ocean's three

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A profile of India's biggest independent band.













    Af t e r 2 0 y e a r s , f i v ealbums and 700 con-certs around the world,the members of Indian Oceanare the first to admit they're fedup of each other.No matter where I go in the

    world, I have to wake up tothese faces every single day. It'sas terrible as being married,says 48-year-old Susmit Sen,dressed in a full-sleeve T-shirtand corduroy pants, clouded ina haze of cigarette smoke.The Indian Ocean guitarist,

    short hair parted neatly side-ways, is lounging backstagebefore a concert at Dr DY PatilCollege, Nerul, Navi Mumbai.It's a rare quiet moment for theformer advertising executive,between hours of tedious soundchecks and a live show.His bandmates, 36-year old

    drummer Amit Kilam and46-year old bassist Rahul Ram,are watching the fashion showfrom backstage, while a crowdof 20-year-old college studentsdrifts in and out of the audito-rium. In spite of being India'sbiggest independent band, theirentourage is minimal, andthey're more than happy toblend in with the crowd.The concert, held on 20 Janu-

    ary, was the band's second aftervocalist Asheem Chakravarty'suntimely demise on 25 Decem-ber. When Chakravarty wastaken ill on the final leg of their2009 world tour, the band hadbeen hopeful of his recovery.His loss was sudden, and theband members answer ques-tions about him matter-of-factly, in short, curt sentences.It's a huge loss, says drum-

    mer Kilam. But we're doingconcerts, so we're already get-ting used to not having him per-

    form with us. Experimentingwith a new line-up, IndianOcean went on to play in fourIndian cities across Februaryand March, before taking abreak to finish their upcomingseven-song album 16/330 Kha-joor Road, their first in fiveyears. After numerous delays,the album is due out on 25 July,and with typical Indian Oceancommercial indifference (theband makes most of its moneyfrom concerts), will be free fordownload from their website.Age is on Sen's mind. The

    band has gone through muchemotional turmoil over sixmonthsa flux that has threat-ened their stoic two-decadeexistence. Between the distantdin of pounding bass music andthe occasional spikes of loudcheers from the audience, hesays: There's this dialogue inthe film Jalwa where Naseeru-din Shah tells his senior, `Aadmiaur achaarmein farak hota hai'.I love this line. Age has nothingto do with maturing. I'm notsure if I havematuredwith age.For a band that doesn't shy

    away from exploring complexpolitical and environmentalthemes, their irreverence is justas famous. Ask their manager,or the bands that have travelledwith them in the past, and theyall say the same thing: Here's agroup that can be profound andsilly in the same breath, a groupwithout an iota of serious-ness. Serious debates at theirpractice space in Delhi's KarolBagh (whose address is the newalbum's title) can descend intofarce at a moment's notice, andnothing is beyond the reach ofa bad joke.The phrase chilled out is

    evoked often, even though theband still does close to 80 showsa year, with about 30 of themoutside the country. People

    say that art comes out of 5% tal-ent and 95% sweat, says Sen.But for creativity, I think themost important thing is to relax.I wouldn't call it inspiration butjust the ability to relax to allowself-expression.There's an age-agnostic

    t imelessness about the i rmusic as well. The fan favour-ite Kandisa, from the 2000album of the same name,channels a millennia-old Ara-maic hymn, while the politi-cally charged Bandeh, one ofthe few Indian Ocean songs toreceive healthy radio airplay,ends with a loud, raucous, dis-torted electric guitar solo.Being part of the band

    makes me fee l s l i k e I 'menjoying youth again. Andthis time without any inhibi-tions, Sen says, shrugging. Iguess when you're creativeyou don't grow old.

    Watering holeThe story of how Indian Oceancame to be involves the pre-Par-tition Delhi mansion on Kha-joor Road in Karol Bagh wherePakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faizattended poetry sessions, a manwith a mosquito swatter, and anerrant South African emu.Sen met Chakravarty in 1984,

    and the duo jammed and builttheir sound over the next fewyears, playing the occasionalsmall gig. Chakravarty was amathematics graduate whobecame a soil investigator forconstruction sites. Sen, who'dstudied economics and man-agement, workedwith an adver-tising firm and left his job onlyafter Indian Ocean's first albumwas released many years later.I did pretty well. I would havebeen one of those successfultypes. Richer but unhappy.The name IndianOcean, sug-

    gested by Sen's father, stuck in

    1990, and the band recorded ademo tape with a line-up thatthen consisted of ShaleenSharma on drums, IndrajitDutta and Anirban Roy on bass.The tape impressed HMVenough for it to agree to analbum. By this time, bassistRahul Ram had joined theranks, and the album, simplycal led Indian Ocean , wasrecorded with the help ofcrummymikes and a sozzledsound recordist in Kolkata.The album's release, how-

