Monday, February 04, 2013

Photo Story - Getting to My Village

As it appeared

My Mint travel piece, on reaching the village, has disappeared off the internets.

Here's the full unedited version.

I have a favourite spot outside our cottage here in the village. It's in the front garden just off the patio, overlooking the mountains on the other side of the Chenab River [we're on 'this' side]. It helps that this spot is always in the sun and intense research on my part has revealed that it has the fastest 2G mobile internet connectivity anywhere near the house. So I spend a lot of time here squinting over my phone, checking emails, tweets and reading up on the web. All the while gradually turning into a prune because that's what the mountain sun does to you.

Cast aside notions of fair, rosy-cheeked Kashmiris with full red lips. In my neck of the woods we are pahari [mountain] folk, and we are a wrinkled, hardy people with tanned leather for skin and crows' feet around smiling eyes.

Daadi Puphi - My father's aunt

'Our' side of the Chenab. This is about halfway up to my village.

Let me take you to my village, Breswana, as typical a hamlet in the invisible pahari belt of Jammu and Kashmir as you can hope for. I say 'invisible' because very few people outside the state have an idea of the terrain, culture and lifestyle we have here. The pahari region in Jammu and Kashmir is different from the Kashmir Valley, which is what most people's idea of Kashmir is. No shikaras, open green meadows or santoor as running background music. We're all about mountains, rocks, subsistence farming, livestock and hardiness. Our way of life in the mountains is very different from that in the Valley proper. We speak the same language, i.e. Kashmiri, but our accent and local slang differs.

My life today is very different to what I imagined it would be as a child growing up in Dubai in the eighties. Back then it was all about 'study well, get a good job, make money, kick back and enjoy'. I stuck to the formula for many years, with college and then a well-paying, very fun job in Bangalore. In late 2008 everything changed; I decided I wanted to be with my family and help out back at home and I upped and left the city suddenly. What I do now is run the Haji Public School with my family – it's a school we set up in our ancestral village in the mountains of Doda in Jammu and Kashmir. This is Breswana, at an altitude of approximately 7,100 feet overlooking the Chenab River, with no motorable roads going all the way up even today, and really, a most wonderful corner of the world. My great grandfather established the village in the early 1900's; today, almost every resident of Breswana is family – by blood or marriage. In every sense of the word, it is home.

The school and that

My work has me shuttling between Jammu ['the big city'] and the school in Breswana throughout the year. It's a whole day's travel, with mixed measures of driving, walking and horse-riding. Jammu is my town house, and I head there every time I need to catch up on paperwork, have official meetings, purchase supplies or access proper internet. This is at least once a month, if not more often. And it is a beautiful, if exhausting journey. I haven't tired of it yet and it's been five years of scampering uphill and down, and driving on the national highway in all seasons.  
There are three legs of the journey from city to village: 1. Jammu to Doda – 183 km by road, 2. Doda to last motorable stop – again by road, and 3. Horseback/Trek to Breswana up the mountain- horse trails, rocks, ravines and forest. [Also a water mill.]

Water mill or "gratt'" in Kashmir

The drive from Jammu to Doda takes about five hours provided there are no traffic hassles. Doda to the final motorable stop is another hour or so. If, like me, you happen to get car sick on loopy mountain roads, the best thing to do would be to try and get some shut eye and not look out too much. Very tough, considering. It is a most scenic mountainous drive along the NH-1B and with a dramatic U-turn at Batote (an important transit town en route), we are into Doda District. Somewhere after Batote you'll spot the River Chenab for the first time, going the other way; it will accompany you on the left of the highway for the remaining portion of the journey.

Bakarwaals on the move
On the highway you will see Gujjars and Bakarwaals moving north in the summer taking their animals to higher reaches for a season of grazing. Before the winter you can see them heading down with their livestock in the thousands. Traffic moves very slowly during these seasonal migrations in J&K.

