After College…. What?
February, 1971 found me not yet 20 years old, most likely to not complete graduation and prospect of a huge family row coming up because of
this. I was supposed to be in the third and final year of B.Sc. (Honors) course
with Physics as “major”, at Central College, Bangalore University, but I had
yet to pass one subject from the first year, all twelve subjects from second
year and besides, I had about 2% class attendance against a mandatory
requirement of 75%. It seemed certain that the University would not let me take
up the final year exam.
The fact that I, along with hundreds of other students, had been “promoted” to the final year – without passing the exams of the previous
year, was the result of a curious system called “full carry-over”. The
University had found that keeping “repeaters” on class rolls led to overflow in
the class rooms and affected intake of fresh students.
Most affected was the Law College, where several “students”: were on the rolls of a three year course for over a decade!! Some of them were
“Student and Youth” Leaders of an increasingly politicized Student Union
movement. The university had been plagued by Student Unrest – usually with lot
of violence for some years and these budding politicians were usually behind
them. M Raghupathy, FM Khan, HD Gangaraj – all reached prominence in the
political firmament in subsequent years – based on student activism. The last
family rose to prominence, with the patriarch Deve Gowda even becoming Prime
Minister of India briefly.
So starting with the Arts courses, the Engineering and Medical courses where there were too many subjects, the Universities all over
India started introducing the “carry over” system – first for a few subjects,
eventually for any number of subjects, so that the students could be pushed out
after the regulation period was over and failed students had no right to attend
classes. Central College, with its prestigious and premier Honors Courses, was
the last to accept. Students of these courses were assumed to be disciplined,
studious, and not trouble makers. Moreover, many like me were recipients of
Merit and Talent Scholarships. The fond
assumptions of the University Authorities were shattered by the Chod Gang.
The group of Central College Students I hung around with had become known as the Chod Gang. In three years, we had become the terror of the
campus. No University activity or function could go on if the Chod Gang decided
to disrupt it. The legendary notoriety of the gang had grown larger than life
too and spread to all the colleges. The publication of “ROT Magazine - the
nonsense of student life” kept everyone in dread of who would be lampooned and
vilified in the next issue. Once, two of us tied a Head of Department Professor
to a tree, for throwing us out of their College Function. We had disrupted and
brought to a halt the Public Speaking Event by heckling and use of a trumpet
and conch shell. When some staff and students came to rescue their respected
teacher, word spread “Idhu Chod Gang ree, naavu yeanaadharu madidhe,… nallai savara dodda gang
thakondu baruthare”. (This is the Chod Gang, tomorrow they will land up with a
thousand strong gang if we do anything). Some College Professors, like TG Vaidyanathan,
realizing that “if you cant lick em join em”, would rope in the Chod Gang for
all his legitimate activities too.
The “Student Leaders / Budding Politicians” knew this. Tentacles had spread from Central College throughout the University. The Chod
Gang could dispatch members to all the other colleges and get the students to
walk out of their classes and bring the University to a halt … within one hour!
It was not so difficult in those days, there were only 23 colleges in Bangalore
University. Today there are over 600!!!
So when the Central College was advised to keep back repeaters in at least the Honors Courses, the Principal insisted “ half of this
Chod Gang is going to fail, I cannot afford to have them around the campus
creating havoc for another year.” So the “full-carry over system” was
universally adopted. Over the 1970s it came to become the rule in all the
colleges in India.
Thus, in February 1971, I was actually facing quite a bleak future. Three years of college life had been hectic, but quite dissipate. I had
tried, and liked marijuana, I had decided to be a college “drop out”, I had
grown my hair long in a “hippie” fashion. My love life had yielded two
unrequited “affairs”. I had acquired
some notoriety as a member of a “rowdy” gang.
On the other side, I had learned to play the guitar, I had my first “skiffle” Band, and, the Band, Stoned Package had in fact scored some success in a local “Beat Contest”.
We now looked around to start playing more and start earning some money through Music. The success of “Stoned Package” at the “Fortune –
Estrella Batteries Beat Contest” gave some encouragement. I showed the small
prize we had won to my grand parents, the result was that the Band was allowed
to move back to the Garage in my grand father’s house.
There was a tenant on the first floor of my grand father’s house – one Dr. Lalwani. He had got married and had a child. Both he and his
wife were extremely tolerant of the “Stoned Package” practice sessions – the
Garage faced his bedroom. The practices were always marked by un-tuned guitars,
feedback and “earthing” hums & howls, all varieties of earsplitting noises
from the very make-shift equipment we possessed, loud arguments within the band
members… and very little actually listenable music.
