Sep 13, 2008

Lifestyle - India Inc Rocks

During the week, Udayan Dasgupta, 39, is the picture of the responsible, senior executive. But over weekends, the director finance of Crocs India turns rock musician.
For the best part of the two days, from around four in the afternoon to 10-11 at night on Saturday, and again from nine in the morning to one in the afternoon on Sunday, Dasgupta’s to be found at the HCL auditorium in Noida banging away on his Fenders Strat — the Clapton Blackie he picked up on an office tour to the US — rehearsing with a band that goes by the name Contra-band.
They play covers, all the old Rolling Stones, U2 and Floyd favourites, and have also recently perfected an original composition, a dirge to Nicobarese Shompen and all the tribes that are losing their habitat and way of life to civilisation:
“Yanomamo die — of the common coldFrom Miners , digging land for gold.Said a Yagua — in an Amazon treeThe Jaguar, is life’s only worry...”
Ask Dasgupta, or Raja as he’s known in music circles, where he finds the energy and he’ll tell you that “it’s a lot about passion” and that making music is relaxing. “It’s a reprieve from all that I do throughout the week.”
Raja was a fairly well known face in the college-band scene in Kolkata as the lead guitarist of Midas Touch, which swept many a college fest in the early nineties.
“We were once even approached by Magnasound to cut an album,” he says. Then, of course, the band dispersed, as each member left college and the city. Music, after all, especially rock music, did not pay. Raja, too, did his company-secretaryship, and left to work for various companies in different cities. His guitar and his music were confined to the odd gig and jamming at friends’ places, an exercise in nostalgia.
Last year the opportunity to be part of a band surfaced again with Maarich, a Bangla band (whose members again had absorbing dayjobs, one was a doctor, another worked with a private firm; only the drummer was a professional). Maarich played at a few puja pandals in Delhi, but the momentum was soon lost. And then Contra-band happened.
Sounds familiar? Does Raja remind you of Aditya Shroff, the character Farhan Akhtar plays in Rock On!! — a rock musician who becomes an investment banker and then makes a comeback with his band, juggling his work day with rehearsals, bonding with band members, discussing chords, riffs and scales?
In truth, Aditya and Raja are not isolated phenomena. There are many others, mid-level and senior denizens of the corporate world, successful entrepreneurs and businessmen, whose lives have taken a similar trajectory.
Take Krishnan Chatterjee, lead vocalist for Contra-band, and assistant vice president of HCL Technologies. Or its drummer, Kalyan Kumar, who is global practice head of HCL Comnet’s IT service assurance division.
Then there’re Philipe Haydon, president and CEO for Asia-Pacific for the pharmaceutical division of Himalaya Drug Company, who sings lead and plays the guitar for Ministry of Blues in Bangalore; Devraj Sanyal, CEO of integrated marketing firm PDM India, and vocalist with Brahma, a popular heavy metal band; as also Anup Kutty, the editor of Maxim and vocalist again for Delhi band Menwhopause.
Among others of this ilk are Suresh Bhojwani, chairman and managing director of plastics company Bright Brothers who, along with his wife Devika, is a regular at Not Just Jazz By the Bay, Hard Rock Cafe, 1900s, and lately The Blue Frog, of which he is director.
Rock On!!’s Aditya is “kind of” based on Pratish (Prat) Motwane, Wharton graduate, ex-investment banker (Goldman Sachs and First Boston in New York) and now energy entrepreneur who plays the Blues Harmonica for Beatroot Blues.
True, there are many senior executives with absorbing hobbies, even music. But rock music? That’s for the young — or so most of us think.
Indeed, most of this set picked up the guitar young, when they were growing up between the sixties and the eighties, the high noon of rock. Their initiation was college fests such as IIT Kharagpur’s Springfest. It was heady, being on stage, being the subject of adulation, the slightly beyond the pale persona of the rock musician...
“Ahhh, the ‘scene’!” reminisces Jaideep Gopinath, director, brand management and marketing operations of Subex, who was part of a band called Sweet Cynaide in college and still plays the guitar occasionally.
