Indian Popular Music – my journey untold

(Featured image: courtesy T-Series, is just for inspiration from life of a legend in context of of this blog, but has no bearing of  having any kind of personal association with its content, but wishing “Mogul” the very best for its release)

It was early 1990s when returning from Mumbai to catch the Delhi bound flight I had just reached the counter to get my boarding pass when a short, sweaty, but a very good looking man in white kurta and a large red ‘tilak’ on forehead came running ahead of me in the Q. With a boyish grin he was apologetically imploring to the lady that he got late and must get on the flight ahead of the one that I was to board much later.

The man needed no introduction but he was saying “I am Gulshan Kumar” and there was such humility in the request that all waiting in the queue smiled for Ashiqi-1 had been released and was to be the highest grosser in history of Indian cinema and Music. T-Series was to outlive many upturns and downturns, but I will never forget a man who sold juice in my neighborhood of Daryaganj, Delhi during my youth and I did not know him then! But I sense a chord, pride and always infinite motivation in that temple of music called Golden Chariot Studios in Andheri, Mumbai and the gateman is still courteous even in his refusals when I just chance it on Mumbai trips to meet them.

It was exactly 10 years ago that I found myself sitting a good 4-5 hours in the plush all-white office of Mr. Bhushan Kumar at T-Series where Mr. Ajay Kapoor had courteously left me while we discussed my first attempt at a music album when I had just started making my own songs but knew very little about recorded music. An old overused cassette player amidst splendor and large posters of Bollywood stardom was a gaping oddity. Later on, seeing a similar gadget outside of A. R. Rahman’s studio in Chennai, it was to be one of my most fantastic lessons of music – the best music must sound ‘right’ on normal gadgets where majority of 1.25 billion Indians get to listen and it was that many times I posted a song which sounded good in my studio and horrible to the listener…so sorry folks – it takes time, okay!

Well, it would have been okay if I started in my teens when my charm was winning school and college audiences, but no sweat absolutely even now if some unlikely experts of what sells would link me to Sonu Nigam’s dad while you know what I would have liked, right? The great guru Ghulam Mustafa Khan sahab, kind enough to inaugurate my little studio set up and many associated with Bollywood music explained about ‘universality of music’ where in these times one must know about technology, markets, stories of musicians past and present and making best use of available resources in a ‘digital world’ that makes life easy and complex per our own quality of ‘usage’.

Note: This is background of my fresh single “Apni Kahaniyan” which says every musician/songwriter given his freedom will do it like his heart says (please listen to demo attached) not what goes (“chalta hai”) – my principles and advise to young musicians.

I am at a stage where I feel certain that mastery of every musical nuance may be a personal objective, but it is what we want to say with our music that counts and we will learn through this treacherous path  if ‘stardom’ be not the reason for a song to be born. My era of ‘concert for Bangladesh’ and “we are the world” is proof of the “power of reason” to do music.

Never satisfied with just one division in my core profession(s), I was completely confused with questions “are you coming as a singer, or a composer”. A lifetime stretching from Indian classical music of mom, writing my feelings into music even as a kid on harmonium and then winning 1st prizes for my own compositions sung at college fests; such questions had never even crossed my mind, so I said “I am all of them”. Of course people laugh, people question the very basics of my tonal qualities and ‘sound’ with even greater gusto and admonish. Yes, even my immediate family would do that and is my first test always!

I am twisting words of a fellow writer, but ‘it take years of a lifetime (in my mode of execution) to find that ONE song we have really done well’ and let’s add LoL, for its modernity in context of “Baby ko Bass pasand hai” so man, give her Bass. Munde ko “chaar botal vodka” and to me that great shabad and bhajan from AR, so fine man let’s just do what we must, else we are not even on the path and as long as we are restless it’s ON; we peep into some other’s exam paper and we are gone!

But if Mr. Gulshan Kumar is to be a symbol, then age, genre and just endless knowledge of music be damned. We often misread our gurus who emphasize the necessity of ‘perfection’; but more than anything what it needs is immense passion, a desire to appreciate other singers, music around the world, musicians of all kinds and ethos of an ever-changing society and it goes for parentage to know that a Badshah will sell ahead of a Pritam or Rahman and neither have any qualms about that!

So 10 years into making my music, I have entered a critical phase of creating a philosophy of balance of life from lessons of a lifetime; the basic essence of what’s music that created the great songwriters of the world from Bob Dylan, Beatles, Kenny Rogers, Cat Stevens and so many of western lyrical musicians of my own youth and admiration to how Indian popular music is presently unfolding and wishing ourselves well on WORLD MUSIC DAY that was day before yesterday 21/3.

