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‘Calling Elvis’ and others — A book discussion with author Shantanu Datta

The journalist-author spoke about his collection of impressive musical encounters at Zach’s Lounge in Dalhousie Institute

Manisha Maity | Published 25.07.23, 03:05 PM
 Shantanu Datta in conversation with (right) Leslie D’Gama about his book, ‘Calling Elvis’

Shantanu Datta in conversation with (right) Leslie D’Gama about his book, ‘Calling Elvis’

All photos from the event by Manisha Maity

As a journalist writing on arts, culture, and politics since 1987, Shantanu Datta has been distinctly lucky, embracing extraordinary encounters and opportunities throughout his career.

Shantanu’s book Calling Elvis, published in 2020 by Speaking Tiger publications, not only documents his encounters with an impressive roster of rock stars such as Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler, and Rolling Stone’s Keith Richards, but also sheds light on landmark concerts and the contributions of seminal figures of India’s music history, including violinist L. Subramaniam, keyboard veteran Louis Banks, and bands like High and Moheener Ghoraguli. The book reads like a medley of memories, and with every turn of the page, the sweet notes from that time, resounding in the mind of the reader. Its essence is akin to a beloved mixtape.


It is unlikely that any other Indian has had the privilege of interacting with such a remarkable array of musicians. So much for being in the right place at the right time!

And so the story goes…

On an evening of erratic showers and mucky roads, Calling Elvis called the music enthusiasts of the city to convene at Zach’s Lounge in Dalhousie Institute (DI), a venue that reverberates with a rich musical past. Once dominated by the Anglo-Indians, DI has had a profound connection with Western music. Known for hosting the Jazz Festival since 1978, it stands as a haven for jazz connoisseurs. Few places in the country can boast of hosting illustrious names like the great American trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and legendary guitarist John McLaughlin, to name just a couple of them.

Recognising the immense contribution of the Anglo-Indian community to Western music in India, Leslie D’ Gama — a teacher, a musician, and the junior vice-president of the club who was instrumental in putting this session together — jests that in the books of Dalhousie Institute, AI stands for Anglo-Indians, implying that he’s unperturbed by the threats of artificial intelligence to music. Leslie, who also steered the book discussion, made sure all the right chords were struck while talking about the stars featured in the book.

The evening began with Dilip Balakrishnan and High addressing the sophistication of their original music. Mala Balakrishnan, present in the audience, added a special touch to the evening as she shared heartfelt details about her late husband’s music, their rehearsal pad and his fondness for big speakers, which he insisted on having in their modest living room.

Dilip Balakrishnan, Devdan Sen, John Brinand, Nondon Bagchi, PC Mukherjee

Dilip Balakrishnan, Devdan Sen, John Brinand, Nondon Bagchi, PC Mukherjee

Courtesy Jaimin Rajani

The conversation then shifted to the genius of Miles Davis, with recollections from the chapters featuring jazz masters Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin and the late Wayne Shorter. The discussion naturally moved on to the likes of Dire Straits and its frontman, Mark Knopfler, giving the audience a walkthrough of the book, exploring chapters showcasing music legends from Shantanu’s personal history.

The author shared that the idea of writing this book came about during a casual conversation with a journalist friend over drinks and music, where they were discussing some of his encounters with musicians. The book takes its name from the author’s music column, ‘Calling Elvis’, which appeared in The Indian Express.

While so many found a spot in the book, speaking about the ones who didn’t make the cut, Shantanu said, “A brief encounter (thankfully, from a distance though) with the Spice Girls when they had come to Delhi in the 1990s and performed three-four songs (lip-synced, I am sure) for the Channel V awards; a couple of good British folk bands whose names I don’t recall now; Trilok Gurtu, whom I met briefly in Calcutta; and also Biddu whom I ran into the loo, and then later managed a conversation with at a concert in Bangalore!”

Jim Keltner, the renowned American drummer and percussionist known for his session work with The Beatles, and Ry Cooder, the six-time Grammy-winning solo guitarist, are at the top of Shantanu’s list of people he wishes to connect with.

Shantanu with some of the guests from the evening

Shantanu with some of the guests from the evening

The event witnessed the presence of Calcutta band Easy Riders (Sumit Bhattacharya, Soumyajit Dutta, Arka Das), who’re known for playing their renditions of Dilip Balakrishnan’s songs along with their own, singer-songwriter Jaimin Rajani, known for his hit album Cutting Loose, and rock star granddad Sayan Mukerji of Jiverz, a cool mood rock outfit, music evangelist Babi Mitra, who was instrumental in setting up music shops across the country, and a host of club members.

As the ceremony ended, Shantanu presented a copy of the book to his school friend Jayajit Biswas, the club president for the DI Library. The celebration continued in the bar downstairs, with the audience enjoying videos of songs mentioned in the book.

Shantanu presenting his book to Jayajit Biswas

Shantanu presenting his book to Jayajit Biswas

Shantanu writes in the book, “For I embraced Calling Elvis as being about music’s higher calling, being anchored to your roots and respecting the past. It articulated sentiments that all great artists try not to lose connection with.”

“Faces of people who everyone knows… Music or politics Rudiger gets his kicks”

– Mark Knopfler

Shantanu Datta is a senior editor with The Telegraph Online and writes on arts, culture, music and politics.

Last updated on 25.07.23, 04:49 PM

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