Remembering Confused days in Calcutta

I don’t actually differentiate between the time I spend surfing the web, commenting on other blogs or posting to this one. It’s all one to me. And most of the time the routine’s similar. I realise I have a parcel of time where I can do this, I fix myself a cup of camomile or green tea, switch on my Mac, choose some music to listen to and begin.
When it comes to choosing the music, I have a favourite “random” approach:

  • 1. Sort the songs by “time”.
  • 2. Scan the list very quickly, going from shortest onwards.
  • 3. Somewhere after the 2 minutes 30 seconds point, start looking for an interesting sequence of tracks.
  • 4. Such a sequence should be at least five songs long.
  • 5. Select a song to start with somewhere close to this sequence.
  • 6. Listen away.

Other times I sort the music alphabetically by artist or song, then choose a start point in the list, pick out ten songs I feel like listening to, one at a time. Or I go into Recently Added. Sometimes I just pick an album or an artist.

Well, today was a Pick Ten Out After Sorting Artists Alphabetically kind of day. And some of the songs I picked took me back to some wonderful times in Calcutta.

Memories. Listening to Bertie Da Silva for the first time, after Ian Hassan had introduced me to him, when I was looking for someone to add to the 1976 Folkswagen roster [Folkswagen was a charity concert I was helping to organise]. Hearing Bertie sing Today I Killed A Man and Sugaree. That was the start of a great time with Bertie, as we went to university, Bertie reading English, me reading Economics; we hit most of the intercollege festivals together, I was on the quiz circuit those days, and roadie-ing with Bertie, Mel, Fuzz et al; in fact Bertie, Mel and I even started a poetry magazine, Psalms, which managed to last all of one issue; yes I have a copy. One. [I still have an audio tape of Bertie singing the White Plains song. Talking about White Plains, did you know they were a “manufactured” band coming out of the Flowerpot Men stable? The same Flowerpot Men who sang Let’s Go To San Francisco, an hour or so after Flowers In The Rain got BBC Radio One on the “Move” in September 1967. ]

You know I say all my opensource thoughts were influenced more by Jerry Garcia than by anyone else? Well, it was Bertie who made sure that my head stayed Dead during those tumultuous days. A message to any reader who knows where Bertie is right now: If You See Him, Say Hello. From me. Write to me at [email protected] if you find out.

Incidentally, Bertie used to call himself Wilberforce in those days, and was the catalyst that made me delve deeply into William Wilberforce’s life. What a great man. We should hear a lot more about Wilberforce next year, as the tercentenary of his birth approaches.

Memories. Listening to Gyan singing How Far, to Gyan and Jayashree singing Slip Sliding Away. Again at home. [Disclosure: Jayashree is my cousin, she and Gyan are married, I’ve known Jayashree since 1957 and Gyan since 1972]. They too influenced a great deal of my musical taste, we had some truly fabulous times together as Vir (Lakshman), Viraf (Mehta), Vishnu (Shahaney), and I, sometimes aided by Vineet (Katyal) acted as the travelling crowd for what was then Sugarfoot. And now I hear that Gyan and Jayashree have formed Skinny Alley, and have released an album called Escape The Roar. Sadly I can’t seem to be able to buy it online anywhere. There’s only one thing for it. I have to get to Calcutta soon.

Memories. Listening to Moses Ashkenazy singing Forty Thousand Headmen. To Pete Siller doing a wonderful May You Never. Sadly neither of them are around any more, may their souls rest in peace. I still see Anne Siller occasionally in London and Edinburgh, and Michael Ashkenazy when I visit Michal (nee Silliman) in New York.

Memories. Being with many of the people named as we went to listen to Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd playing Desafinado at the Academy of Fine Arts. [Isn’t it something else, for a small word like Desafinado to pack in the richness of meaning in “slightly out of tune” ?] Getting the Jazz Samba album signed by them. [I wonder what happened to that album? Life was such a haze as I left Calcutta with everything packed into a single suitcase after spending all my life there, six months after my dad died, all of twenty-six years ago].

Seems like such a long time ago, I was walking down a lonely road, getting tired of dreaming alone.

18 thoughts on “Remembering Confused days in Calcutta”

  1. Reading this took me on my own journey through those days and the music, the wealth of music, that we heard and learned to love together – I cannot forget listening to Aja (Steely Dan) with you for the very first time and having that moment of epiphany – yes, this is it.

    Escape the Roar is available at all Landmark stores throughout India, Rhythm House in Mumbai. Shame on you for not having a copy already. It was released three years ago! But come to Calcutta, in confused or lucid frame of mined and I will give you a personally autographed copy (can there be an autograph which is not personal?).