On the Jammu-Doda stretch, our family has gravitated towards certain establishments for their good food and quick service: Manhas Dhaba at Samroli, Prem Sweets at Kud, a chai-stall at a pine-covered corner of Patni-Top [a very popular hill station about 3 hours out of Jammu], and, most importantly, Sharma Vaishno Dhaba at Bagar [pronounced like the rude word] for its flawless victory with rajma daal-chawal and desi ghee

My favourite stretch of the journey to the village is the last bit. On horseback. Nothing compares to riding a good mountain horse on tough mountain trails. Our family has always had horses, both local stock as well as Zanskaris [these are really matchless]. Everything about horses brings out the romantic in me. They're such gorgeous animals, and it's quite incredible to be able to do our mountains like they do. 
Zanskar se, Mr Balla
With horses and me, it's a case of true love, and I have my father to thank for showing us the ropes well as kids and making us comfortable with them. I know of people screwing up their noses when assailed with horse smells but for me it immediately takes me to Breswana, to my trips up home.

Footbridge at Premnagar

So. The final leg of the journey is when we wave goodbye to the car/jeep at a small roadside hill town called Premnagar. [The town is so named only after a gentleman called Premchand and not, as one hoped, a tragic local love story.] There's a wooden footbridge at Premnagar we cross over the River Chenab that takes us to 'the other side'. Where the horses wait. If you look up at this point, you can spot Breswana on the neck of the mountain towering above the town. Here onwards, all luggage goes up on carriage animals or on the backs of men/women. It's a 7km route on very steep, rocky uphills for about three to four hours. We stop a few times to rest the horses along the way. Again, we have our preferred spots for resting – shade, wind and water being the deciding factors.

Starting uphill, on average 3+ hours
Riding Up
Over the years, this final ride up home has become a real pleasure for me. This is where one gets to see the real pahari J&K, still relatively untouched by the outside world. We pass through villages, see the people go about their daily lives and work through different seasons. Things carry on as they used to, farmers still follow traditional farming methods and all the villages look more or less as they always have as far back as I can remember. Everyone knows everything about everyone else in the mountains and much current information is traded between travellers going up and down. 

I usually ride into Breswana with the sunset and a nice, hot cup of noonchai [Kashmiri salt tea] and homemade bread welcomes me. Along with a fireplace [optional] and all the familiar sights and smells of home.

It's always a physically demanding trip, this Jammu to Breswana business. Achy back, sore seat and tired legs. But a day later, sitting in the favourite spot in front of my cottage, waiting for a web-page to load on the mobile phone, with school kids chattering in the distance and the sun warming my back, I find I really cannot complain. At all. [Just get me some internet up here.]

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Barbecue Night...

...Has been had.
Naan roti, chicken tandoori, tatziki, mint chutney, pasta Arabiatta, lemonade, girlfriends, full moon night, two dogs.
Amazing good.

Friday, August 17, 2012

It's Been A While

No internet. No blogging. That is all.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Moslems Are Coming.

Very kicked to be on 'The Moslems Are Coming' blog tour, and in keeping with Optimum Blog Etiquette, I'm belting out a short, one-glance summary of my thoughts on Azad Essa's new book.
'Indian soldiers repeatedly mistook my good looks for that of a local Kashmiri.' Haha.

Angry Essa. Such an angry young man. The whole collection of essays in The Moslems reads in a vein of hello-there-irreverent-cynical-almost-rage. As a young Muslim woman, completely wrapped in the cocoon of ideal, romanticised, perfect Islam, and whining about how, 'No, no, this is not what Islam really is,' this read has been a refreshing smack in the jowls.

Sure there's a lot I disagree with [tone mostly: "My God, how can he say that?!!"], but really, one needed to step out of the easily-outraged mold one has been cast into. Enough of placing everything on a pedestal; let's talk smack at a lot of things, throw it open to criticism and mockery, as it were.

Once I got that into my system, it was smooth reading.