The critical aspect is that it is Indian music where divisions were created to accommodate a infant Bollywood industry known for the legends when there used to have just ‘top 3 or 4’ male and female singers. Mr. Gulshan Kumar and T-Series were going to put all theories of ‘what is perceived as music’ into the can. Meeting ‘music- makers’ from music industry anywhere in the world I learnt most did not know all about music, but had the gut feel on what will be liked and sell but never 100% sure until it actually does! So, I personally just live on gut feel of what I think I want to make for the moment and each song I make convinces me it will be a hit – Kick A** man, I’ll do my own Bass n Kick as I know the technology after all my closed door madness of a decade even along with my fighting entrepreneurship.

 And I just believe that’s how the great world musicians whose LP covers are now decorated in my son’s room would have thought. Oh yes, sonny is learning the twine that connects past to present and we no longer argue over what’s music of today that will sell. This essentially is my victory that matters today as I write this blog.

And so I plead these great impact specialists who make the people who make music today, to go beyond the Bass and sexy video that sells phase, cuz I am kicking A** to tell the world what I think of their questions. Yet I am stringing past and present to start with my day with Indian classical ‘Alaap’ on harmonium, which then breaks into a ghazal or bhajan in a raga of choice and time and it is then that the Bass N Kick and what pleases my ears tells me “yes – that’s the MIX!”

And with these words I am attaching this demo clip of multiple songs from the 100s of songs on my ‘sessions’ (as I write songs faster than I can finish them). This all came, damning the ‘tabalchi’ who won’t come, the guitarist who is now playing for the movies and too busy for a virgin recording artiste of future – digital music where we fill in for them.

Also, now I do not use studio monitors to finish my music…I use the Chandni Chowk purchased desktop speakers or cheap headphones and damn if my pocket does not allow me that expensive microphone and hardware which would reduce my ‘takes’ despite pleading to my ‘investors’.

I am certain Mr. Gulshan Kumar would have thought similarly had he been up with my kind of bottlenecks and we can “Lol” or “;)” once again and hopefully the gut-feel will work this time round as I have made my core ‘engineering’ and ‘project must-do’ skills to make my studio adequate anyhow and thank you Mumbai, Chennai, Pro-Studio, Ableton Live and thank you – the legends of the past whom I have got to listen to and hence learn from.

The video and musical demo will appear through the link below to YouTube and please listen to them all through http://www.talentrack.in/yogeshmusic anytime….it’s the path, not the final MIX like ‘chicken marinaded’ but not “in the tandoor”:

also through

http://www.talentrack.in/yogeshmusic

 

A Mocking Bird to kill

Preface: This a subject on which I have wanted to share my views, particularly with the business fraternity for a while now, but nowadays we fear everything ‘said’. Finally today, 24.5.2017, an article in HT titled “India open to foreigners if they are white” by Harry Stevens http://paper.hindustantimes.com/epaper/viewer.aspx prompted me to just go ahead and add my related experiences to this whole ‘R’-hash that has been so much in news and open debate

Decades ago, I added some bit to my education and found work in a US shipyard. The highlight of my youth’s first ‘landlubber’ job amidst a still vibrant blue collar America was to be recognized as a man with “brains’ just for being an Indian and ‘them’ could be from US, Africa, EU or anywhere for that matter. Indians and the Chinese find highest merit from the Universities to highest rungs of professionalism. In the Sci-fi movies too, the final launch is never complete without a Indian and Chinese tapping on keypad vigorously and looking intelligently at the virtual monitor, even as the hero is always American (lol?). Along with the “smartie” quips I got from Americans back then for my public school English, there were those pungent and irritable queries like “hey, you from India…wow! Ummm…do they have roads out there?”

Even before that as a debutant marine engineer on ships it was my good fortune to land in New York as my first port of call only to be welcomed at a local Pizza parlor by this teenage punk who respectfully says “hey, you just came in today, so how did you learn to speak English so soon?”.

I have been part of some decent delegations to trigger business ventures in Africa and Latin America and always found immense respect by the people anywhere in the world, many still on my Facebook. Even as a young business development executive in India handling the Swiss and Germans to set up business JV inside of India at the time of India’s “opening up of economy” (every government “opens” it up now and then, again and again; but this was about early ‘90s). In last decade, so many times a proud African youngster in the government or a development bank executive have welcomed me simply for being from India and many owed their education to a Mr. Ramamurthy or Ms. Vidya from India; not to forget that IITs have a quota for African students doing Ph.D who return back to their country at quarter of the salary we ‘smarties’ get, now that we are “the Expats” who are rapidly getting marginalized under a African Bloc quota which gives preference to hire local people. Remember, we said all that to the Germans and British whom we went to receive at airports back in the nineties? Now we just dispatch Ola or Uber to them, right?

