More music metamorphosis in Darjeeling
By Peter J Karthak
Photo: Peter J Karthak with Choden Tshering Bhutia
Hillians - (from left) - K. K. Gurung, Peter Karthak, Mark Karthak, Phurba Tshering and Ranjit Gazmer
JAN 14 - My friendship with Choden grew by leaps and bounds. She was our Astrid Kircherr, the Hamburg girl who influenced the Beatles. Choden inspired and encouraged me. I had met her through Lalit Tamang when they were close. Since then, Lalit had left college and was teaching in Gangtok. Choden and I met regularly, and her house in Bhutia Busti had become my second home.
Father E P Burns was the North Point’s student counsellor, a senior Jesuit priest and our professor of English. During the week’s lectures, this handsome Irish Canadian Burt Lancaster mentioned a singer called Bob Dylan and a refrain from his song, “(The answer, my friend, is) Blowin’ in the Wind”. Father Burns had reasons to mention Dylan and his song in a particular series of lectures.
I heard this song by and by. It had a raspy voice, a rickety harmonica and a badly tuned acoustic guitar.
This song puzzled me. Here I was trying to upgrade The Hillians further into a band with high-tech equipment and more sophisticated sounds. And here was Bob Dylan with the most ordinary folk instruments, and a one-man band instead of the five of us.
“Blowing in the Wind” proved that even anyone with a twisted glottis, shrunken windpipe, imperfect oesophagus, bad teeth, small lungs, rustic diction and accent, acoustic guitar, harmonica and such rudimentary instruments could become a singer, and a million seller one! That was the shocking impression I got of Dylan.
But between him, the Beatles and Rolling Stones, they continued producing self-contained, self-sufficient, self-penned and self-sung hits tinged with confessional introspection, boundary-shattering psychedelic runs, individual stream-of-consciousness esotericism and iconoclasm.
These daring exercises and usages, however, were not strange to me! For our own Amber Gurung had been practicing similar crafts for years in Darjeeling. He was writing his own songs, composing his own melodies, singing them with his own interpretations voice, arranging and orchestrating the accompaniment music. He was already a six-rail maestro among us as were the Beatles and Dylan on the opposite spectrums of the world. The pity was, Amber Gurung was on the wrong side of the fence!
The Hillians were not doing badly either. We were forging ahead. Our success and innovation seemed to have impressed even Mr. Gurung. He had summoned the original Hillians - Mark, Lalit and me - a few months ago.
“Boys, I’ve made a song for you,” he began. “It’s very fast, very Rock and up-tempo. You must play and sing it very loud in high pitch with full electric guitar ensemble. You must be very fast-paced”
Then he sang it and we copied it. Everything - the words, chords and melody - had been his own creation. In short, this was Darjeeling’s first indigenous Rock ‘n’ Roll music in Nepali. It began, “Ramra ramra bhavama, mitho mitho kyai kura”.
Needless to say, it became a great hit all over the northeast. We sang it at the Talents Nite of North Point, its Bhanu Jayanti celebrations, the National Cadet Corps (NCC) winter camps and jamborees and other public programmes in and around Darjeeling.
When Narayan Gopal visited Darjeeling, Mr. Gurung once again summoned us to have the song sung to Narayan so that singers from Nepal could also learn what possibilities Rock ‘n’ Pop had for Nepali modern singers and music too.
The speedy fame of the song can be gauged from many responses. Among the first admirers were Lek and Daeng, my astute Thai business partners.
“Peter, if you ever cut a disc of this song, please send me the first copy of it.” These were Lek’s farewell words before we finished college and went our own ways. And that was 40 years ago!
Two tea planters, Lancaster and Simpson of two Darjeeling tea estates, cornered me at a huge Planters’ Club party. They made The Hillians sing the song amidst fanfare, and proposed that we record it in London and they would help us. They also wanted a business deal, percentage of the royalty. A sure hit was guaranteed. In fact, more than us, the two Britishers were quite excited about the “packet” they would make from the song.
We met many times for business discussions on the song’s London recording. But by a “simple twist of fate”, as Dylan sang later, the deal did not materialise. There were many reasons.
The Sangam Club was also undergoing historic changes. Saran Pradhan and Aruna Lama fell in love in Calcutta when they and Jitendra Bardewa visited the city to record our award-winning hits of the year - Herana hera Kanchha and its flipside. When they returned to Darjeeling in their dreamy airs, they announced their marriage and departure from Sangam to form their own duo.
Soon Jitendra Bardewa also left. He left Sangam to start his own Shravan Samuha. Only Ranjit and I found us alone at the helms of Sangam, with other colleagues also having left for the British and Indian armies, civil services, police and other employment outlets.
With Ranjit and I leading Sangam, we also went creative. We produced two songs - Mayalu and Manko Manmai Aljhechha. I wrote the words, arranged the chords and sang them while Ranjit provided the melody, arrangements and orchestration. Ranjit had tuned “Manko Manmai” after a Herman’s Hermits hit in major-minor, “No Milk Today”. Amber Gurung liked my “rendition” and the construction of the song.
Mayalu swept the district as a super hit. The Hillians stopped singing it onstage after we presented it some 60 times. It was much too much. Because of its popularity, we however decided to record it at the Hindustan Records of Calcutta. But it was fraught with fiascos. The saddest thing about it was that KK Gurung could not go with us because his father’s election campaigns and KK had to help the family’s politicking. So the bass guitar part is totally missing in the record. That was a great disappointment in our maiden effort in becoming recorded artists.
But these songs helped define The Hillians as a creative, multifaceted and self-sufficient band, as Amber Gurung, the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan already were.
Then came an invitation from Lalit in Gangtok. He said that our distant cousin Alfred Karthak was having his birthday bash, and we should visit Gangtok and sing a few songs for his happiness and show-off.
We hadn’t been to Gangtok for sometime. So we set off for Sikkim. Because we would be back in two or three days, I didn’t inform Choden of our tour. I knew she was a Sikkimese Tibetan with extended relatives and family connections in Gangtok and in the kingdom. But since I considered the visit to be a brief one, it was a low-key affair.
But things didn’t turn out that way. Just the opposite, and in fact, long winding!
The writer can be reached at <
Courtesy: Ekantipur.com, Posted on: 2004-01-14 01:58