So, we were very surprised when Dr. & Mrs. Lalwani contracted my band to perform at a luncheon on the occasion of their new born
baby’s “naming ceremony” equivalent of a Christening. We had two weeks to
practice for the event. We were expected to perform for at least two hours.
The first thing the Band realized was that we had a woefully short song-list. While it was OK for College Functions and Beat Contests where
we performed for about 15 minutes, but there was no way we could keep it going
for a “full show” of two hours. So we had to find a way to select, work out and
practice a whole new set of songs. Each of us knew a few other songs, but to
play as a band, the songs had to be simple – we were all quite beginners as
musicians then, all members had to know their own parts in the song and be able
to communicate the chord changes, stops, etc. to the others. Finally, the band
had to practice each song several times before some semblance of togetherness
One way to learn new songs was to watch other Bands play them. We went to whatever gigs these Bands played – often “gate-crashing” as we
would never have the money for the tickets. There were a few bands – especially
the Pace Setters who did not mind us watching their practice sessions in an old
Recorded music was available in the form of “records” – vinyl platters that spun on a turntable at either 45 or 33.3 revolutions per
minute. You could not “fast forward” or go back to pick up parts as constant
lifting and placing the “needle” on the groove would scratch it and eventually
damage the record. In the 1970s the “Record Player” was actually only a couple
of steps ahead in technology after its invention by Thomas Alva Edison in the
1880s. “Stereo” was just making its appearance, in fact it was only in 1969
that I heard music on stereo. Besides, records cost a fortune, a single “LP” or
long playing record – with about 30 minutes of music on each side could eat up
a whole month’s “pocket money”.
A few of our friends, the “non-playing” members of the Band had a few selected collections. Sriiram had almost the whole set of Beatles
“LPs” and Nanda had a collection of The Shadows – an instrumental Guitar Band
that usually backed Cliff Richards. Beatles songs were popular, we all liked
them, but they had many chord changes and often a lot of three part harmony
singing. There were a few guitarists like Gussie, who were generous enough to
“show chords” if you asked, but most others were very stingy, considering it as
some kind of “trade secret”.
“The Shadows” instrumental songs were reasonably simple and easy to put together. Besides the further participation of Andy Morris, the
Band’s lead singer was in doubt. His girlfriend had “ditched” him for doing a
fool thing like singing with a Band, that too on stage; bring her no end of
embarrassment and jibes from her college mates. That he had actually won a
prize was not good enough for her. Andy was also planning to migrate to Canada
Lyrics could be had from “Song Books”. These were supposed to be available in “music Shops”, but at that time there was just one in
Bangalore – Premson’s, run by an acerbic old Sardarji who rarely had any stock
and charged exorbitant rates anyway. By diligently scouring the footpaths of MG
Road and Avenue Road, Nanda would occasionally discover an old copy in the
“second-hand” book dealers, getting them for a bargain. We had heard that
someone actually picked up a copy of “The Beatles – Complete” a true collectors
item – it had music sheets of all the Beatle songs and a collection of
surrealist illustrations, for just Rs. 20!!
All this would, of course, require a lot of treasure hunting time and effort. But the Band had a deadline – a date to get their act together before. So, that left us to depend immediately on the “Juke Box”.
Of all the technological innovations which boosted the popular music industry, the “Juke Box” holds a primary place with a very
significant contribution. It was installed in Coffee Shops, Ice cream Parlors,
Snack Bars etc. frequented by students and young people. The typical outlet is
“Pop Tate’s from the “Archie’s Comics”. It was a large contraption, with a glass
panel through which you could see about 50 “records” stacked and a song list
below with push buttons against each. You inserted a small coin – in India, 25
paise into the coin slot, pressed the button against the song you wanted to
hear and a small “robotic arm” would emerge, move along the record stack grasp
the selected disk, place it on the turntable and the needle would descend onto
the revolving grooves and play out the song. It was new technology, fascinating
to watch in action and you got to hear the song you wanted – once. To repeat,
you needed another 25 paise coin.
There were two Juke Boxes available to us – one at Koshy’s on Brigade Road and another at Three Coins, Coles Park. Of these the latter was
near Benson Town where I lived and the Band practiced. But Brigade Road was
also our regular hang out – for “bird watching”. In honor of this we learnt The
Shadows instrumental – “Music to watch girls go by…”
At both places, we had befriended the waiters enough that they let us sit for hours only ordering at least a “three-by-five” tea or
coffee. This is a unique and characteristic of Hotels in Bangalore. It is the
only place where you can order tea or coffee in fractions. “One-by-two”, that
is, one cup divided for two persons is an order that is accepted till today,
even in posh restaurants.
