Don’t let the music die….by Pritish Nandy

My best memories of Christmas and New Year are in Calcutta as a teenager. I have spent winters in London, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong, Paris. Even LA. But nothing quite compares to the Calcutta I knew. Park Street was like fairyland, brilliantly decked up days ahead of the festivities. Singers and musicians came from all over to perform there but the best among them were the local Anglo Indians who outclassed everyone.

There was Pam Crain who sang like a dream, with Louis Banks and his boys in Blue Fox. Usha Uthup jived away at Trinca’s in a South Indian sari. Hers was a voice you could never forget. A Shillong band often backed her up. There was busty Delilah at Moulin Rouge, a blonde who lost her way and arrived in Park Street from heavens knows where. She wasn’t exactly the best singer there but she did some amazing gigs which everyone loved, for all the wrong reasons. For me at 16, she was Christmas.

There was Brenda Lilley at Blue Fox who later married tennis star Jaideep Mukherjee. Her sister Fay sang at Mags in fabulous Queens Mansion, an entire building lost by its owner, an Armenian called JC Galstaun in a horse racing debt in this season of carols and mistletoes. Galstaun was a great gambler and bought several buildings in Calcutta, including Queens Mansion, with his winnings at the races. Losing his prized possession however broke his heart. Yet, like a true gambler, he walked out the next morning, handing over the building to its new owners. His autobiography was dedicated to the very book makers who had taken all his money.

Also, the story goes, a famous playboy prince from the Land of the Dragon up in the Himalayan mountains, left Humayun Court on Lindsay Street, barely a ten minute walk from Park Street, at the crack of dawn on New Year’s day, having lost throughout the night at the roulette table, playing against some of the worthies of the time. The stakes were high and by the time the game was over, the young prince had lost everything he had on his person. So he quietly got up and walked out, leaving behind the keys to his Austin Sherline on the table. He rode home to Tivoli Court in a baby taxi, which his staff paid off on arrival.

The others at his table were Angelo Firpo, the Italian owner of Firpo’s the legendary restaurant on Chowringhee, Pat Williamson, Boris, the Russian impresario who later settled in Kathmandu and opened a restaurant called Boris’ and boasted he could offer you a tiger for breakfast, Eddie Cracknel the jockey and Daddy Mazda, owner of Golden Slippers, Calcutta’s most celebrated nightclub of the time, bang opposite Nizam’s, back of Hogg Market. Many were the lurid tales that went around about what happened at Golden Slippers but what made the club famous was the list of defaulters prominently displayed on a wall near the gate, featuring some of the city’s best known names. There was also the 300 Club on Theatre Road and the Bengal Club where a croupier with a cockney accent would regale members with tales of nightclubs in London’s West End. Many gambled with cowries. The Maharajas of Cooch Bihar, Jaipur, Burdwan, Nazarganj were regulars. So were royalty from Nepal and Bhutan.

At the heart of all this festivity was music, the bands and the crooners. They were the life of every party, every celebration. They made everything happen. Without them, Calcutta would not have been Calcutta. But years went by, Governments changed, politics redefined our life and culture. Suddenly new taxes were imposed on live entertainment. These taxes were so punishing that within a very short time, all the restaurants stopped playing live music. The crooners left Calcutta. Bands disbanded. Musicians picked up other jobs. The music slowly died.

This is exactly what’s happening in Mumbai today. How can a Government, however stupid it may be, however callous and indifferent to culture, kill off music by imposing such taxes that hotels and restaurants stop all live performances? Imagine the number of jobs lost, the singers, musicians, bands who will have no place to perform. Imagine an entire profession strangled in broad daylight just because some idiots think that taxes are more important than culture, history, heritage. Today, no international act comes to Mumbai because of our silly taxation policy. Now, the axe has fallen even on those who can barely make their ends meet.

