The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Remembering those good old times

Winter has traditionally not been a time of discontent in this part of the world, especially for those whose lives revolve around entertainment and hospitality.

It has always been, and still is, party time. Form, shape and size may have changed but the essential philosophy has not.

For musicians, winter is peak season here. Not so much now as in yesteryear, but still a time to look forward to.

I remember as a schoolboy, mother suddenly announced at the dinner table one evening that she was off to the Sadarang Music Conference and if anyone was interested in going along, they better speak up quick.

Up went my hand. And so began a wondrous chapter in which mother and son, over a period of three years or so, attended every single music conference possible.

As I remember, there were at least four or five each year; each one lasted at least five days if not a week, culminating on a weekend and the last night (or two) being all-night affairs. Kala Mandir, Rabindra Sadan, Mahajati Sadan and Dover Lane became regular haunts.

Mother's enthusiasm was infectious and often we would be joined by my uncles Subrata ('Major') Bakshi and Arun Pramanik; the four of us shivering in the cold outside the auditorium over a bhar of hot tea and phulkopir singara at 2.30 am in between a vocal performance by Sunanda Patnaik and a sitar recital by Nikhil Banerjee.

Sitting there, soaking it all in, not understanding much, unable to identify ragas accurately, but just living in the middle of a rich story, up close with performers like Amir Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, Amjad Ali Khan, Girija Devi, Keramat Khan, Samta Prasad, Gyan Prakash Ghosh, Laddan Khan, Jaan Tirakwa, Alla Rakha and so many others.

A stone's throw away from some of these venues an entirely different kind of party ' Christmas and New Year and the Yuletide spirit infecting one and all on Park Street mainly, but Calcutta 16 in general, spreading out to places like the Rangers Club and venues in Park Circus as well.

Patent leather shoes, tuxedos, silk and satin, top-class entertainment, cabaret, dancing all night and even outside the night clubs, in the other clubs ' Tolly, CC&FC, DI and so on, at different parishes, something or the other happening every single Saturday night, and invariably involving a live band.

By now in university and playing pop and rock of the sixties and early seventies, winters cooked for us. Most seasons, one was lucky enough to be in a band and if not, usually there was freelance work to do on the more important nights of the year. It was heady stuff and the icing on the cake was the outstation work.

A good gig was the Steel City Golf Tournament at the Beldih Club in Jamshedpur where they laid out some of the most incredible dinners ' suckling pig and all ' on the final night of the tournament, which was marked by a dance.

Even more special was travelling up to Assam to play at the tea gardens or a place like the Zalonig Club at the Oil India headquarters in Duliajan. These shows took us to a different space and time altogether. We got to travel through some of the most picturesque country and many of the venues were in the most beautiful of settings.

Things moved at a languid pace; hospitality was at its gracious best and the tradition was ' and still is ' to have a dinner dance on Saturday night for those over 16 years of age and then a lavish lunch the next day when those who couldn't party at night could come out for the afternoon jam session and catch a piece of the action.

Of course, the adults got the best of both worlds ' for them, and the band, it was just one long party with a small breather for some sleep in the early hours of Sunday. The resumption, more often than not, was marked not by tea or breakfast, but a Bloody Mary.

Fortunately, these winter-time attractions still exist, though the scale on which they happen has changed, as has their shape and form. There are far fewer music conferences as we knew them and some of the events that do take place have become a bit like something you might find noted down in a socialite's diary.

On the other side, live bands get nowhere near the work they used to. DJs and their remixes are the in thing and at some events they exist side by side with the live bands.

People's tastes have also changed and most live bands have some Bollywood or Bhangra in their repertoire. But the party goes on and in that respect we have had a good season this year.

And for those who still enjoy serious, honest live music in the form of jazz, blues and beyond there is the annual Congo Square event at the Dalhousie Institute to look forward to.

Over January 21 and 22, we will get to hear musicians from Brazil, France and Germany and also old son of Calcutta Lew Hilt (now a Delhiite) with co-musicians Aja Sen and Adhiraj Murtafy in their band HFT. On January 27, Congo Square is working in tandem with the US Consulate and BET Jazz for AIDS awareness to make it possible for us to hear some serious heavyweights like Kenny Garret (who has been here before), Nicholas Payton and Lisa Henry.

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