The Moslems is a collection of several of Azad's previously published and unpublished works, off his blog and umm, other places [yes, I've researched this really well], and is the Indian edition of his previously published Zuma's Bastards. It covers Azad's experiences with racism, Islamophobia, classism, hypocrisy and other relatively current affairs across the globe [the World Cup in SA, the Arab Spring. As a South African of Indian ethnicity, it was very interesting for me to read his take on Indians in South Africa and the social dynamics within that community, SA Indian Muslims and the diaspora there.
All the chapters in the book are not Moslems-Are-Coming!-related, don't worry. That's just a clever trick to get you to buy the book in the first place. [Aside: Love the cover.]
There's substantial bits on Africa-specific issues, its politics, its untold or severely under-reported horror, and about South Africa in particular, which I was previously clueless about. But, without getting too heavy to read/understand, Azad takes you on a lite-skim ride of his opinions on all these topics. I was lost amidst all the unfamilar names and places, but no so lost that I had to stop reading. [It was also slightly embarrassing that I had no clue about a very significant part of the world. NO CLUE.] 

What I enjoyed especially were Azad's scathing satire pieces, 'Shape without drape: Muslim fashion du jour' [on the burqa ban in France] and 'The brown woman's burden' [on the social dynamics among Indian men and women and the hypocritical racism towards black Africans over and above everything else]. Written in a deadpan tone of reportage, a lot of people actually think Azad's being serious whereas of course, if you have an iota of common sense, you can see what he's doing. [Refer: 'satire'.]

The first section of the book jumps right into the Islamophobia theme, and I found myself cringing, nodding my head and sighing along to various passages. In the burqa-ban satire piece, Azad's dislike of the burqa is made clear. Then again, that's not the point. Like he says: 'I don't like the burqa. Europe doesn't like the burqa. But so what?'
I liked the close to the section as well:
'In spite of being Muslim, and therefore naturally biased in any non-Muslim's eyes, I should be entitled to scream Islamophobia from the rooftops when I encounter it, and I should be able to talk about it in an open forum without sounding like an evil, brainwashed caricature from a bad movie throwing a jihadist tantrum.' 
Saheeh, bro. Just so.

And now we jump to my favourite section of the book, that pertaining to Kashmir. Remember, Azad is NOT Kashmiri. He is Indian by ethnicity, but really he's just South African. 
'I have no allegiance with a teenager made permanently blind from birdshot in Baramullah any more than I have with the ordinary office worker who gets blown up by a bunch of rabid jihadists while commuting in a packed train in Bombay. Likewise, I don't care for an illiterate father left humiliated in front of his sons as he awaits help to fill up an immigration form on a border crossing with any less intensity than for a half-widow in Anantnag, who must go on living in limbo, unsure if her husband would come back dead or alive, if ever.'

'India, Pakistan or Azadi?' is really the crux of the Kashmir 'issue' is it not? ~ No, it isn't because in Kashmir there will never be straightforward answers and I can give you three different replies to the same question on three different days. Well, sort of.
So, anyway. Azad has, as opposed to a lot of non-Kashmiris writing loud, very certain pieces about Kashmir, actually visited the place and written about some of his first-hand experiences there, and the opinions he has built therefrom. Now, any fella broadcasting the relatively unpalatable truths about Kashmir, so well-brushed-under the Indian mainstream media's rendering of the Kashmir narrative, is a friend of mine. I pat Azad on the back. I thank him. As a Kashmiri, this section of the book reads like the obvious truth all of us living here know, but for some strange, infuriating reason, no one in the outside world cares too much.

Azad writes about the questions of Kashmiri identity, how it was growing up there during the 'bad years', state high-handedness, well-documented reports of gross human rights violations, enforced disappearances, legal impunity, and the new generation of Kashmiris that are slowly gearing up to use new media as a tool to open the world's eyes to what Kashmir is all about. He touches upon the Bollywood Kashmir depiction, which all of us [Kashmiris] roll our eyes at. The chapter on cricket bats and Kashmiri willows is interesting, especially seeing as how politics plays a part there as well. Am pretty certain the chapter on Kashmiri Pandits will not go down well with most Indian readers. Okay, the WHOLE section will not go down well in that corner. 
[Aside: As a true blue Kashmiri, I was lapping up all experiences from his essays on the Arab Spring, and applying to the situation in Kashmir. * REVOLUTION! PEOPLE POWER!* Because we do shit like that. Everything can be made Kashmir-specific.]

