New Music

A young Kolkata band inspired by the Beatles and HP Lovecraft is gaining fans on streaming services

Whale in the Pond’s debut EP was made on a tight budget, but is proving to be a sleeper hit.

You notice the purple swirls first. Little eddies of Van Gogh whorls churn into dark waters. A whimsical streetlamp pours dotted light on a secret agent cartoon man sailing on an umbrella. The umbrella keeps him dry, but he is drenched in sodium vapour. Here he sways, this everyman Arthur Dent, as the ice-cream swirls threaten to engulf him.

You open that purple paper cover, get the disc out and pop it in – that is, if you’re quaint enough for compact disks, and are among the handful who managed to snag physical copies of Marbles, the debut EP by the Kolkata trio, Whale in the Pond.

The rest will have to listen to Marbles on iTunes, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Deezer or “some Russian channel called Yandex”, where they are categorised under “рок” (Russian for “rok”; in fact, Yandex, the parent company, is bigger than Google in Russia). You can also buy it on OK Listen!, which is where Marbles first appeared and went to number one for a while.

Whale in the Pond have a fondness for incongruities. The band’s members came together late last year when singer-songwriter Sourjyo Sinha – who was in the city for higher education from Silchar, Assam – bumped into axeman Deep Phoenix at a local artists’ meet-and-greet. Sinha had a bunch of songs he wanted to record, and with multi-instrumentalist Shireen Ghosh (who was a friend from college) rounding out the band, they decided to cut an EP.

Sinha insists the band is named for a recurring childhood dream, and we don’t press – murky Freudian waters are best avoided. “After this one gig, we were asked why we called ourselves Well in the Pond,” he snorted. If they ever go on tour, they have decided to call themselves Whale in the (insert nearest riverine entity).

Cover art for Whale in the Pond's debut album.
Cover art for Whale in the Pond's debut album.

The EP was made on next to nothing, according to the band. “All the money we spent was on travelling and food.” Microphones were borrowed, laptops cadged, guitars mooched, recording spaces shaken out of friends’ bedrooms, to say nothing of the hastily-constructed blanket forts for soundproofed studio sessions (where pillows were sent in as reinforcements). The packaging for each CD has been painstakingly put together by hand by the band and their fellow travellers, replete with a real live marble snug in a slot.

Given these constraints, Marbles sounds like a marvel of production, its cluttered atmospherics rustling out of the chaotic spaces of its recording while still letting in the light. Its pop cultural matrices are fresh, if percolated through 1990s British pop, but its ocean peals are reminiscent of an older age of dreamy reverb and paisley yearning.

Like those blanket forts, vulnerability is integral to its dialectic. The forts would keep collapsing – “sneezes and coughs would bring them down,” the band says – and much had to be re-recorded.

“Someone would operate the recording equipment (with the mic balanced on pillows because we couldn’t afford a stand), someone else would have to hold the blankets up, while the third would be inside recording their parts,” said Sinha.

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Cool waters

Marbles came out in late June, a shimmering bagatelle of diverse sonic influences united in a watery landscape of longing and innocent desire. Indeed, water is central to the record. Images of rain and starry nights over starry Rhônes start off the title track, and by the time Ghosh’s melodica wends its way in, the moisture has entered your soul. (Note: American rock band R.E.M.’s water-obsessed Boy in the Well and Find the River both feature melodicas, as does the English rock band Supertramp’s It’s Raining Again. Who will unearth the ancient connection between melodica and aqua?).

This sogginess floats into Araby, with its lyrics: “blue days in full tidal waves” and its emotional resonances with the rainy Dublin childhood evenings of the James Joyce story after which it is named. Programmed waves of digital seas wash over both tracks, dripping reverb and bringing to mind the less jangly sounds of late-1960s psychedelia. This is British singer-songwriter Nick Garrie’s The Nightmare of JB Stanislas filtered through folk-rock musicians Bill Cooley and Alan Munson, via Australian psychedelic-rock band Tame Impala’s Lonerism. Whoever said seashore psychedelia was dead?

Ghosh, who produced the album and added various instruments in post-production, professes an abiding love for Freddie Mercury’s Queen, because “they absolutely loved doing pastiche-type things, especially in their more obscure works”. Some of that wistful sunshine pop can’t help but float to the surface.

There are more watery notes. In his short story, The Call of Cthulhu, HP Lovecraft writes: “Then, bolder than the storied Cyclops, great Cthulhu slid greasily into the water and began to pursue with vast wave-raising strokes of cosmic potency.”

In Whale’s song The Call, a happy, messy sea shanty about Cthulhu and the end of the world, the band sings: “Look here comes the Great Old One/ And he rises from the deep blue sea/ I’ve heard the legends of the sea when you’re awake/ One look at you and I’ll be dancing right away.” Overflowing with pirate voices, amplitude panning and static to make it sound like “an old battered weathered radio,” as Ghosh described it, it even slips into music hall comedy in a lo-fi homage to The Beatles classic, You Know My Name (Look Up the Number). Its form is delightfully incongruous with its content, in the same mode as American singer-songwriter Warren Zevon’s Excitable Boy.

On the EP, The Call is followed by Gadha’r Baccha which translates to “child of a donkey” in Bengali, a post-punk political scream that is somewhat unsubtle and perhaps too glossy to really work, though it does highlight Deep’s layered seven-string guitar work with its vague traces of Tom Verlaine.

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The album’s closer Autumn Winds is a pretty ditty that the band calls dreamfolk, and shares more than a little something with Roger Waters’s If, from Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother. With flanges and phasing galore, it is English-folky and soft and silly, but some people want to fill the world with silly love songs. What’s wrong with that?

In a departure, of course, the next single the band has lined up is a dance rock number in Sylheti about the language riots that took place at the Silchar railway station in May 1961, in which 11 people were killed by the state police. If the demos are anything to go by, it’ll be as schizophrenic as The Call, and much more dance-friendly.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.