common vocabulary to describe what a perfect note felt like. I can remember using stock trading jargon – go long on this note, go short here…

I can remember chewing someone out for making a rendition of Gazab ka hai din sound like a visit to the Holocaust museum. (Yeah, I was quite the perfectionist asshole back then, and some of them probably hated me for it.)

I can remember trying to conserve my breath while singing a slow section of Maaeri (Ab kya karoon…) so that I’d have enough of it left when the really tough part (Naa judaa…) came next.

I can remember trying not to wince outwardly when I screwed up on stage.

I can remember how stories about little anecdotes about band happenings become our personal rallying point. I can remember laughing with Ratul just a short while ago, reminiscing about Gireesh’s Ramji’s once-in-a-lifetime rendition of Day Tripper.

I can remember the show we once put up during the faculty-student dinner — the one where Prof. Ash Chats (does an article like this have to be formal about faculty members’ names? I hope not) sang Is rang badalti duniya mein and Prof. Mahanti danced in the aisles to the tune of Jhumroo… God, that was a good show!

I can remember…

Let me restate: it’s not that I don’t know how to write that article on JBS-12C. It’s that I don’t want to.

I don’t want to try and put a structure on to any of that. I don’t want to make a nice, bound, photo album out of a mass of photographs held together by a rubber band and dumped into some polythene cover from Oxford Bookstore.

I don’t want to adjectivize any of it. I don’t want to “describe” it.

I want these memories to remain as they are – chaotic, random, personal, alive as long as I can keep them that way.

I want to be able to sing Ruth aa gayee re and automatically grin when I reach the third line, because somewhere, in some parallel universe, Vinayan is still chewing out Uttam for not getting the percussion right.

These memories probably strike particular chords in bits and pieces to a small bunch of people. But I’m sure there are people out there who once held a microphone or a guitar in their hand on a makeshift stage in the OH Quad, who may not recognize any of these snapshots but can see in them, a reflection of their own.

The time is gone, the song is over,

Thought I’d something more to say…

Pink Floyd, Time

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22 thoughts on “Snapshots in G Minor

  1. “I want to be able to sing Ruth aa gayee re and automatically grin when I reach the third line, because somewhere, in some parallel universe, Vinayan is still chewing out Uttam for not getting the percussion right.”

    Brought a smile to my face 🙂 .

  2. Fabulous. Though I’ve never played in a band, and can’t sing for my life, this piece had my heart racing, trying to cope with memories on my desk. You were absolutely right to do the piece this way.

  3. Thanks, folks!

    Banno>> This sort of piece is usually my excuse for not being able to write the piece I originally wanted to write 😀 But I’m happy I made this choice.

    complicateur>> Glad you liked it. Although I do wonder, did it bring a smile to your face for generic/personal reasons, or is it because you were present in that practice room when we were practicing that song? I just know you as the guy who writes “Superpowers Sold Separately”, I am afraid!

    ~ramsu

  4. Arcot to Burkit Road says:

    (Used to take 12C from Vadapalani to T.Nagar bus stand.)

    Baro. 12, in Bengali, eh? Reminds me of a beautiful poem, Bora Ring, by one of Australia’s finest poets. Judith Wright writes so heart-wrenchingly (as only she can) about a long-lost Aboriginal ritual…

  5. That is a beautiful poem! Thanks for pointing it out to me.

    The last stanza was a problem, though. The first three stanzas created a mood that was so perfect, and the imagery was so vivid. But this rider’s heart business, I couldn’t quite understand. Could you explain it to me?

    ~ramsu

  6. Rajendran says:

    “I want to be able to sing Ruth aa gayee re and automatically grin when I reach the third line, because somewhere, in some parallel universe, Vinayan is still chewing out Uttam for not getting the percussion right.” Perfect description of involuntary expression of emotion. Couldn’t have been done better sir!

    Although, I was not part of the IIMC campus, I like the taste of burnt bread with ghugni!

    Excellent piece Ramsu

  7. So glad I found your blog. Did not mean to be rude, not replying to yours (and others’) comments on the Slumdog post – just blog fatigue.

    But this should revive me. Ah, the smell of napalm in the light of the setting sun!

    (lovely post. That was not meant to sound snarky).

  8. Arcot to Burkit Road says:

    Hey, I’m terrible at “explaining” poems, but tell you what? I’ll give you *my* take on the last stanza and you shoulder the blame for Wright spinning in her grave, what say? 🙂 (Though if Wright’s take (or the Right take) is what you’re after, you’re probably better off googling scholarly works on the poem that all (I presume) predictably “claim” to encapsulate the exact thing, the electrifying essence, that purportedly powered the poet’s psyche when she wrote this!)

    So, about the rider, I feel Wright may be talking about the cattle drovers who roamed the lands on horseback, herding their flock. I thought she was implying that it takes a free-spirited someone (as opposed to a poet or a scholarly anthropologist comfortably ensconced in a warm bed or a library, trying to understand the Aboriginal life or lack thereof)…someone with that physical/visceral contact with the soil…the earth on which such atrocities happened (slaughter…decimation of their rituals)…to tune into the frequency of those whispers in the wind…those spirits speaking of brother baying for a brother’s blood…and (the rider) feeling deep in his marrow, in that instant of stopped heartbeat, what it must have felt like to have one’s dances destroyed, forever.

    Makes sense?

  9. A2BR says:

    (God-ra-babu! SMS-ese and all. 🙂 Even laziness has its rewards, eh? )

    My morning indulgence amid the nerve-wracking craziness of a clockwork routine is this ode to, yes, free-spiritedness by A.B. “Banjo” Paterson, another dead(on) Australian poet. I love how he argues for what I allude to above: “…townsfolk have no time to grow they have no time to waste…”

  10. Paronomasiac says:

    Bob Thaves puts out this strip called “Frank and Ernest” that’s a haven for pun lovers. I know you love a good pun a tad less than you love good music (it’s the other way around for me), but yesterday’s strip had this conversation between editor and music reviewer that caters to both categories:

    Editor: How did you describe the chamber music recital?

    Reviewer: “A Thrill a Minuet”! 🙂

  11. Indian August says:

    I am a member of JBS-BaroC, and I must say you summarized everything beautifully. The parts where you talk about not having a common vocabulary to describe the perfect note, tring not to wince outwardly when you screwed up, all strike a chord. Your not wanting to adjectivize made the piece so much more easy to identify with. But most importantly, it is the pic of your performance, with people dancing in the front. Everything’s still the same 🙂

    • Ah, finally a JSB-12C alum commenting on this. I was wondering if that would ever happen 🙂

      Glad to hear you liked the piece and could identify with it. That was among the happiest portions of my life at IIMC. Maybe the next time I visit Joka, I’ll try and do it when there’s a JBS-12C event, or at least a jam session I could participate in.

  12. Bhupesh says:

    I am from the current JBS lineup and we just wrapped up our last show before we leave the campus. Would say that nothing could have been more apt for all the emotions that we are going through than your blog 🙂

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