I really enjoyed The Moslems Are Coming as a pacy read covering a range of topics that interested me, and that I could relate to: Islam[ophobia], racism, hypocrisy, power politics, Kashmir, India, Palestine-Israel, Bollywood, cricket, the World Cup.
Azad's angry, rambling, acerbic style takes getting used to [which, when done by Page 4, makes the rest of the reading easier.] Once I had pinpointed the tone of the book, it was on to enjoying the pieces for their individual merit.
This is not a feel-good book, for rainy afternoons, a quilt and coffee and marshmallows for accompaniment. It makes you uncomfortable, it addresses issues you've all probably thought about more than once, and it certainly makes no bones about highlighting certain things and people and situations as they are. 'Warts and all' is what you'll get. 
I took into account Azad's hyperbole and OTT-isms because there's some of that as well. And at times my hands would rush to my blushing cheeks, thinking: "Mein Gott. He uses the f-word! He said 'whore'. And 'penis'. And 'other things! AAAIIEEE!" [Okay, not really. I don't blush while reading.] 

PS: This post was really not as short as it was meant to be.
PPS: Azad, when are you signing my book?

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Hum ko ma'aloom hai jannat ki haqeeqat lekin
Dil ke khush rakhne ko Ghalib khayaal achha hai.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Mehfil E Moseeqi - Koshur Style

Videos from the night, up on livestream: HERE. About 2+ hours in all.

The Maamu, and the Tulri
Had stunning overnight musical mehfil at our place yesterday. My Maamu has artistic friends. ZOMG FRIENDS LIKE NASEEM UL HAQ 'RAJU' BATT [singer-composer from Doda] and GULAB SAIFI SAHAB [poet from Kishtwar]. Whom he requested to please come on over to Jammu to perform in front of our enthusiastic music-poetry-loving family.

Now, these two gentlemen are really outstanding flagbearers of contemporary Kashmiri culture.
Naseem Ul Haq 'Raju' Batt
Raju has a beautiful, clean, soft voice - very suited to slow ballads [which basically means most all popular Kashmiri songs]. 

Gulab Saifi, poet, works the brooding look 
And Gulab Saifi really impresses with his non-mainstream poetry. He has a unique, #WINNING style of writing, using new words and thoughts in his shaairi. And they have the khanak of spoken Koshur/Kashmiri. 

Both young artists, still not as popular [possibly because they are Pahari, not Valley based?] as some of the other names we hear in Kashmiri music... but their time has come. In music and shaairi circles, these gents are well-known and respected in their fields. The common Kashmiri hasn't heard of them yet. WE MUST CHANGE THIS! Inquilaab!

Oh, you know. Just the family. 
And so. Minimal planning and prepping, headlined by the famous Maamu Malik. It was agreed that all the family [mashaAllah, there are a lot of us when you put together immediate aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, kids] would gather at our place post-dinner on Feb 1 where we'd set up the basics required for best enjoyment of poetry and music. That is: carpets, cushions, blankets and lots of noonchai and kehwa.

Ext. left [black jacket] - Gulab Saifi; ext. right [grey jacket] - Raju
This done, circa 11pm, with local sound guys and accompanying musicians in tow [one tablachi, one percussion board guy], Raju Sahab and Gulab Sahab turned on the brilliance. Maamu added much chutzpah to the night's entertainment. Crowd favourite ka khitaab! 

I decided to try livestreaming the whole performance and what do you know, it worked. Minor glitches here and there but overall, managed to get a live video of the whole Kashmiri music night deal up live. 

Much fun was had with people online from all over, not just Kashmir. We had America, India, Pakistan and I'm not sure where else. Would like to make a special mention of the Twitter gang that put in attendance that night: Shehla, Shahnaz, Rahul, Abhi, Nish, JuneyM, Junaid, Baavri, Mehmal, Yusra, BB,Obaid, Faysal, Sheikh. Nonsense chatting fun. Some trolls of course.

