The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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May they stay... forever young

Calcutta has always had a strong Shillong connection, as far as music on Park Street goes. When I was cutting my teeth as a beginner in 1968 with a band called Checkered Tricycle in Trincas, hanging on for dear life playing almost the same rhythm for most of the songs, the suave and debonair Toto Wahlang, billed as The Golden Voice from Shillong, was winning hearts at the same venue. Backed by the house band, he accompanied himself on electric guitar and did fine renditions of a number of Elvis Presley songs, among others.

A few blocks away at Moulin Rouge was Lou Majaw, who needs no introduction to today's Park Street milieu. He was known as Louis Sohtun then, and was in a band called Oracle Bones. Eddie Rynjah, also from Shillong, was in the same band. Lou later moved to Trincas, as a solo performer, singing Dylan songs for the first time, this time as Louis Lewis, a stage name given to him by Mr Ellis Joshua, who ran the place.

There was also a group called The Vanguards, and a few years later Eddie Rynjah joined The Flinstones (a Calcutta band) on bass guitar and vocals and became a hugely popular figure. Eddie and I played together as well, in bands like Volume Three and Great Bear. These are the people I remember; there must have been others too.

During the lean years on Park Street when club nights, concerts and campus gigs kept many musicians going, there was a reversal of traffic and many Calcutta bands and musicians started visiting Shillong and other places in the Northeast. Shiva made many trips; my first came in 1986, to Guwahati with High, and then again in 1988 for the first time to Shillong and Mokokchung (in Nagaland) and the following year to Kohima.

Today, I have lost track of the number of visits made to this enchanting part of the world where music forms an integral part of the very fabric of life.

In the late 1990s when live music on Park Street was revived at Someplace Else, Lou Majaw returned and has become a familiar face once again; we also brought down the band Meghalaya Love Project and another band, Soulmates, featuring Rudy Wahlang (son of The Golden Voice), has also performed at SPE. Soulmates is one of the country's few genuine blues bands and singer Tibriti is one of our finest female vocalists. The connection continues'

So right on cue, when Bob Dylan's 65th birthday came around last week, we were in Shillong to celebrate it, an unbroken tradition of 34 years, initiated by Lou Majaw, of course.

The curtain raiser was in Calcutta at SPE where Ace of Spades (Lou Majaw, Lew Hilt, Arjun 'Aja' Sen and myself) did a 90-minute set, and by the May 22, we had all congregated to celebrate at The Shillong State Central Library auditorium on the big day itself (24th).

The event has grown in stature; there is a lot of media attention, sponsorship, event management and the rest, which has evoked mixed reactions, but personally, it is that fleeting moment on stage that thrills.

Can we find the magic' Is Lou's body language talkin' Is Aja letting off those guitar salvos with the cutting edge that ignites a song' Am I locking with Lew, whose bass provides backbone and colour like few others'

Other artistes to perform were Anjan Dutt and son Neel from Calcutta ' solos and duet ' and Liz Cotton from England (based now in Delhi). There was studio work too. All of us went up to Doordarshan Kendra Shillong to perform a few songs as well.

Whatever the itinerary, the food and partying are built around it. If May 23 is TV station at 2 pm, some of us will forego lunch and wait till 5 pm to hit that tiny little wooden shack just outside the DD Kendra gate where a beautiful, wizened old Khasi lady serves up some fabulous homely fare.

This year there was sticky rice as always, the very lightest of dals and a chutney made from thin slivers of fried pork in a mish-mash of onion, garlic, tomato and chilli. There was also a pork dish (Doh Sniang) and beef kofta (Doh Shian).

If sound check for the concert is at 12.30 pm, then it simply must be followed by lunch at Jeremy's (another son of Toto Wahlang) who runs a place called Naga Mandarin just next to the fire brigade, on the way to Nongthumai, the finest place for Naga food.

This year there was Pork with Bamboo Shoot, Smoked Beef, Mixed Pork (liver, kidney, intestine etc.), Smoked Fish Curry, boiled mashed potatoes with mustard oil, chopped onions, green chillies and chopped tomatoes ' Bengali style, except for the tomatoes ' a wonderful chutney made from fermented fish (Tung Tap), tomatoes, chilli, onion and garlic, steamed cabbage and a soup made with the stock from the cabbage, mashed potato and flavoured with a salty, dry fish (Ktung Mluh).

If we are performing at St Mary's Convent at 12 noon on the 25th, we have connived with each other to get invited to Jeremy's home for an astonishing Naga lunch (his wife Atu is from Nagaland; an ace cook whose recipes are served up at the restaurant). This is a meal I cannot begin to describe.

This trip I also managed to get hold of a book, NE Belly, with recipes from all seven Northeastern states, with the addition of Sikkim. Written by Ashish Chopra, it has recipes for many of the items mentioned, and innumerable others, such as the Khasi dish Jadoh, a personal favourite, a kind of pulao with pig's liver and rice. There is also Aso Adin (a mutton stew from Arunachal Pradesh) as well as an amazing array of vegetarian dishes from the region.

The attraction of this cuisine is its scarcity value, the almost total absence of oil and spices, as we know them to be used, and the unfamiliar ingredients (to us) that give it character. Also, if you are partying non-stop, it is the perfect food.

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