The next meeting with the band was scheduled ten days away. I threw myself into riyāz with greater fervour. I had taken to using the tānpurā in Sid’s music room as he sat by reading a book or fiddling with his laptop on a large lounger of a chair, though I knew his ear was on every note that I sang.
He reached to position another chair close beside his and picked up a guitar.
“What is your favourite rāg?”
There was soft patience in the way in which he rephrased that.
“What is currently your favourite rāg?”
“It’s Hamsadhvani. I’ve been told it isn’t really a Hindustani classical rāg but borrowed from the Carnatic style. It’s melodious.”
“Sing me the ārohan, avarohan and pakad.”
These were technical terms and I was surprised someone like him knew what they meant.
“How does a rock musician know these terms?”
“I just do. Now sing it.”
Always part of my repertoire, I sang the format effortlessly. When I was done, he strummed his guitar for a bit. Then he played a chord.
“This is your scale. You can sing an ālāp now.”
I hesitated. His tone was soft and carefully low.
“That guitar prompt sounds strange.”
Somehow, he managed to coax music out of my reluctance. As I sang, he followed as deftly as a harmonium player does. After a while, I stopped, almost mid-note.
“I understand you are trying to provide accompaniment, however, the alien sound is distracting.”
Wordlessly, he bent to his guitar and played little clusters of notes in which I could recognise scrambled syllables of a soulful Hamsadhvani.
I marvelled anew at what a superb musician he was. Gradually, I joined him, making an effort to sing again. What he played in the background still waylaid me, though I was determined to hold my own and managed to sing along for a while. Finally, he put his guitar down.
“How far have you studied?”
“I’m a Science graduate, majored in Zoology.”
This close I couldn’t see his face, just the dark depths of his eyes. Yet, somehow, I could never read what he was thinking.
“Suppose you get a job in an office now. You would not use even 5 per cent of the stuff you have studied. Do you know that?”
I knew. I nodded to convey that.
“What your graduation would have, ideally should have, taught you, are life skills – handling issues and people, using data, adaptability, management of time and resources, understanding your strengths and yourself better as well as the people around you.”
“I suppose so.”
“It’s the same with your classical tāleem, the music education you have received. In an ideal world, you would have proceeded to complete your doctorate in Zoology or gone ahead to be a purist classical vocalist. But it isn’t an ideal world, is it?”
Somehow I wished it was.
“What do you hear now?”
I listened. I looked at him enquiringly.
“I hear nothing, Sid.”
“There are two things you can ordinarily hear – silence and noise. Only a chosen few hear a third option. Music. And out of little bits of organised noise and other bits of silence, they weave music until everyone can hear it and feel it too.”
This sounded profound. My eyes sought his. There was honey-textured light in them. Later, I realised this light in his eyes always came on when he played or spoke about music.
“What you have been taught as strict unbreakable rules, the taboos in your system of music, may not apply to those outside of it.
“Are you willing to challenge all that you have learnt? Can you believe in a higher music that transcends all, takes you beyond the boundaries of what you know?”
He brushed my cheek with light fingertips.
“Don’t look so worried. And tell me when my lectures begin to scare you.”
The crowd roiled and boiled over at Nishith’s greeting.
“It’s been a long wild night, Kharagpur. Let’s make it wilderrrrr!”
His voice was drowned out in the screams of assent.
“Guys, we are an obscure band from Kolkata and we call ourselves Derozio Dreams!”
There were some protests. He engaged in a conversation with a bunch of guys in the front row.
“What did you say? Not obscure?”
“Nooooo!!” went the crowd.
“Wow! That means you guys do stuff other than your Fourier transforms and relative grading manoeuvres. And after tonight, I hope all of you listen to a lot more of a religion we pursue called rock.”
The crowd listened intently. Nishith had that power.
“And now I’d like to introduce you to some of its acolytes. On the drums, Vidyut!”
Vidyut’s sticks went flailing into a crazy roll after which he tore into a frenzied eight by six, and in a minute, Shady joined him to duel momentarily on the beat.
“The boss of bass – Shady! And now with lightning fingers, on keyboards, my brother Ashraf!”
Ashraf joined in, the trio skimming on the edgy mathematics of time as beats for a brief while.
“It is no great secret that Derozio Dreams is synonymous with the phenom, Sid!”
There was a loud roar. Everyone stopped playing. Sid’s riff erupted in the silence – crackling, intense, intimate and powerful. Nishith came up to where I stood with a naughty smile, aware that the spotlights had followed him.
“She’s reticent and shy. She’s inimitable. And she’s what Derozio Dreams had been praying for – Disha.”
Still smiling, he hugged me amid a medley of wolf whistles and then walked to the middle of the stage, grinning.
“Isn’t love a wonderful thing?”
The crowd, gender-wise lopsided as these places are, understood him and agreed.
“And just to keep this feeling of romance alive and to celebrate that we are young and carefree, we give you our classic romantic song – Cirrhosis.”
In reality, that number was hard rock bordering on metal, an ode to alcohol as the only cure to women. There was a pause of silence as the audience grappled with Nishith’s joke, and then with a jangle of potent sounds, the concert took off.
The final scream of the song saw Nishith fall back on the stage. The crowd lapped it up. Still lying down, he announced the next offering. It amazed me that he could sustain his antics, his voice and his warm engaged chats with the crowd seamlessly for three hours or more.
“So, guys, I am told you barely get to hear a female voice out here. The ratio is that terribly skewed!”
The crowd responded with the groans of a raw nerve touched and Nishith continued his conversation with the crowd. Into the mike, he said,
“Yeah, dude, that’s the problem with the world today—not enough women, not the real nice ones anyway. And so, here’s one voice that will stay with you for the rest of the year, if not the rest of your lives.”
I entered the stage area as Vidyut tapped out successive phrases on the drums, which I mirrored with phrases from my tarānā. And then, all stilled, I launched a cappella into the first line of the composition. On the cross the band swung in, full strength, and it sounded magical in the night.
When Nishith needed to come in, he stood beside me, his arm holding me close, and our moment from the terrace dissolved.
Excerpted with permission from Everglow, Nandita Bose, Rupa.