“Sitting around talking about Ozzy Osbourne and his crazy antics on stage, or what a great guitarist Jimi Hendrix was and how unfortunate it was that he died so young, or dreaming about the rock greats coming on tour to India, or Back Masking — rumor had it that rock bands were conniving with the devil and adding words from the occult into the back ground of their music...but it added to the mystery of rock music and was a favourite urban legend topic with all of us.”
Others like Haydon (and his brother Mark who works with Astra Zeneca) came to it fairly late: “Dad bought me my first guitar from a hippy in Goa for Rs 10...said it was a bargain too good to resist! Super support from mom ‘n’ dad…” Ditto for Motwane, who became part of the blues scene in New York when he was all of 26.
“I did an eight week course in the Blues Harmonica at the New School for Social Research,” says the musician who has played with jazz legends like Muddy Waters and Jerry Portnoy (a regular with Clapton) and jammed with Buddy Guy at the NCPA — along with his friend and occasional rocker Milind Deora.
But for every Haydon, for every Raja and for every Motwane, there’re many talented others who fell by the wayside. Take one illustrious example, that of Prabhakar Mundkur, vocalist, guitarist and later song-writer for Savages, the band from the late sixties-early seventies considered by many to be the pioneering rock band in India (Remo Fernandes was for a brief while a part of it) — now CEO of advertising agency Percept.
“I played from 1968 to 1973 and then left to go back to my studies. At the time I didn’t see any future in live music.” And this when, by his own admission, Mundkur was making more money out of music than his naval officer father. Savages, incidentally, was back in June this year for a 30 years’ reunion concert at Mumbai’s Not Just Jazz By the Bay, but Mundkur is dismissive about the grey-haired, paunchy lot getting together seriously again.
Nondon Bagchi, the HIP Pocket anchor and veteran on the Kolkata rock scene, makes an important point when he says that there’s no need to romanticise these middle-aged rockers, because when it came to the crunch they chose to forsake music.
“I remember a friend — this was in the eighties — who was part of our band and used to work with Mecon. Even a half inch extra length of hair was frowned upon. I remember we had to lie to his boss and tell him that we were going to play at the Asiad Games opening, to attend a gig in Delhi. Those were difficult times.”
Indeed, many a rock band member turned to music professionally so they could continue to do what they liked — somewhat. Chris Avinash, who was part of Sweet Cyanide with Gopinath and later formed another band, Document Done, with his BPL colleagues, stumbled upon a winning concept, the corporate rock festival TouchBass, and chucked his job to concentrate on growing the event.
Many of the members of Savages too did that: Bashir Sheikh, who worked with music companies, and Joe Alvares, who worked with his father’s auto ancillary firm and turned to organising high-profile jazz events under his company, Galilee Superstars.
But the times have changed a bit, and perhaps, our rockers have a slightly easier time of it today. “Today’s organisations are much freer, they are not process driven like earlier, but ideas driven. They know that they have to help employees unleash their human potential if they are to come up with fresh ideas,” says Chatterjee, who has ready access to the HCL auditorium, which is where Contra-band rehearses.
Families too are, by and large, much more supportive. “My wife and two daughters are quite used to the fact that after I get home every day and regardless of how late, I practice for at least an hour,” says Haydon. Motwane also says that it was his wife (author Namita Devidayal) who pushed him to pursue his passion.
Of course, when it comes to the crunch, work has to take precedence. “Initially, I’d put in more than eight hours of practice a day….can’t manage that now,” rues Haydon.
“But then you build redundancies into the band, so that if someone has got to be away, you can carry on,” points out Chatterjee. At least the self-employed like Motwane and Bhojwani have the leisure of doing as they please!
In one way, of course, having a lucrative career on the side is a big plus. You can afford all the fancy guitars that you could never hope to buy if you were a lowly musician. Haydon has 13 — three of them gifts from his chairman — including a rare Fender Heartfield Talon2 and an Ibanez Les Paul copy (’73).
Bhojwani has seven, his favourite being a 1964 Fender Stratocaster “Blackie” with a rosewood fretboard on a maple stalk. Is that compensation enough?

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