But as for my message, there is an entirely divergent message coming to me from the clients and ownerships who have hired me in past and are still certainly my potential bread possibilities in future too. Many like them are headed for the African Development Bank (AfDB) meet called by PM in Gujarat sometime around this week itself. I am sure the recently highlighted Greater Noida episodes with people of African origin, a superimposing China on a new ‘silk route’ along our borders are events that will only add to a growing wave which carries potential to wipe out historic pluses enjoyed by Indian business and social impact of Indianness deeply embedded in the ‘dark’ continent. It surely impacts my kind of Indian soldiers fighting economic battles in developing poorer countries on strength of large Indian business houses and I find many lessons in what Mr. Steven has written about how the ‘white’ sees us Indians. Also, I can perfectly relate to this growing breed of international business crusaders who all call ‘a spade a spade’ and are comfortable talking freely and casually on complex issues facing the world with like-minded people as often happens in transit at Airport lounges.

As for my own observations within business fraternity of Indian origin, many times I have had people impress upon me, whenever I suggest that it is time to change some of our attitudes with comments like “these people will never change. We have done so much for them but they will never be thankful”. I find these too generic to cover an entire continent!

The crux of the matter to me is in our desire for another to be ‘eternally thankful’, a historic and very Indian phrase, which means that the other should bend and touch the other’s feet. With my morning school prayer quoted from Tagore “to give and not to count the cost” we have to really think hard if ‘buying’ gratitude and faithfulness is the right thing to do in a highly connected and wired world where youth are all the same.

In 21st century India, it is no more “in” to re-quote mentors of past who shaped post-independence thinking unless we are a ‘branded’ nationalist. Even MK Gandhi’s stories of apartheid can be a ‘fault’ if the rationale of some of the business leaderships who have only touched these countries in midst of business, but never quite kept on hold the ethos nor treasured ‘goodness’ as a ‘strength’ and our own superior intellect as a result of our own growth from poverty. In this day and age we consider even comparative poverty, political equations and color of others as weakness and ‘giving’ as a short term plan to gain power or profits, with no thought to long term equations nor fact that losing our reputation will close us to future possibilities of a new world, new gen or quite simply ‘the global village’ where ‘more money’ won’t buy ‘more love’ (that, we were already getting!) whereas projects which could be normally won or ‘closed’ earlier will get lost on ‘local preference clauses’ if not local ego by a young generation asking jobs and modern living worldover.

I spent many days in city of Addis Ababa, trying to make pact with some local infrastructure contractors around the stadium area. We would spend the afternoons discussing business, eating local injera and shiro, from the same plate as is the custom there. They bought me the beer and food most of the time by then (usually it is understood that the Indian will pay). Then the leader speaks to me late in the afternoon as the sun is setting and what he had to say, stumped me for long time to come – “Yogi, I respect whatever you are saying. I am even willing to put money if you can get us this project, but you know for all the Indian people I have worked with, there’s always something that is saying ‘what will you give me’ and I am never certain if the money will ever come to me and I must run after them like I don’t deserve my dues. All that is fine, you are smart businessmen, but you know in my house where I pray, I have kept a picture of Xi Jinping”. I will not elaborate; but to anybody working in these countries, the modern day Chinese executive can be an eye-opener, if you can just get them to talk.

Poor people, colorful people all like us, come with a History of wisdom and Ethiopia is as much known for Solomon and beauty of Sheeba as it is for the famous famine where we still see them and all of Africa as hungry and begging (remember Satyajit Ray movies?). Similarly, there lies a whole 80% of Africa that is ‘young’ after mass genocides, tribal wars have ended 2 decades ago to bring them, like India, a new generation of educated mostly by Indians (most African leaders invited Indian teachers as a prime agenda for development). In the process, our lowly paid intellectual rarely given merit in our own country found worth and World Bank dollars to give Africa a ‘thumbs up’. I am one of them, a seeker through whom the people of color and silent beliefs of “Solomon” have sent this message, along with a quip of their own “..are Indians white?”

You see, the world is round and it is really, tit for tat. This is what Jawaharlal Nehru said for Indians going overseas for work or business post independence “wherever in this wide world there goes an Indian, he carries a little of India with him”. May I add in reverse “… and he who comes back through true exploration and honest acceptance, humanity in its intellect and beliefs for self-sustenance is the same”, so respect everybody and you will find respect.

PS: Dear friends, when India invests in a poorer country what do we want in return? Indian banks have set up more branches in ‘dark’ continent in recent years than all of history, but who is pledging their assets when there is no faith under global trends of protectionism and we must ‘compete’ when ‘acceding’ under government money had become our habit? This is what our dynamic leaderships of today will have to answer in Gujarat, while remembering that the conference called by Modiji two years ago in Delhi did find Modi jackets attractive to African leaders but if our fellow fraternity looks adamant “Black is Black” then we also must look at many cases where African governments blacklisted some Indian suppliers and contractors for “poor” quality materials and services whenever consigner or client happens to be Africa. This is the ‘change factor’ of new Africa, yet unknown to many of us; even as we accepted China doing that to us in past. This is the circle and cycle of ‘development’.