So, when we needed to resolve any argument or work out a song, the whole band would collect at either Koshy’s or Three Coins and order a
“three-by-five” tea. Each of the members contributed 5 paise and with the 25
paise collected, the song would be played – “Andy, check on the lyrics, Parvez
get the Lead straight, Nandu concentrate on the drumming and you, Chod, get the
bass correctly next time we practice and
I’ll check out the Rhythm chords once more”, says Adrian.
If any of us did not get the song the one time it played, he would have to shell out the full 25 paise and play it again, and the others would get to hear the song a second time - free.
As I write this, in 2010, almost 40 years later, I am quite amazed by the way Technology has made things so easy for the practicing
musician. In minutes I can download hundreds of songs on my PC, get Lyrics, Chords
and even Midi Files which I can play through software like “Band-in-a-box”,
“Cakewalk” etc and get what I need.
The Juke Box, like the Bakelite 78 RPM, the Vinyl 45s & 33.3s, LPs, EPs, Spool and Cassette tape, Walkman, even CDs has all passed into
history. From the half-a-ton Juke Box with 100 songs, today we get I-pods the
size of a match box which holds tens of thousands of songs!!!
Then the day of the event dawned, with all kinds of glitches. Krishnan of the “Happenings” from who we regularly “borrowed” gear
absolutely refused to lend us. So we had to go to old Gafoor Bhai of Ajantha Sound system and literally beg
“hamara phelaich program hai, aur bahut milne waala hai. age sub ko aaphi ke le lene ko hai” (It is our first gig. We are getting many more.
We’ll always hire from you) We got three small amps with speaker boxes –
ancient things powered by vacuum tubes and loaded it onto an auto and arrived
at the Venue. This was at “Rotary House of Friendship” – a small hall and the
Drum set and other gear was carted by Shekar on his scooter in three trips.
We barely got going with our opening songs as Lunch was being served. We were all starving, having got up early morning and running
around for the Gear without breakfast or even a morning cup of tea! The waiters carried the food – the choicest
North Indian and Sindhi cuisine past us on the stage. The most delectable
flavors wafted up and it was really difficult to keep concentrating on the
music with our hungry, growling tummies. Especially each time the ice-creams
went past as the guests moved to the dessert course, five pairs of eyes, the
Band Members of the Stoned Package, followed its journey across the hall. It
was most comical, when we reflected on it later.
Finally Mrs. Lalwani came up to us and said “That was very nice, boys. I’m sure you are all hungry… go ahead and help yourself to lunch”.
It was the most welcome statement of the year. We dived for the “lubbacks” (our
own slang for Food) starting with several helpings of the ice-cream first.
This became a regular feature in my music career. We almost always “sang for our supper” (and lunch too). We were obliged to eat last of
all, sometimes be satisfied with left-over’s, always long gone cold. When
possible, I always try to grab a snack before getting on stage.
For this “Child Naming Ceremony” of Dr. & Mrs. Lalwani’s baby, we were paid the handsome sum of Rs.150/=. It was the first “paid” show I played for. The
next day the couple had planned to go to Mumbai for a holiday and generously
and erroneously gave us permission to have a small party of our own in their
house to celebrate and unwind.
We gave a fuming and unsatisfied Gafoor Bhai Rs. 30/= towards the amplifiers hire, assuring him we would make up in future shows. Rs.
20/= got spent on transport, the remaining Rs.100/- afforded us with a
sumptuous party spread of non-vegetarian “kebabs”, samosas etc. plus a bottle
of Amrut Rum, and several packets of “ganja” too. Both were strictly forbidden
in my vegetarian grandfather’s house downstairs.
The Stoned Package got promptly both drunk and stoned and left the place in a mess which poor Mrs. Lalwani had to clean up when she returned.
Having been refused a “hall ticket” for the Final Exam by the University, I left the next week for Delhi to stay with my father.
When I reached Delhi, my father was very upset about my “dropping out” of college and wasted three years of my precious life.
