When I was 10, my family made this nerve-racking shift: From East Patel Nagar to Chittaranjan Park, from a happy Punjabi colony into this cauldron of Bengal-ism. Suddenly, everybody around spoke Bengali—the maid, the shopkeeper, the whole colony. But it was wild. It was like a corner of Kolkata. There was a football club, there was theatre, there was music. And, most of all, there was the South Delhi Youth Club, the SDYC, and its capital at Shiv Mandir. For a month-and-a-half before the Shiv Mandir Durga Puja, and this we liked to believe was the best of the four pujas in Chitto Park, the buzz would start. You couldn’t pass a terrace without hearing someone rehearse Tagore.
For us as kids, the biggest, brightest attraction at the Durga Puja festivals was the music bands. Cool young guys, guitar in hand, singing rebel songs, their ears forever open eastwards to the latest musical buzz in Kolkata. They had names like Niharika and Spandan, their God was Salil Chowdhury, but they sang songs they composed themselves. It could be about anything—looking out of the Delhi-Kolkata Rajdhani and watching the country whiz by, for instance.
These bands were amateur, but there was nothing amateurish about their image. They were worshipped, their best musicians coveted. Just as Ronaldinho “transfers” from Paris St Germain to Barcelona, if you were not careful, you could find your talented lead guitarist “transferring” to a rival band. And Chitto Park was proud of its bands; even if Manna Dey was the star attraction of the evening, we would still have full houses for the amateurs.
I was in Class 7 when we set up our band, Saptak. And I can never forget the thrill of having a whole audience to ourselves, as we belted out my first composition Bidai Bela (the hour of separation). It sounds romantic, but it was meant to be a song of separation.
There was nothing fancy about being on a puja stage. We made do with those clunky speakers we called chonga. The mikes were “all-catchers”, because they hung from the roof and caught every sound in the area. We would sing with our head held high so that the mike could grab our voice. And, if it was windy, you had it. But we had a manager. Every band had one to make sure it got the best puja deal in Delhi. The pandal to die for was Kali Bari; the crowds were smaller there, but they were what we called “quality”—great connoisseurs of music and literature.
From the day I performed Bidai Bela, we sang new compositions every year at the Shiv Mandir Puja till I reached second year of college. The music was unadulterated, fearless. We didn’t fear failure, didn’t fear risk, we were supremely confident about ourselves, our music. Every element in my music today comes from those years in Chitto Park. I don’t think I would have figured I had a composer in me if it wasn’t for the colony. Where else would a kid of 12 find the nerve to go up on stage and sing a song he wrote to an eager audience? I live in Mumbai now and don’t think I will ever be able to go back there for keeps. But come Durga Puja, every year, I head home to CR Park.
Shantanu Moitra composes music for Hindi films
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