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Smart Neighborhoods

I am certain that since the time Modi-wave swept past a ‘aam aadmi’ movement to sideline a government that had held reins of power in India for most part since independence, our common man buoyed upon a social media world is getting smarter, more involved, more aware than ever before to choose, elect, praise and critique leaderships but do we all act with propriety when faced with day to day challenges around our own homes?

Satellite cities around our metros are giving way to smart cities. Environment and Climate Change is now a name of a  Ministry, Renewable Energy is a sector where India actually dominates in some areas, ‘cleanliness’ is a national campaign and men doing house work as wives go to work is an acceptable situation. But the unmanageable increase in motor vehicles, inadequacy of infrastructure to hold the boom times is pitiful and we come home or reach our office with anger, abuses and what not more times than ever before.

My colony was to have RWA elections recently and what I present are some lessons from this otherwise annual exercise which till now, I just let pass. In case you don’t know, it stands for your local ‘welfare association’ but if you are a modern household you might say “man, if I meet my wife and kids adequately I am lucky”. So you might have missed out on your RWA.

But to think what you could contribute to your locality’s welfare might be a sensible idea if you wish to be safe and healthy in daily living too. RWA’s were for supposed to be for retired old people, which I almost am; except that our generations now do not retire at 55 or 60 and if ‘senior citizen should be 60 or 65 has also become debatable as more Indian people are catching the Volvo buses to see overseas cities as the white people who used to throng India gate and Chandni Chowk and the local gyms are running overtime.

But seriously, what do we have in stake with our immediate neighborhood that never was before? So this is what I am learning from this RWA election time. Posters, door-to-door is passe. For the first time, a ‘whatsapp group’ was started. But in the very first hour majority of comments came like “How dare you put me in this group without my permission” and somebody pressed the button and “left”. One of the ‘teams’ contesting the election put up a poster and more left, “This is politics, cheating and self-advertising” said many and they left. Whoever was the administrator he added more; then more left. Finally all teams were allowed to put up ads, so more added and more left.

Anyway, with the IPL going on; this was more exciting and as the language turned crass and gross, I thought I must join; the age old competitive corporate honcho in me did my diplomatic best not to side with any team. But hey, I was learning how masses think and then watching the fantastic levelling of ideas to  the “left” people reducing and administrator adding many now and then – it is coming as a revelation how much we can achieve if we dare to just get into the ‘system’ of having a say in our surroundings. I was seeing this process of debate and development go on and I have seen (‘heard’ is better) both in past – people doing good for the colony and then the system’s own goons of self-fulfilment.

So, with this logic; now as a infrastructure consultant I had been following some seminars and reading about “smart cities”, clean water & sanitation and having spent much time in Africa even for issues of gender disparities. But here I suddenly see a whole new opportunity in disparities that are more immediate to warrant a new age of “smart neighborhoods”. Well, this is a fairly elite colony beyond the choicest of words for opposing teams that I am seeing on ‘whatsapp’; so there lies a logic in its economics too.

But to cut across the story, what is it that we can contribute to the neighborhood and the neighborhood to us? Here are some points that I can see emerging from the 24×7 comments coming now that they seem to have let all have a say and mind you the young, women and intellectuals are in good numbers.

AWARENESS: You may be receiving RWA newsletters and information along with your rolled newspaper in morning. Even if you do not read it normally, keep at least a leaflet with contacts of RWA active members stuck to your refrigerator notice board. If you notice things that bother you – suspect movements, choked drains, water issues, etc. note it on Android notepad or send it to your specific area or lane representative as a paper note on way to office.

SMART RWAs: A social media group like “whatsapp” is a modern necessity but take care that jokes, lame forwards, business adverts and anything abusive or derogatory should be strictly banned and the person, after a warning, should be removed. Keep the good old register of complaints and files; but sir, times are that you ought to boost it with digital diaries with categorized logs which an IT youngster in neighborhood can easily design as contribution and a team member can maintain; all these at a dedicated office with timings of physical presence of attendant.

SMART HOMEOWNERS: Install CCTVs and inform RWAs, who must keep log of who has installed where. A GPRS plot can easily be created on webapp or procurable software to map location of the CCTVs of government and homeowners. This will help in solving criminal and other activities. Plotting troubled areas will be an advantage. Make sure servant details are kept and shared with RWA if not the police. Keep a hired security if you can or smarten up your main door operation at least to whatever is affordable technology and check weekly. You can store info on ‘cloudspace’ as well.

SMART POLICING: Each individual is police, but do not do that to extent of being a peeping Tommy. There is no point cursing abuses when you cannot take car past point where double or triple parking, like around general stores, paan shops, etc.; if it is really repetitive, log it with RWA digitally and take a walk on Sunday to verify if your messages actually get logged.

