I grew up with a big radio that my foster brother had assembled in his school and left at our home. As far back as I can remember that radio was always there and everyone in the house used to tune in loudly every now and then. At that time there was a pick of the choicest Hindi songs that used to be on the air for long hours throughout the day. Apart from that all the kids used to own a small pocket-sized transistor on which they used to listen to the cricket commentaries over five-day Test matches. The transistors used to invariably get confiscated in school and then we had to get new ones for about Rs. 50-60 for an ordinary one from Chandni Chowk.
By the time I reached the 8th Standard some of the best moments were spent listening to comperes belting out English songs for half-an-hour at 8 pm every evening on the All India Radio’s In The Groove. Then there was the Forces Request on Fridays, and equally long drawn hours of English music programmes on Sunday Request.
As our house was in a colony about a mile or so from the Cannaught Place, which was a haunt for the long-haired hippies, especially from the West, there were many who used to stray down towards where we lived and the constant traffic made me and my friends aware of the completely different kind of freedom they enjoyed, backpack and all. So it was not surprising also that Hindi films and songs from Hindi films starring Dev Anand and Zeenat Aman, the pin-up pair of yesteryears, made the initial impact on me as a boy. I had seen the Hare Rama Hare Krishna by then, when Eigya Borthakur, a politician from Manipur, had come to Delhi and taken us all for the film at the Golcha theatre, in Darya Ganj, in the walled city. Though it was much earlier and I was much too young to get the context of the film, the songs did have a lasting effect and even today I relive those moments sometimes. The other film which came later was Heera Panna which again had the same actors, along with the new arrival Tina Munim, and some catchy songs in that film remain my favourite, apart from the songs from the Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman starrer Guide, where the rendition had its depth.
A little later in 1979 when The Wall was released, a neighbour who was by then in college at St. Stephens, used to blast the neighbourhood with the numbers from that album, from his quarters on the first floor opposite to where we were. He had acquired a spool deck and the sound was ominous for times to follow. Around that time also, my elder cousin had left his record player with us while he was gone to Manipur, and I used to hook it up when my parents were out, to listen to the Abba, Boney M, Lobo and the others from the Spartan collection he had.
When I was in high school we had come to Imphal during our vacations and were invited by a MU linguistics lecturer to her home where I got to listen to Jimi Hendrix from her brother’s collection which were lying about the drawing room. I thought the record was scratched, but in later years came to know the Hendrix sound effect was like that only, even as that music became my all-time favourite. Hendrix lifts my mood in higher dimensions of the mind, whenever I listen even now.
The mobile phone is handy in this age and one can plug in to practically all the music that’s available. But back then there were the 60-minute and 90-minute audio cassettes in which you either got pre-recorded music or had to get the recording done. One of our favourite stop overs when I was in college was the Pyramid recording studio in Palika Bazar. A small shop which could barely hold two people, they used to get their music from the US, and the shop was the hub of music for the youngsters in New Delhi. College also meant that one could be at the hostel in DU and all the music in the world would be blaring there. My major introduction to rock music and an endless repertoire of jazz happened there, and day or night, life came to a standstill as everyone made merry over it.
The first jazz fusion concert I occasioned was the great John McLaughlin and the Shakti band, with L Subramanian, Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram, at the Talkatora Indoor Stadium. Later there were the evenings of the International Jazz Yatra at the Ashoka Hotel lawns which was a show that set apart the standards of music, with participation from many countries. Most of the time we used to sneak in to the shows without buying tickets and Delhi’s college goers used to be piled up there on the makeshift back galleries. Here I also learned that music is not just about listening to what’s playing out there, but it’s about living your life for the joy of it. The days never passed too soon, and I had all the time to spend a long day to myself alone, or the mood just carried over, while meeting friends, and beginning with the music all over, whatever the time of day it was.
It’s never really enough for concluding, but let me mention that the hippies are fun and we keep some things to ourselves – some genres of music, some travel spots and hangouts, some conversational information that lightens the mind and which you would never ever have thought about of all the things in the world, if you weren’t hanging around with them – more because commonly people don’t like to run into them as they don’t find anything of interest in them. The distance is created quite naturally, and is quietness and peace. But people like the hippies get inspired by less, and if they find themselves underrated, they never gave a thought to it because it gives them space to live their own lives peacefully. As for myself I find a lot of time and inclination to share some common tastes, like being given to the peace of music and making friends at some of the places appointed the most compliant places in India, all because the hippies set it alive with grace and the spirit of lesser cares in life. Good to say that life is sometimes different and there’s a lot more to enjoy than what one normally perceives.