Please click here to view recordings from the Mehfil E Moseeqi at Chez Haji. Three videos lined up under the main screen. The magic started around 11pm and the last song wound up at 0445hrs. Live broadcast went more or less okay. Unfortunately less than half got recorded online. Will scrounge around from various phones and other cameras for missing segments.

Ma [center], flanked by Khaala [r] and Maami
Raju performed a lot of new songs, recently written by Gulab Saifi, and then we had a few classics like that fantastic Jaanbaaz composition: 'Zamaanai Pokh Na Humdum'. A couple of Punjabi and Urdu songs as well.

You will hear me typing, you will see Maamu enthrall the audience and you will hear embarrassing exchanges in between songs that we as a family, collectively, thought were funny then, but now - not so much. If you understand Kashmiri, forgive us our lameness.

Highlights of the night:
1. MAAMU - Everyone loves him: Raju, Gulab, the family, the online viewers. Too much masti and enjoyment. The life of the mehfil.

Raju/Maamu make a funny at Gulab Sb.
2. Excellent ribbing between the protagonists, i.e. Raju Sb, Gulab Sb and the Maamu. Much laughter and joking to and fro as evidence of their camaraderie.

3. Chai-kehwa-girday!

4. Packed house. And pretty laydiesss, as required by any concert.

Tabalchi Bhai, tak dhin dhin tak
5. Much appreciated tabalchi. Bohut aa'la. We all loved you, O Unknown Soldier.

I mean to work on song videos from the night, with translations and subtitles, and put them up on YouTube some time in the near future. Should be fun. Can do with help on the subbing. Let me know which of you want to do a song or two.


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

From Breswana to Bangalore - for Metallica

My blog post in Mint Lounge a couple of days after the Metallica concert.
Basically, it was fantastic, and Shro and I were doing silly shit like this before we headed out for the gig that day:

The complete, unedited, much longer version follows:

It is only fitting that months of planning, excitement, long-distance travels and pre-show jitters came to fruition with a very satisfactory attendance of the Metallica concert followed by temporary deafness in the left ear. Yes. Metallica. I was there.
The magic of attending any live gig lies mostly in the tremendous buildup to it. What goes down at the concert is only the culmination of everything up to that point – scrambling to get initial information, shrieky high-five behaviour with other fanbois and fangirls, huddling with friends to plan attendance and logistics, procuring tickets, travelling to concert city, rendezvous, make-up, costume, emotions, excitement, and… BAM! …final body frisk as one walks into the venue.
Anyway. Here is a full personal account of travels on my noble Metallicause [apologies in advance, this sort of word play will be rampant throughout the piece].
A few days ago, in my village in the mountains of Doda, Jammu and Kashmir, a full day’s travel away from the nearest city, I sheepishly told the parents I had to head down to Bangalore.
‘Why? It’s very far away.’
‘I know. Music concert.’
‘Metallica.’ [*awkward silence followed by quick exit stage right*]
Early next morning, I was packed and ready to leave for the city from the village. Downhill walk for a couple of hours, then on horseback for some time till we got to a motorable road, and finally the highway whence I traveled to Jammu at day’s end. Final packing, more shrieky behaviour and expensive last-minute ticket-booking later, I was ready to begin the final leg of the journey. Overnight on a near-empty train to Delhi – it was Diwali - with phosphoric celebrations in the night sky outside through the lands of Jammu, Punjab and finally, the capital. And the last easy bit - plane hop to Bangalore and its naturally-chilled climes. Two full days of travel concluded, I was here.
Preparations for this had begun back in April 2011, when the first vague rumblings of a possible Metallica gig in India were doing the rounds. As soon as a confirmation came in that Metallica [oh, my God, METALLICA!] was playing in India, one knew one would attend somehow, come what may. By the time tickets were up online in July 2011, with dual options of Gurgaon or Bangalore, I had decided on attending the latter gig [fortuitous?].
Forget about everything else; Bangalore has rock concert vintage. We have had the best of the best here over the years [and we have also had the other sort]. When jokes are made about ‘Bangalore’s knowledgeable crowd,’ it’s not all jokes, let me tell you. More than anything else, Bangalore is known for its rock. From school and college level up, you get a good schooling in indigenous and international rock music. The underground rock scene is booming. Teenagers and their coolth infest garages and makeshift studios across the city. High quality Bangalore bands like Thermal and a Quarter, Galeej Gurus, Kryptos, Synaps have made it big across the country. Let us look proudly on Bangalore’s modern concert history, in no particular order: Mr Big, the Scorpions, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Sting, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Jethro Tull, Mark Knopfler, Roger Waters, Megadeath, Lamb of God, and IRON MAIDEN for the love of God [phraseology to be noted] – they have all played here. It thusly followed that Metallica would too, and that I would witness the event in my home away from home in ‘Luru. And so, on a hot July afternoon in Jammu, this writer purchased concert tickets for October 30, 2011 at the Palace Grounds, Bangalore.
Cometh the hour, cometh the band. With great trepidation one watched news of the Gurgaon fiasco and Metallica’s cancellation there. Bangalore was on the edge of its seat. We waited. And waited. The gig was still on! Celebrations! By the morning of the 30th, the interwebs resounded with many variations of: ‘In Bangalore, Metallican.’ Ha. Ha ha. Precious.
One knows that good people from all over India [and maybe abroad?] had descended on Bangalore to see the band perform. The most obvious travelling fans were identifiable across the city by their unique appearance – in their grungy tees, dirty jeans, long, greasy hair and a certain look - thronging M G Road, loafing in malls, being sullen in pubs. Complete strangers would glance at one another, exchange a slight nod, or alternatively, show the finger affectionately in a spirit of oneness with Metallica. It was almost spiritual.
The morning of the 30th. Comfortable shoes had been purchased just for the event. Attire selected carefully. Rain predictions in [it would rain], we were prepared. Metallica merchandise and jeans for them as had it, and mostly black for the rest. By noon, we were ready to leave. We had decided we’d watch India’s first F1 race after lunching somewhere and then head to the venue. We zeroed in on The Biere Club, renowned for its, well, beeru, and as for my teetotalling sort, I recommend their fresh lime soda [sweet and salt] also. Heady mixture. The flat screen TVs served our F1-viewing motives and it was a most pleasant interlude. The Biere Club was packed to the rafters with other Metallicans, and smug, knowing looks were being thrown around like it was someone’s coming-out party. It was all quite silly, and quite beautiful.
By midday on the 30th, well before the gates opened at three, an ocean of black T-shirts, jeans and otherwise comfortable attire was slowly making its way across to the Palace Grounds. ‘No drinks at the venue’ was the weird rule for this heavy metal gig, so enterprising concert-goers planned an early start to the day and tanked up at various watering holes across the city before staggering in to Palace Grounds. All the contraband that need be smuggled in *wink*nudge* was arranged for also, with bags and pouches concealed artfully in hair, inner garments and footwear.