RWA’s SMARTOFFICE: Initially people will flood you with odd complaints and you might go nuts, there is very good chance that if you actually send a few replies and solve a few the deluge will trickle to something reasonable – so importantly HAVE FAITH in your neighbors, all are not worst enemies you think they might be. Also, you need not address each issue immediately. Instead categorise, prioritize, put through for weekly or monthly meetings depending on level of urgency. Hence I mooted for digital logging that is indexed as a decision making tool. Now, these are not expensive set-ups; but like any office these are a standard, need regular attention and some passion ‘to serve’ – so just wake up to this reality of times!

SMART LEADERSHIP: A colony where everybody is muscle and don will be a non-starter to be risk and damage-free. So treat this like another office of trust but remember that since all are volunteers, you cannot shout and throw out anybody from his job; so your big daddying will be for nothing. Humour, a few tea parties with biscuits by RWA brass here and there are fine but refrain from big time parties where barbecue smell goes beyond your house as again – people will point fingers and you lose face for just your large heartedness. Instead visit the aged, intellectuals, professionals within locality than professionals out of your business or workplace for advice, record keeping, etc. This is the art and ability of good leaders to make their own locality see you as humble servicing individuals and please….you are not a politician or civil servant; but truly passionate and concerned for safe & happy living around your responsibility.

This is not an exhaustive essay on the subject and there is a lot more that each one of us has and we all, with our freedom with social media, familiarity with technology and social networking around our place of abode can make our lives safer, simpler, less accusative, less abusive, less controversial and it will be this HABIT that will make us better in our professions too and as human beings, citizens of our country.

So, all the best for your “smart neighborhood”

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New Delhi Diary – 1

Like many, I too make a resolution or two every year as the festive season is on and when Diwali, the ‘festival of lights’ is approaching. Many around the world make Christmas resolutions to themselves and even post them nowadays on social media. Well, some of us, here in India do all that on Diwali.

In my case this urge ‘to resolve’ would in all likelihood, tend to come early morning with my cup of tea as I am reading the day’s newspaper. This is the time too when some news item, the event magazine or the mushy cinematic gossip sessions trigger some deep passion to have our bit of a say. At times I have even taken a quick mobile snapshot to form basis of an idea. But more often, these ideas wash away with the morning shower as we get to more immediate and pressing issues for the day, like our job and work.

Today though, I have got up with an awkward chest congestion which has been going on and off now for more than a month and the headline reads “Air Pollution Levels set exceed over the next 3 days (towards Diwali)”.

“Ahh, yesterday they showed the pollution meter cross the ‘Red’ already, what do they mean ‘set to exceed’?” I exclaim to myself as I instinctively try to breathe.

Oh yes, sure as hell, my lungs are sufficiently choked, so I shut the door and the window too. A sudden surge of blue fear crosses my eyes as I am finally able to connect my chest congestion and throat itching to this annual phenomena in Delhi and I am sure, so might well be, for many all across our country trying our best to be with our thought provoking leader for the ‘clean India, live healthy’ idea.

The news and full page warnings from the government, ‘Swachh Bharat’ protagonists et al are saying it is all because Diwali is round the corner and so we must all promise not to burst fire-crackers and that the Chinese ones are more polluting than the ‘made in India’ ones. On other hand the same newspaper adds to the festivities by saying how the kids and their parents are loving the packages with WWE kick-ass celebs, MSD, Virat Kohli and Sonny Leonne on covers, as per preferences.

But then last one week I have been driving around Delhi, especially old Delhi around Chandni Chowk as I was getting some audio equipment rehabilitated by wizcraft available only at LPRM for even some sleek home studio stuff. I saw plenty of buyers for LED lights and all kinds of  gift packages which corporates and shoppers from anywhere in India converge to buy here at the wholesale markets, but repeatedly I heard that sale of crackers was the least in proportion to the sales at this time ahead of Diwali.

Notwithstanding what’s selling or not, I have not heard even a sound of firecracker or ‘bomb’ exploding around anywhere either around home or wherever I have been around, or maybe my ears too are blocked by whatever is floating in Delhi’s air at this time!

Then wherefrom this smog and this pollution that is adding so much friction to my ENT path?

Oh yes, I did see a ‘cleaner Delhi’ attitude where the cleaners are neatly laying the garbage along the streets and someone must be dumping it at the dumps and landfills or wherever the garbage is supposed to go. But in all such presumptions, the garbage created from the ‘Ramlila’ grounds, the Durga Puja pandals and the excess eating at open air stalls all around the cities during this period is quite unlikely to reach the landfills anytime soon. It is getting burnt right around our homes in small heaps and larger heaps, maybe, where the most privileged of Delhiites may not be living.

The carbon emissions from the garbage and waste we create during our holy festivities and holiday seasons, not just in Delhi, but all across India, simply for our population would be alarming! For whatever us educated families and our RWA’s might be doing, it is the sheer numbers of the less privileged, but those too who must rejoice in the days of prayer and celebrations who collectively create a lot more than our government is prepared to evacuate.

This Diwali follows just too soon! I wonder who would take this to the courts (our children be blessed for times ahead) and shift the dates of Diwali till such time that the muck from the weeks before normalizes.