We talk of creating jobs. We talk of self employment, nurturing talent, building on our rich traditions of music, theatre, art. But when it comes to the crunch, all that the Government does is destroy whatever it lays its greedy hands on. Luckily we have a brand new Chief Minister in Maharashtra. Hopefully, he will not be an Aurangzeb and will take the right steps to keep the music alive. For when music dies, a nation dies.


34 Responses to “Don’t let the music die….by Pritish Nandy”

  1. My memories and connections with Cal stay with me..I studied in Alipore Tiny Tots when I was four for about two years. I spent more time at Flury’s on Park Street than anywhere else. My own childhood memories of Cal are precious like chocolates wrapped in gleaming colorful papers at Flury’s.

    • You speak Tamil, you live in B’lore, You work in HK, you studied Cal, you have lived in Delhi, you have traveled Europe and UK… do you have wings? 🙂

      • Wrong Q Reader…..
        You should be asking …..”Who are you”..instead…?? 🙂

      • She is Sharmila Tiger, na?

      • Who am I? Yet to discover myself..will take more time. But, for now, would gladly be associated with the animal kingdom, the more evolved society.

      • Its an impossible question to answer. Best is to give the Rig Veda answer:

        Q: Who are you?

        A: I am “Who”.

        I like that answer. No name, no description, no features, no tags and no labels!

      • I say, doesn’t that sound Chinese?

        Q: Who are you?

        A: I am ‘Who’

        Q: Who what?

        A: Who u waan

        Q: Oh Who-u-wan

        A: No, who you want.. English…

        Q: Want?

        A: yes.

        Q: Why?

        A: Thats who.

        Q: Are you Zen?

        A: Thats who I am…

      • wow!Sharmila u too spent time at Tiny Tots!That’s where my daughter went-Mrs Sapru was the principal then-right!
        Pat Williamson lends his name to the riding course my son goes.

      • That is right and lovely to know about this fifi. Albeit, I was not in Tiny Tots for too long. Just two years. Thanks for dropping by.

  2. This is vintage Pritish Nandy! The real Pritish Nandy who comes out of the victorian closet once in a rare blue moon!

    For one moment I thougt I was reading Norman Davies’ History of Europe – a word picture of the transformation of Europe and UK from Feudalism and Aristocracy to overt socialism!

    Its the ultimate Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist universe of a music-less, god-less, regulated society of performing flea!

    But there is a ray of hope on the horizon. Never in the past 35 years have the CPI been challenged on their own territory by a strong opposition.

    Mamta Banerjee is not exactly lassez faire or a libertarian democrat but better than a private warlords in the CPI.

    I hope Mr. Nandy follows up with similar posts till the Bengal assembly elections next year.

    I believe Mamta Banerjee is on the verge of making history in WB. She’ll need all the support that she can muster from every liberal thinker in India and the West.

  3. Sharmila and EF,

    Have I told you about my gambling experiences?

    No na?

    Wait. I remember, I have told you about the three strikers and the cinema tickets.

    Here is another one on the Pune Derby.

    There are 3 ways to play horse racing in Pune. One is in a cafe near the house where it is shown live on a local area network. Second is to stake through the punters who seem to know too much. And the third is to go it all alone on gut instincts.

    I have done all three.

    The cafe experience was rather stuffy. There was a small room with a TV and a motley crowd of dreamy god-fearing old men doing their sums on the counters.

    The punters’ games are thrilling. Those chaps know their courses and how! They are the fortune tellers of horse racing!

    Some are so obssessed with their intuitions that they are somewhere between superstitious and a complete cuckoo.

    There was one named, Ranga, who predicted the mood of a horse by the swing of its tail! A left swing indicated that it will try to kick the jockey just before the finish. A right swing meant it is in a religious mood and might limp back to the starting point after the first lap.

    And finally there were the open public counters. I preferred the play-it-yourself style. Whats the fun in gambling if I had inside information about the horses’ moods and Akaashwani?

