Posts Tagged With: memoir

A chronicle of a musical life

Ocean to OceanTitle: Ocean to Ocean
Author: Susmit Sen and Sehba Imam
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: September 2014
Pages: 160
ISBN: 9789351362012
Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction, Music
Rating: 3.5/5

Jimi Hendrix, the American singer and guitar virtuoso, when talking about how he was a source of inspiration for many musicians, famously said, “I’ve been imitated so well, I’ve heard people copy my mistakes.” But Susmit Sen, instead of walking in the footsteps of the likes of Hendrix, read the writing on the wall: “This is not for me.” If there’s one thing that a lifetime in music has taught Sen, the frontrunner of the iconic band Indian Ocean, is how ‘originality’ is not only a test of your integrity but also a yardstick to measure your musical genius. And this instinct was what got the band through. In his memoir, Ocean to Ocean, Sen writes, “If I am asked to name only one thing that guided the music of Indian Ocean, I will say originality.”

When Indian Ocean, one of the most creative bands in India, started to lose this very quality, when the band was merely working to a formula, he felt the first tinges of creative dissatisfaction. He rues, “Had we exhausted our originality and lost our ability to come up with new compositions? Or were we losing courage? On the one hand, success encourages you to create new fare, but as you go along, it sometimes terrifies you into staying with the tried and tested.” Finally, on the day the band performed Nani teri morni ko mor le gaye and Old Macdonald had a farm, Sen took a decision to part ways with the band. He recalls, “There is a fine line between expression and circus and I could see it clearly now.”

As you read Sen’s account of his life with Indian Ocean, you gradually begin to notice a few loose ends. Maybe a take from the other band members would have helped clarify a few things. But this is Sen’s memoir after all, and the beauty of it lies in the honest and unarmed manner he recounts it. Divided into 16 chapters, the narrative is dotted with anecdotes from Sen’s life, weaving in and out of his personal life and his musical journey.

You learn about his first brush with Hindustani classical music as he wistfully recalls, “In my attempts to hand around her (the girl he had a crush on), I discovered that her father was a classical music aficionado and a regular at Hindustani music concerts. I figured this was the best way to get close to her, so I tagged along.”

In another chapter, he talks about how Indian Ocean first took shape. “By 1990 we had three bass players, Aseem on vocals, Shaleen on drums and me, finally doing what I loved the most — exploring how my guitar could express sounds that emerged from nowhere and asked to be expressed,” he writes. One chapter in particular, titled Aseem will leave you teary-eyed as Sen recounts Aseem’s harrowing demise due to diabetes.

The hardbound book, co-authored by Sehba Imam, also comes with a copy of the eponymous debut album from Sen’s latest music ensemble, Susmit Sen Chronicles. This album, which will take you back in time to the alluring sound and style of ‘Indian Ocean,’ together with the book offers a captivating look at how Sen had to “swim out of the ocean, only to re enter it once again — this time not for its vastness, but for its depth.”

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Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Books, Harper Collins, Memoir, Nonfiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A witty testament to a journalistic life

Off the Record

Title: Off the record: Untold stories from a reporter’s diary
Author: Ajith Pillai
Publisher: Hachette India
Published: July 2014
Pages: 384
ISBN: 9789350097847
Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 5/5

There are news stories that we read in the papers and the magazines everyday — and then there are those stories that are off-the-record testaments, stories that fall through the gaps of daily reporting, or are too incendiary to be printed. Told with intensity, brevity and candour, these are the stories that form the subject of veteran journalist Ajith Pillai’s new book, Off the Record.  He presents first-hand accounts of his adventures as a  journalist for over twenty years in an India that saw dramatic changes and transformed completely into the 21st century new India.

Written with eloquent simplicity and filled with allusions to the country’s socio-political and cultural fabric, this memoir traces Pillai’s sojourn from a young copywriter in an ad agency to a journalist who learnt how to call a spade a spade. Flipping through the pages, we are taken on a memorable journey with Pillai; as each chapter segues into the next, his writing evokes compelling instances. From a standoff with Dawood Ibrahim’s henchman in Dubai, Chota Shakeel to a tense encounter between V S Naipaul and the underworld; from a face-to-face interview with Mumbai mafia don Varadarajan Mudaliar to a concert by Silk Smitha (or her lookalike) on New Year’s Eve; from being witness to the auctioning of Pooja Bedi’s bikini to a Rs. 10,000 imaginary dinner at the uber La Rotisserie, these stories capture the behind-the-scenes action, at times measured, often cynical and  humorous, giving the reader a ringside view of a journalist’s life. Pillai also digs into his bag of tales from Kashmir demonstrating all that formed the political underpinnings of the state and the issues that continue to eat away at its base fabric.

Pillai also throws the spotlight on the role of the media as the fourth estate, with the spectre of the nexus of news and corruption looming large. In the first chapter of the book, he informs the reader that the utopian concept of a perfect newspaper, editor or reporter doesn’t exist, except in the mind of an aspiring journalist who has not yet seen the machinations that govern the industry. He goes on to highlight the malady plaguing most newspaper organisations. “Commercial considerations can often weigh on editorial decisions and a good story can be rejected or cut to size,” he writes.

At the same time, he also notes that despite all its flaws, the Indian media is still largely vibrant and free. A journalist in today’s world has to be far more vigilant. Journalism, like any other profession, requires persistence, disciplined practice and above all, an open mind. Off the record teaches a good deal about this.

Jeremy Seabrook, the British author and columnist, says of the book, “This ought to be a handbook for all aspiring journalists, since Pillai is an enemy of sycophantic corporate ideology and craven submissiveness to wealth and power which characterise most of today’s celebrity-writers.” We agree. This book is a true reporter’s diary.

Buy the book on Amazon or Flipkart


A version of this has appeared in The New Indian Express on September 16, 2014

Categories: Articles- New Indian Express, Books | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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