This is also the season when we find that the craftsmen, the labor,  even the public servants and their field working divisions have left for vacation to their villages or hometowns.

“Oh the Diwali is coming……we’ll clean it up after that!” I guess we need more than our honorable PM to change this one.

Well I am not to be accused for putting words into somebody else’s mouth, but isn’t this the most likely reason why my chest congestion is now only likely to go away after Diwali.

Till then guys it’s ‘cough cough’ from me signing off from today’s (my first of series) post. Please do put ‘Likes’ so this habit sustains and who knows I might find that ‘writer’ in me to nobody’s chagrin; for this my friends, is my resolution this Diwali – to write.

And for all the skewed ideas and religious anomalies, the news channels on TV last night showed that ‘Ayodhya’, the reigning city of Shri Ram (whose killing of the demonic Ravana is why Diwali is celebrated) is the dirtiest city one can find and least said for the bovines, the better.

If you want to know the reason why I stopped writing earlier, please listen to this song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CacXQybjE18 – which I wrote, set to music and sang at my little home studio on a Diwali 5 years ago, the theme (between Dussehra to Diwali, we defeat Evil as Lord Rama did) simulated to quash the governments all over the world, like what aam admi, the ordinary man on street does best – and look what happened!

We have right now a Trump in one part of the world and ‘Ram Rajya’ is actually to reckon here in India (see the video for context) –  quite ‘ironical’, I would say. But will we breathe easy?

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Mariners and Seagulls – Guide for aspiring landlubbers (PART 1)

July 24th 2014

 1. Once a Mariner always a Mariner!

 I am a seagull. I like to glide, dive and fish on hands-free. A seagull has to fly with the flock; almost a regimental routine. I am certain there will be many in merchant marine trade who imagine that flying alone or gliding peacefully away from the regimental pack is the way forward at some stage of life. Flying the conventional way all the time appears harsh or boring – an impediment to freedom, a curse on individuality.

 A merchant mariner’s life is a mix of both. He has to work as part of a crew (the team man), but the long voyages and periods away from family and friends trigger deep inner desires. He has to be equally prepared for both – safety of ship and his own safe progress in life as an individual. He is similar to, but not with compulsions of a Naval officer. Merchant vessels carry cargo for commercial use, which makes him a civilian with wider choices at disposal.

There lurks an aspiring landlubber (one who wishes to leave ship and work ashore in similar or different industry) in every mariner, but he may not show it! 

This article is a chapter from my own journey from Mariner to Landlubber and what makes me convinced in the adage – “Once a Mariner, Always a Mariner”, supposedly an age-old myth now proving true for me; more than two decades since my last association with “SHIPS”.

 I was no Jonathan Livingstone seagull either – story of the black swan who was scared of flying with his ‘flock’. I am ‘Braveheart’, created so by my own flock of friends, relatives, fellow countrymen, associates of my ‘global village’ and of course, by the macho and ‘ruddy’ profession I carried once upon a time with élan; brass and elegance of it’s might and pride.

 Thank you all for that. Yes, even today I am ‘global’ all right, but thankfully without being ‘lost’ at sea. I have taken up so many professions in life, I feel I can tailor myself to any kind of a flock, the way a Mariner must to any kind or size of a ship that he is assigned to.

To me, a marine engineer (what I am by basic qualification), is always ‘lost’ at sea – technically, because he is always ‘below’ the sea-surface and psychologically because he must survive against many odds on land and place he calls home. I was even warned by a rich uncle who had made good too early in life, “Join my business young man; you want to be in blackened dungarees 20 feet under sea surface?”

But then, I was a very proud public school produce to have listened to him then. That is what I wanted then with all my passion and desires. I did it and never for a moment have I regretted to date. In fact I could do it all over again!

Also you may not notice so early into my essay, that this by itself should substantiate my topic of the day, “Once a Mariner – Always a Mariner!” It’s the way we get tuned to think early in life and to experiences along the way that make us act the way we do at any stage of life. It doesn’t need wisdom of Plato to prove life is unpredictable and small twists and turns are enough to chart our widest detours from prevalent wisdom and that whatever happens is for larger good.

The headlines on my CV have not referred to my Maritime origins in a long time, thanks to the curse of Human Resource specialists who nowadays are studying too much about average brained human beings in a particular stream or profession to justify times of Google search enabled self-learners. They create postulates, rules and guidelines where smart job seekers tailor CVs to match job profiles while the headhunters track catch words and phrases on websites that match specific job descriptions.

Who cares for have-been marine engineers who have a lot more in them and deep-down desire to run power plants or uplift mismanaged projects by virtue of their diversified experience, repertoire of knowledge, ‘don’t-say-die’ and ‘run-ship-come-what-may’ spirit and training? Changing a career needs advance contacts, good timing and lots of good luck and maybe much more.