    The well-known names had to win at least one of the races in the day. Jockeys like Pesi Shroff were Sachin Tendulkars of horse racing. The uncertainty was often about which race he would win.

    Vijay Mallaya, Mehmood, Feroz Khan, Lila Poonawalla, were some well known celebrities in the owners circuit. As a rule I never staked anything on their horses. Know why?

    Because there are too many cameras on a race course. There is a moving camera mounted on a car that runs along the track during the race and there are others from the media too.

    If there is one weakness about celebrity pets, it is the camera. Pets imitate their masters. Hold a camera up and the pet will step back and take a pose. Some of them are known to smile.

    Thats a disturbing sight if a horse does that after the race has begun. I mean, imagine, the horse is running with the camera on the car, suddenly feels that the light is not good and wants a re-take from another angle! Dampens the spirit of the game.

    So, I betted on the less known owners like Ramanathan or some Swami from BLR. They didn’t always win but I made my own by calling their places.

    I haven’t been on a race course for long now due to a life-changing event on my last visit. But thats another story I’ll tell you later. The horse is my witness. 🙂

  4. Sharmila,

    Lovely X’mas treat by Nandy – rich, smooth, melt-in-the-mouth yumlicious perfection!!!

    There’s something so beautiful about memories…dont know if its childhood or the time elapsed that smoothes out the greys and makes everything look brighter, more colorful and magical…at times I am afraid to revisit the same places because I want to hold on to that memory, unchanged…

    Memories are like glow-worms…hold on to them…dont blow them away like dandelions…we never know…at some point if there’s darkness, these glow-worms could be let free to light up our lives again…

    Love the line on Delilah. Christmas for a young man. Beautifully worded.


  5. On Delilah at 16 when, “Girls just wanna have fun ya know”

    Here is an extract from the channel CBS:

    In case you missed it on 60 Minutes, this is what Andy Rooney thinks about women over 50:

    As I grow in age, I value women over 50 most of all. Here are just a few reasons why:

    A woman over 50 will never wake you in the middle of the night and ask, ‘What are you thinking?’ She doesn’t care what you think.

    If a woman over 50 doesn’t want to watch the game, she doesn’t sit around whining about it. She does something she wants to do, and it’s usually more interesting.

    Women over 50 are dignified. They seldom have a screaming match with you at the opera or in the middle of an expensive restaurant. Of course, if you deserve it, they won’t hesitate to shoot you, if they think they can get away with it.

    Older women are generous with praise, often undeserved. They know what it’s like to be unappreciated.

    Women get psychic as they age. You never have to confess your sins to a woman over 50.

    Once you get past a wrinkle or two, a woman over 50 is far sexier than her younger counterpart.

    Older women are forthright and honest.. They’ll tell you right off if you are a jerk or if you are acting like one. You don’t ever have to wonder where you stand with her.

    Yes, we praise women over 50 for a multitude of reasons.. Unfortunately, it’s not reciprocal.

    For every stunning, smart, well-coiffed, hot woman over 50, there is a bald, paunchy relic in yellow pants making a fool of himself with some 22-year old waitress. Ladies, I apologize..

    For all those men who say, ‘Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?’ Here’s an update for you. Nowadays 80% of women are against marriage. Why? Because women realize it’s not worth buying an entire pig just to get a little sausage!”

    Courtsey: 60 Minutes Correspondent — Andy Rooney (CBS)

    • Did he not say anything about men over sixty…? I wonder…
      Andy Rooney’s inputs make 60 minutes more appealing and exciting…
      However…all his comments about women over 50 doesn’t sound right…that might be his personal observation and experience about women….
      His observation about men is quite right though…Its funny….! Older the man gets younger he tries to prove himself…lol…by lurking over the younger lot… 🙂

  6. Quotable Quotes for the hoilday season:

    For Men: If you are loyal to your wife, you may go to heaven; If you are not loyal you will enjoy heaven on earth.