At five in the evening we pushed out towards the Palace Grounds. Nodding and grinning at all fellow concert goers in other vehicles headed the same way. In a pre-planned maneuver, we parked the car at a friend’s house, quite a ways from the entry at Gayatri Vihar. Hopped an auto and oh-my-God, crazy traffic as we neared the grounds. What a sight. Thousands of black tee shirts inching their way along roads and in vehicles, and streaming in through the gates. We were borderline manic happy. A crush at the beginning where tickets were being checked, and then the final walk towards the stage grounds.
The high-level security at the entrance has to be mentioned specially, and appreciated, and giggled over. We had the faintest of pat downs, and the lady checking one would ask apologetically, ‘Cigarette toh nahin hai?’ [You’re not carrying in cigarettes, right?’] ‘Maachis?’ [‘Matches?’] All one had to do was shake head in the negative, and they would take our word for it and we’d be politely passed on without so much as a ‘But-wait-let-me-check-properly-anyway’. I suppose the men had it easy as well. Let me tell you, a LOT of stuff got in. *grin*
There we were. After decades of fandom and adoration, we were going to watch Metallica [oh, my God, Metallica!] live, in front of our eyes. Right there. Ah, but we could have peed our collective pants. Everyone was smiling. Everyone was ready, all tens of thousands of us.
And so into the crush of bodies, in the rain, trying to home in on the most suitable location to settle down into for the rest of the concert. A few moves and attempts later we found our sweet spot. By this time the opening acts had kicked in. We walked in on Biffy Clyro, a Scottish rock band, warming the crowd up. Apparently two other acts, Guillotine and Inner Sanctum had gone up before, but we missed that lot. It was past 6 now, lightly raining and everything was most enjoyable, even the minor scuffles and shoving that is natural in huge crowds of very drunk, quite stoned people. Biffy Clyro were tight, impressive and did not get booed off stage. That is saying a lot when you’re opening for Metallica.
Then. A lull. Tense moments in between as organizers asked the crowd near the stage to move back a little. ‘We need you to move back so the security can move in.’ ‘Come on, guys, cooperate.’ ‘Safety first.’ What, after the opening acts they realized this needed to be done? I can tell you we were pretty nervous about things turning fugly again. Obviously it took a while, but the knowledgeable Bangalore crowd worked it out in time, much to the chagrin of many people who were hoping for a second cancellation. Ha to you! Ha!
For almost an hour there was nothing except music playing on the speakers. And amusing incidents with cops chasing down people from the scaffolding and sound towers. We waited.
The Black Album or 'Metallica'
And just past eight, the lights went out, the crowd roared, drums and a familiar riff screamed through the air… AND METALLICA TOOK THE STAGE! Starting their set with Creeping Death and right through the two plus hours they played, IT-WAS-ON. Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammet and Trujillo [My heroes! My heroes!] blazed through a mix of their best songs from all albums – Fuel, Ride the Lightning, Sanitarium, Sad But True, One, Master of Puppets, The Memory Remains, Cyanide, Nothing Else Matters and the performance of the evening – Enter Sandman – pyrotechnics and all. The encore closed with Battery and Seek and Destroy. The older music definitely took it, especially songs from The Black Album, because people of a certain vintage [like me] know that music better. So the kids enjoyed the newer numbers more, but the classics were for everyone. The opening riff of Enter Sandman caused a near-frenzy, and the crowd sang as one. Roaring, head banging, smoking, drinking – it was a true-blue concert. Great sound on the speakers [though we lost audio on one set for a couple of numbers in the beginning – fixed soon] and enough big screen projectors for those who couldn’t see the stage that well. From just past eight till about ten thirty, Metallica gave us heavy. For me, Hetfield’s clear vocals, Ulrich’s crazy drumming and Hammett’s guitars-from-the-gut always win it. The gig of the year wound up with the band thanking us, us thanking them, them throwing souvenirs into the crowd, emotions running high and overall awesomeness.
As the band disappeared, we hung around on the grounds taking it all in. Thousands of happy fans – Bangaloreans and guests of Bangalore - with our once-in-a-lifetime experience. Metallica’s first ever gig in India. With the promise of more as they left. All of us were mud-stained, tired and happy. Feet killing us. Many smiles. The throng moved out slowly. There was the long trudge out to the gates, and then the horror of exiting the car park. By the time we worked our way out it was well past midnight.
As always after a late night, Bangalore headed to the very few restaurant chains it knew would still be open – the most popular being Empire. We headed to the Infantry Road joint and one hears that all the Empires were hit alike. So also those comfortable eats in the heart of Shivajinagar that know how to care for the nocturnals. It was like a spillover from the concert. Hundreds of hungry rock fans laid siege to the restaurant, some eating outside on the street, some seated, some waiting. Everyone was served, the entire black sea of concert goers - it was slightly surreal.
That was a special day. A good day. Completely worth the long pilgrimage here from my mountains. As the deafness in my left ear wanes, let me end the narrative with a suitable smarmy something I read online: ‘If you like Metallica, raise your hand. If you don’t, raise your standards.’ Such Metallicads we be. And well done, Bangalore, you do us proud again and again.