  1. Early influences – triggers for aspiring landlubbers

 So all you aspiring landlubbers be warned. This is by basic logic, a reason why ‘once a mariner – always a mariner’ hits you unawares soon as you decide to quit life out at sea. Being educated, smart, world-travelled, knowledgeable, diversified and having contacts only work after you have immunized yourself from odd questionnaires that will pinch your wrong sides. Even situations may crop up so you must compromise on many unexpected issues and expectations from an alternative job and way of life can often defeat very purpose of such change.

If you are leaving ship for fear of running into Somalia pirates and ports of unrest, just walk on streets of New Delhi, read about rapes, man-made disasters, horror of rural folk gone nuts as their lands are grabbed or they becoming perpetrators of new kinds of crime that could eat into your investments or way of life. Worldwide, the transformations on land are so rapid with changing equations, climate change and what have you, that guarantees of safer living are only theoretical.

 In my case, I had to figuratively re-blood myself, as it took me many years to terms with life where there was no ready ‘next ship to catch’ and when ‘lots of banked money’ earned from sailing foreign flags got spent on my higher education to facilitate the ‘change’. I felt like fish out of water without two mandatory shore-leave worth of ‘dollars’ safe in bank as I had got used to. I have even seen some maritime friends count their savings backwards from the day they sign off from ship or was it just me, I don’t remember.

But then, who in this world is comfortable without money? Money once you are earning it seems less important than our heart’s desires and mental aspirations and becomes crucial to meeting just these very desires.

 In my case, having gone through at the Maritime College (DMET) in Kolkata, then on to my last ocean going shipping vessel as a qualified Marine Engineer, I was always yearning for a career ‘somewhere else’ in the future, as world started shrinking and new possibilities came before my eyes. My own logic to my newfound desires was never quite clear, but I am certain it was about ‘grass being greener on the other side’ and the fact that maritime upbringing coupled with confidence of higher salaries at early age can make us irreversible adventurists seeking new frontiers to explore and conquer.

So, with all kinds of influences at back of my mind, in the end I never did attain status of a Chief Engineer, in-spite of very nearly sitting for the C/E exam. Just around that time, I opted instead for passage to a seemingly higher qualification within maritime fraternity then – as a Naval Architect with a ‘University of Michigan, USA’ tag to boost my future CVs.

For one, in my times the only one Maritime college in India did not give even a degree for Marine Engineering. Secondly, it supported my astrologer’s predictions (yes, I am Indian!) to work overseas in the United States of America, early in my life and I had a time of my life in the ‘land of opportunity’ facing new kinds of myriad challenges and experiences that have made me what I am today – and well, ‘different’!

My CV today is hotchpotches of unrelated trades and qualifications, which contribute to its headline – “Power Sector Professional”. I am sure, this became possible only because of the varied duties onboard ships and diverse subjects we studied under ‘marine engineering technology’ repeatedly certified by Marine Superintendents. 

Thankfully, it was the practicality of engine room operations on worst of vessels that I was assigned to during my brief career, which reinforced the principles of technical prowess and mastering ‘basics’ of electro-mechanical engineering and a cool-headed approach to tough situations. Honestly, the last of these is taking longer to reinforce; since I am not truly a seagull.

These experiences with ‘hard and dirty work’ support me even today in my diversified consultancy as ‘solutions provider’, and knowledge of the ‘global village’. As luck would have it, I had worked mainly on cross-global general freight vessels where the work was so filthy that I lost my hair and nails. The latter grew back, but the former has only gone worse due to non-availability of Heavy Oil in general stores ashore (that was a joke!).

I remember many conversations in younger days with batch-mates from DMET or fellow engine-room inmates at sea. One such visionary on board was a 3rd Engineer in my time who even went on to say “just think……one day this deck cadet will be lording over you as the Master on some ship!” Of course, I wonder how many Marine Engineers who sail ever think on such extremes and most likely it was in light humor, but what an effect such talk can have on young impressionable minds!

  1. Challenges for aspiring land-lubbers

 Coming back to the original stream of appreciating nature from the deck of a ship and finding oneness with seagulls; the beautiful white seagull, majestic in demeanor, soars far away from the flock all alone looking for food or fish. I still believe that seagulls are dead sailors who couldn’t keep away from the seas.

 Decades down, I have not seen the ocean real close except from the shores or a ferry trip at best. Yet I imagine that seagulls are hovering closer to the land than the point where vessels switch to heavy fuel oil and go “Full Ahead” to their destinations.

 There is logic to my aspiring writer imagination too, for we are surrounded by pollution, environmental degradation and irresponsible industrialization. Just get down to YouTube to catch hair-raising videos and images of seagulls soaked in oil from ship wreckages or just plastic bags strewn off shores!

So are the new Mariners getting used or grooving into new kinds of challenges on perhaps quality ships with high ended technology. Life in any sphere has become a kind of a leveler. You save yourself from one and fall prey into another. You can have best of opportunities that were never there ever before and yet be sucked into handling too many improbabilities when a tiny mishap can make a world of a difference; in spite of all kinds of certification courses you must go through periodically.