I was pretty defiant: “I learned to play the guitar and in any case, I don’t see why you should complain – I got the National Science Talent Scholarship so you didn’t really pay for my college…”
“Well then, you’d better get a job and pay for your stay here…” he said, “though I can’t see how you’ll get one without a graduation degree certificate…”
My old Classmates from B.Sc. Hons Physics – Nanda & Sriram – both Science Talent Scholars had also dropped out of College, but they
rejoined in BA St.Stephen’s College, New Delhi – Nanda to study Philosophy and
Sriram to study Sociology. Due to the animosity between my father and me, there
was no way he was going to finance another three year College stint.
Nanda, always interested in classical arts, had a membership at the National School of Drama on Barakhamba Road and here there was a music
listening room with a wide collection of Western Classical music. As often as I
could, we would go ther to listen to Bethoven, Bach, Mozart etc.
My mother was more sympathetic. She suggested that there were hundreds of job advertisements in the classified sections of the
newspapers and if I kept on sending applications, something was bound to work
Anyway, I didn’t send out hundreds – I landed one with the first letter I sent. It was for a monthly magazine called “Sikh Digest” – a
kind of Reader’s Digest for the Sikh Community. In response to the advt, I
prepared a long three page letter – quoting my experiences with – ROT Magazine
and the little experience I had in getting Advertisements for it.
I was called for an interview at an address in Daryaganj, the 400 year old part of old Delhi.
Finding my way through the narrow alleys I found it – a cubby h*** in
the wall. I learned later that this was a “borrowed” office and I met Mr. KN
Singh, Editor, Printer, Publisher and general all-in-all of the “Sikh Digest”.
I was to be the only other employee.
Like most other Sardarjis, Mr. KN Singh was of a rotund nature – both physically and in a sense of humor, which comes out of a
community being the butt of myriad “Sardarji Jokes”. He explained that “till we get an office of
our own, we will meet daily at the India Coffee House in Connaught Circus, and
go out for whatever work there is from there”.
The India Coffee House was a part of a Chain of such “Coffee Houses” in several cities of India – they are all run by the Coffee Board
Employees Union Co-operative Society, serve the same menu of very good Coffee
from Coorg, Karnataka and a fixed menu of Bread Toasts, egg – fried, poached or
omlettes and that unique creation of Karnataka – the Masala Dosa. The waiters
would be mostly south Indians – Tamils and have the same uniform with a Turban.
Existing well from the days of the British Raj, they all had a quaint Colonial
ambience, a laid back attitude which allowed customers to meet, chat for
unlimited time and always had a regular stream of coffee addicts, whose day
would never be complete without a visit there.
It was also a hang out for all kinds of thinkers – poets, small time journalists, armchair philosophers and generally people with leftist
ideas tinged with revolutionist leanings. During the emergency, in 1975, Sanjay
Gandhi, who led his mother’s Indira
Gandhi’s storm troopers in the crack down had the whole area demolished
overnight. The area demolished included a block of ramshackle World War
Barracks which had been given to various NGOs, small periodicals. One of these
was occupied by the Dateline School of Journalism.
Having come out of college without a degree, I realized I needed at least some professional qualification. I had heard of this school –
in those days, it was a pioneer institution. There were absolutely no
Journalism courses in Delhi, or for that matter anywhere in India. My father
was aghast. He was a Military man of the old school – the only valid profession
in his eyes was to become a Government Officer or join the Armed forces. Worst
came, you could pick up a brief case and sell Life Insurance. Journalism, was,
in his eyes, a non-profession – most Journalists were either retired Government
servants or had other means of income. It was quite true – it was one of the
lowest paid professions only the most idealistic stayed in it. Besides he
flatly refused to finance my course.
Since I had got the job in “Sikh Digest”, this objection was negated and my mother lent me the Rs.600/= I needed to pay the fees for the 6-month, evening course.
Eventually, KN Singh’s “Sikh Digest” did not really get off the ground and over a space of six months, he could only pay me two months salary, but I repaid my mother.