    Is it okay to say Love, Jay, at the end of a blog comment?

  2. Blogs aren’t just conversations, they can be as personal as you like. Shame on me indeed. I must have been in a Landmark at least thrice since then.

    The epiphany moment I remember most vividly was listening to albums containing Wino Junko, Rastaman Vibrations and some “new” Diana Ross track (from a film, I think, and maybe including the word morning in the title) all for the first time, at the Chummery with you and Gyan. Thirty years, can’t believe it.

  3. Just came to me on the way to work. The Diana Ross track was Do You Know Where You’re Going To, from Mahogany.

    And it’s hello from me to all at Broadway. Still miss the chillie pork I used to wash down with beer and Mono.(you’re right, Mono needed washing down too….)

  4. WOW! Thanks JP for this walk down memory lane … I was awash with memories this morning of our innocent youth at St Xavier’s. I just met Bertie and e-mailed you his tel no. If I’d read your post earlier, I’d have conveyed your tribute! Do you remember Cliff Richards’ visit to Cal and his concert in late 1976?! I remember the Dave Mason album “Its like you never left” which I heard at your place. Our classmate Ashoke Banerjee is now with a group called “Congo Square”, who have been trying to organise jazz concerts in the city for the last 4 years, trying to revive the spirit of the 70s when such things happened regularly. They are trying to bring Herbie Hancock to Calcutta. (He visited and performed here, in 1995.) Viraf – I was introduced to him in London in 1982, he visited the International Students House where I was living. He works for the Tata Rural Development Service. I remember seeing you just before you left Calcutta in 1980. It was in the (now no more) Tiger Cinema, on Chowringhee. The picture running: Valentino (played by Nureyev), or Herzog’s Nosferatu?

    All strength to you JP.

    Warmly

    chutki

  5. It must have been Herzog’s Nosferatu, I haven’t seen the other one.
    And yes, I still listen to the Dave Mason album regularly, it sort of defined what I felt at the time.

  6. Sorting songs by duration reminds me of when I re-arranged my music collection by record label. With the new order it was difficult to find the music I was looking for but it helped me understand that aspect of the music industry a little bit better.

  7. Great, will do. I’ve managed to get one of my colleagues, who just happened to be in Mumbai, to pick up Escape The Roar for me. I should have it by Wednesday….

  8. Hi there JP – bertie Is the head of the English Dept. AT St. Xaviers College Calcitta – and does not have an email id that he hands out – not that iknow of…
    It was a nice walk down memory lane – especially the stuf about playing Roadie to Mel, Bertie and Fuzz – yeah those were cool days at the IIT fest, et al…

  9. Heyyyyy JP ….and Jayashree- this is kind of wonderful is’nt it …am sitting here surfing the web and doing a search for my old mate from Cal, Vishnu Shahney, and google throws up this site which has his name in it – I click and lo & behold I am on this post taking a trip down memory lane ….for me it really was memoery lae , given that I lived down the lane, a dead end from Gyan & Jayashree’s house. Great to read the blog and wallow ….and Jayashree- you got it wrong babes…..you heard Aja on the tape I had given Gyan …ask him about it sometime …he claims I helped him change the way he played music by having him hear Steely Dan …take care all …and if at any time in Singapore give me a shout

  10. i am an old schoolmate of fuzz .can you give me his email id we woukld like to have perform for alumni association

    dr vtkmenon

  11. Kindly enlist me on to the innocently “confused” Cal org. I dont know why i searched for my brother Moses in the web – which brought me to this article. Brought a smile to the heart – sweet innocence. Love to all the guys and girls i know – your memories still cyrstal in my mind and heart. Check out the younger Ashkenazy generation – David Ashkenazy at the following –
    http://www.myspace.com/timeout4davidash
    Much love – Isaac

  12. Must say I liked the stuff posted by Jayashree Singh on this blog and I loved the random approach to listening to music.
    Me, I use itunes Genius to choose for me.

  13. Hi JP,
    You must’ve been the cleverest of chaps then in Xavier’s 76-79….really.
    Rumours were of your Dad and you buying two Statesman’s per day to see who could do their crossword first !

    You’ll recall the train ride from Cal to Mardi Gras at IIT Madras ’77.
    All that Xavier’s achieved was in bringing back the winning shield on behalf of IIT KGP after they won the best-music award… because those chaps had to leave earlier !

    Sudhir, bro, said he had met you sometime earlier in the UK.

    This blog is amajing. Kindly to tell us what to do when our newsletters and sms’s on stock markets get re-distributed by paying clients. Big loss for me.

    Sundar Rao
    76-79 B.Com St. Xavier’s

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