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.
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