However, the experience with KN Singh was interesting and not without some practical learning. He introduced me to scores of friends,
prowled all the “dives” in the old Delhi area – I found where you could get the
best (and cheapest) “Chole Baturrah” – as full a lunch you could have, besides
Kulfi-walas, Gol-gappas, Rosagullas, shami kebabs and assorted road-side
eateries. It was rather good I had a good constitution and never got upset by
all this. The hygiene at some was, dubious to say the least, but the tastes
KN Singh also took me for an extended tour of Punjab & Haryana states, I visited the Golden Temple, various other Gurdwaras and
Jalianwala Bagh too. It was supposed to be a media selling tour, but KN Singh
was also on a “Vigilance Committee” of the Indian Railways and we visited all
the book shops in the Railway stations. Many of these sold, illegally, a lot of
pornographic and smut literature. Some of these were printed as the
“Traveller’s Companion” series and were published from Pondicherry – a
territory that was part of French Colonial India and had only recently joined
the Indian Union. Such books were called “Pondys” in the colloquial bespoke. I
took a lot of the stock we seized and added to my own collection of smut
The Journalism course at the Dateline School of Journalism was really very good. The Director Mr. Sam Castelino was a seasoned old
journalist with several contacts. We were given special lectures by some of the
Journalist luminaries of that time – Kushwant Singh, Kuldip Nayyar and KN Rao
to name a few. I also had to do short
internship in the sub-editor’s room at the Statesman, one of the best English
News Dailies. The statesman was a
thorough Anglophile Newspaper – the Editorial staff had lunch in a separate
lunch hall where very English food – of the bland tasteless kind was only
served and everyone sat down and ate with “proppah” use of table cutlery – not
hands and fingers!!
I also did a bit of writing during my course. The School ran a fortnightly tabloid – “Dateline Delhi” which was quite popular and I
contributed a couple of Movie Reviews. I also undertook an amazing journey
across the Rajasthan Desert in a Camel Caravan. I had the experience of sleeping in the open
under the stars and even a most severe desert sand storm, with only the Camel’s
hump for protection.
My mother worked at that time as Librarian in the United Services Institution. I had the opportunity to read hundreds of books on
Military Science and History and even wrote reviews of half a dozen books for
the USI Journal.
I got the Diploma at the end of the course – in March 1972. But the highlight of the Dateline School was , for me, CY Gopinath. He was a student of the previous course and
starting out as a journalist. He was a very good writer with a flair for word
smithy. His first assignment was in Mumbai with a Film Magazine. I heard he was
set up in a posh flat with a good packet – just to write gossip for one actress
against her competitors. He did become fairly well known, in due course and a
fairly well know travel writer – he wrote a series of tomes “Travels with
CY Gopinath was also a guitar player and a big fan of the Beatles, like me. I shall ever remain indebted to him as he showed me the
chords for every song on “Sgt. Pepper’s” album and also lent me his “The
Beatles Complete” a song book with all the Lyrics and Music Sheets of every
Beatle song. Later I learned up the songs on “Abbey Road” too – eventually I
could play the whole LP side.
A few years later, I met Peter Isaac, an old guitarist – who specializes in “Blues” nowadays, an acquaintance with whom I have had a very varied relationship.
“I heard you play Beatles”, said Peter, when he met me after hearing about me from my old friend, Shekar (of the Central College Chod Gang)
Me: “Yes. Which album do you want?”
Peter: “Oh like that huh? Can you do Abbey Road?”
Me: “Side one or two?”
This surprised him somewhat. Said Peter: “Do side two then”. I did…. From the beginning to the end.
This deflated Peter Isaac’s ego no small bit!!!
In the last month of 1971, the Indo-Pakistan War took place in which the former East Pakistan was liberated by the Indian Army and the new nation of Bangladesh was created.
In 1966, when I finished 10th. Standard, I had expressed a desire to join the Armed Forces, like most of my family. But my father had not let me write the entrance exam for the National Defense Academy.
“The Air Force is for duffers” said my father. And, with a good First Class high school pass, my father fondly hoped I was not a “duffer”!
But in 1971, when I had dropped out of college he said: “The Army is the only place left for you – Go write the Indian Military Academy
Exam.” I did and got called for the Service Selection Board. It was in
Allahabad – my first trip to this place where, two years later I would spend
almost a whole decade. Here too, I got through the IQ, GD and other tests and
interviews, but in the Physical Endurance test, I had a big fall from a 10 foot
high wall and permanently damaged my knee. At first, the injury did not seem so
bad, but as it became apparent that this was a serious debility, my grandfather
at Bangalore – I was still the eldest and favorite grandchild, asked me to
return to Bangalore for treatment and also to look for a job in a city I was
more familiar with.
So, after getting the Diploma in Journalism, I returned to Bangalore in April 1972. Various
therapies were tried – Microwave, Ayurvedic massages and even an operation, but
the knee problem has remained all these years.
Today, when I am 59 years old, this is a physical problem that is the only blight in my work. Both my present jobs – Teaching Graduate
Students and Playing Guitar are “Standing” jobs – I often have to bear the pain
as a part of the gain.