    ever, was mired in a Byzantinebureaucratic web, and gotpushed back continuously.When it finally released in 1993,it was a rare momenta cas-sette of original songs by anIndian band that was devoid ofcovers or Bollywood histrionics.When Asheem and I started

    out, wewere convinced it wouldlast. We were told that bandscan't do original numbers, thatif we needed to survive we'dhave to play famous Hindisongs. Perhaps we were the firstto compose our own songs. Forus, music was always moreimportant than churning outsongs, says Sen.T h e b a n d h a s a l w a y s

    tightly reined in their output,not releasing songs unti lthey ' re deemed ready .Indian Ocean's collectiveoutput has resulted in about30 songs in 26 years.T h e b a nd ' s s i g n a t u r e

    line-upKilam, Ram, Sen andChakravartywas finalized in1994. Kilam, then only 20 andstill juggling exams with drumpractice, joined after ShaleenSharma's departure. A fewyears of touring later, theirDe s e r t R a i n a l b um wa sreleased in 1997, a live record-ing of the 1997 Sahmat concertat Mandi House, which theband had actually recorded to

    listen to for mistakes.Sanjoy Roy, a director with

    independent production com-pany Teamwork Films, wasmanaging the band at the time.He's not sure of the year hestarted, but says it was around15-16 years ago. Desert Rainwas a fresh new sound, it wasexperimentalso we had onlyone record label willing to dis-tribute it, he says. After itbecame popular, for the band'ssecond album a whole bunch ofthem turned up.This behaviour, he says, was

    symptomatic of the recordingindustry at the time. Recordcompanies were not willing toexperiment. If (Alisha Chinai's)Made in India became a hit, thenext 10 albums they cut wouldsound exactly like Made inIndia, he says.Roy remembers a concert at

    Delhi's India Habitat Centrearound that time. One recordcompany executive pushed hisway through the crowd to meetthe band. He said, `I love themusic, great concert. We shouldcut an album. But we need to,you know, jazz it up a bit, andplay a few Bollywood songs.'Can you believe that? Theband's Bollywood debut wasnearly a decade away at thispoint, and they'd evolve a sim-ple rule on film projects: Mostdirectors come to us becausetheywant `IndianOcean'music,and not the other way around,

    Sen says. The band has con-tributed the song Des Merafrom their 2003 album Jhini tothe soundtrack of the upcom-ing Aamir Khan-produced filmPeepli Live.T h e b a n d ' s s i g n a t u r e

    sounddriven by Sen's acous-tic guitar and Chakravarty's per-cussion (the vocals weren't soprominent back then)madethe band hard to classify andpigeonhole. I call it music fromthe roots, Roy says. It has aheavy classical component. Notrock, not pop.But the rock music landscape

    at the time was challenging,dominated by a few big bands.It was difficult in the early days.It was Parikrama yay, IndianOcean, who? Also, they weren'ta great actit was great music,but not a great act, Roy says.The need to create a stage

    show evolved through constanttouring, and Indian Ocean'smusic matured just as theirunderground reputation cameto the fore. Parikrama, on theother hand, let their songwritingstagnate, and Indian Oceansoon overtook them in bothpopularity and critical acclaim.Times Music signed the

    b and i n 1 9 9 8 , a n d t h e ystepped into a professionalstudio, minus the sozzledrecordist, to record their sec-ond album, Kandisa. Releasedin 2000, the album marked aturning point in the band's for-

    tunes. It was this album thatsaw them tour extensivelythroughout the world.We performed this one gig in

    Kalgoorlie, Australia, says Roy. I t w a s a r e a l o n e h i c ktownwith, like, one road goingthrough it, and the concert wasscheduled at an open park rightnext to the local zoo.So the guys start playing,

    and meanwhile, this emu in thezoo, presumably grooving toIndianOceanmusic, breaks freeof its cage, he says. The errantemu charged through the crowdand jumped on stage. So theaudience is watching in shockas the emu, for some reason,starts chasing Susmit. After ashort chase and an impasse,Susmit and the emu begansparring in front of the crowd,Sen jabbing at it with his gui-tar. Let's face it, he didn'tstand a chance. The emu is ano-nonsense animal. It wasn'tgoing to just let Susmit offeasy! Thankfully, before anyfurther damage to the emu orSen, the zookeepers arrivedand took the animal away.Kandisa was a commercial

    success, and also featuresmost of the band's trademarktunesMa Rewa, based on apaean to the river Narm