  7. If you are spending the new year at a posh hotel, be generous with your tips:

    One day a bachelor, who was a poor tipper, walked into his favorite restaurant and ordered lunch. A new waitress served his meal and received a miserly three rupee tip.

    When he came in the next day, she thanked him for his ‘generosity’ and she said she could tell the character of a diner by the way he tipped.

    “Yea? What can you tell about me?” he asked.

    “You put three rupees in a neat row,” said the waitress, “and that shows you are a very tidy person. The first rupee tells me you are frugal and the second tells me that you are a bachelor.”

    “That’s true,” he agreed. “But what does the third rupee tell you?”

    “The third rupee tells me your father was a bachelor too!”

  8. Oops, did you hear that?

    Last new year’s eve, Dr. Mallaya was on a private chopper to his ranch at Ooty. As the chopper was about to land the pilot turned around and said:

    “Sir, we are about to land at Ooty. Please return the cabin crew to the upright position.”

  9. These are from a book called “Disorder in the American Courts” , and are
    things people actually said in court, word for word, taken down and now
    published by court reporters who had the torment of staying calm while
    these exchanges were actually taking place.

    ATTORNEY : She had three children, right?

    WITNESS : Yes.

    ATTORNEY : How many were boys?

    WITNESS : None.

    ATTORNEY : Were there any girls?

    WITNESS : Your Honor, I think I need a different attorney. Can I get a new


    ATTORNEY : How was your first marriage terminated?

    WITNESS : By death.

    ATTORNEY : And by whose death was it terminated?

    WITNESS : Now whose death do you suppose terminated it?

    ATTORNEY : Can you describe the individual?

    WITNESS : He was about medium height and had a beard.

    ATTORNEY : Was this a male or a female?

    WITNESS : Guess.


    ATTORNEY : Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition

    notice which I sent to your attorney?

    WITNESS : No, this is how I dress when I go to work.


    ATTORNEY : Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead


    WITNESS : All my autopsies are performed on dead people. Would you like to

    rephrase that?


    ATTORNEY : ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK? What school did you go to?

    WITNESS : Oral.


    ATTORNEY : Do you recall the time that you examined the body?

    WITNESS : The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m.

    ATTORNEY : And Mr. Denton was dead at the time?

    WITNESS : No, he was sitting on the table wondering why I was doing an autopsy on him!


    ATTORNEY : This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?

    WITNESS : Yes.

    ATTORNEY : And in what ways does it affect your memory?

    WITNESS : I forget.

    ATTORNEY : You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot?


    ATTORNEY : What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning?

    WITNESS : He said, “Where am I, Cathy?”

    ATTORNEY : And why did that upset you?

    WITNESS : My name is Susan!


    ATTORNEY : Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a

    WITNESS : No.

    ATTORNEY : Did you check for blood pressure?

    WITNESS : No.

    ATTORNEY : Did you check for breathing?

    WITNESS : No.

    ATTORNEY : So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?

    WITNESS : No.

    ATTORNEY : How can you be so sure, Doctor?

    WITNESS : Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.

    ATTORNEY : I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?

    WITNESS : Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

  10. Is it really governance duty to keep music alive…? Is it its fault in entire Live music era is about to end..!? If ppl are so much into it…they should and could have done something to keep it alive… There must be some other factors affecting its preserve and sustenance apart from taxation…

    • Every next generation in a culture decides what are the things that need to be taken forward. Some customs die, some survive, some transform and some new ones are imported…

      Music has the same life-cycle. Classical Indian music, Chinese, Persian, African all have had there own seasons. Governance plays a limited though significant role. Each type of music saw popular days depending on the ruling patrons. During the moghul era in the North sufi music got a boost, during the chola reign Carnatic music was popular, during the English colonial rule stones, rock and rattle mania was rewarded.

  11. Spy Gadgets in Movies…

    […]Don’t let the music die….by Pritish Nandy « Sharmila says…[…]…

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