So, in the end the net result from past or present and mariner to landlubber, remains same – equivalence in satisfaction and frustrations. It is for us to strike the best balance.

Lessons from a seagull, lessons from maritime days.

 Likewise, this Seagull has option to choose the shores for easy pickings from the garbage dumps ashore or to dive for fish in mid-sea. The latter takes a lot more work nowadays, in times when illegal fishing supported by growing corruption has caused near extinction of good fish nearer ashore.

A smart seagull can choose by instincts, but is not immune to spoils of greed. So like man, it stands risk of death by poisoning, because crazy, as it may seem, he has forgotten his Marine Engineering safety routines in a new avatar!

Similarly for me, only continued love for the sea goes into making me a continued Mariner as I regularly soak in websites with information on shipping, logistics, etc. for commonalities to what I now do in my profession. I have recently been faculty at at a Maritime Institute in Ethiopia; 25 years after my last maritime assignment and it was exhilarating!

So now, I too feel like the seagull. Standing near the shore, I can simply stare at the infinite ocean. It triggers new ideas, music, prose, poetry, etc. and the journey from mariner to landlubber keeps adding to new pursuits without tiring easily. The love of travelling and exploring new shores, new technology keeps me optimistic and younger. All kinds of people in the world are my friends; very much akin to mixed crews that we got tuned to work with on ships.

There is no demarcation for ‘hostile land’ as so often I travel through remote locations for project survey and investigation and was even in Amazon jungles in South America. Unknown dangers lurk everywhere in varied forms and ferocity in today’s uncertain world with potential akin to “Somalia-coast” situations we read about.

On other hand, adverse impacts from environmental bottlenecks, scams like ‘Coalgate’ and (un)natural disasters on Himalayan rivers bring insecurity to my trade, when I wish I could exchange my US degree in Naval Architecture for a Chief Engineer’s license, so I can make a sailing contract. Whatever we may opt for in life, we can end up being prisoners of our own choices!

But on a promising note I often feel confidence to take up tough challenges. Just like during my early days at sea, we successfully replaced a cracked cylinder of the ship’s 6000 HP B&W Engine on a rough sea as the crew made it steady with unimaginable scaffoldings and deeds that I can only picture as heroic and near impossible for any crew I have worked with on land.

Oh yes, we did ‘those’ kind of things on ‘those’ kinds of ships back then – where the mind was without fear and the head had to be held high, come what may. Because…..

 WE ARE ……THE MARINERS!

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 Yogesh Bahadur, email: y.power007@gmail.com

CHINA intends to set up manufacturing units in India to cater to Indian Power/Energy/Infra development. NEED FEEDBACK!

We have all been in awe of China…the way they sell and flood markets with “cost-effective” products which may not work well, but we had “just that” in our budget!

AS developers of power projects, we have spent such a huge chunk in catering to a corrupt India (against whom Anna Hazare goes on Fast this very day!) and how long it took us to get those statutory clearances! Now we must budget TIGHT hereon….that leaves us “high & dry” with CHINESE GENERATING MACHINERY…the turbines, boilers, Balance of Plant, etc.  as a damning but only logical solution when sitting in the corner seat of a CEO chair….as I have often heard! Most private developers I have known……even say….”equipment….China of course!” Some cannot even name 2 or 3 Indian companies who make various essential machinery components……and I am not exaggerating!!

In times when the North East and Arunachal Pradesh are abuzz with ingress of Chinese activity on a more politically alarming note, we have a Power/Energy/Infra sector brainstorming options available to put projects and a phenomenal intake of FDI on rails and fast-track……many times, the only solution lying in importing generating machinery and essential construction equipment from CHINA.

As a consultant and professional in Power/Energy with significant career-span devoted to manufacturing and EPC (Engineering, Procurement, Construction); I have mixed opinions to influence my opinion, whether CHINA  IN INDIA in such measure would be a wise option; necessary as it may be!

I attended ALSTOM’s 100 year celebrations and the pledge to media (CNN was co-organizer) and country that they have similar commitment to create manufacturing facilities of high production volumes over next decade to cater to all needs of the sector. Also, BHEL, SIEMENS, etc. have sincere commitments and capability; as also a growing 100% Indian owned business units including SMEs, MMEs, etc.

Are we truly in such a Backlog to create capacity with China. In spite of a shrinking world and logic of global economics and in a volatile market scenario, this sounds financially logical and imminent; now that we have huge capacity with Chinese made equipment in India…which would need continuous servicing and maintenance too. But, is it politically correct to make a U-Turn so soon after a policy that Chinese workers and professionals were even being denied long-term visa for working in India and subjected to severe red-tape at times too.

Where lies the political and fiscal pragmatism of CHINA MANUFACTURING IN INDIA! Your feedback welcome on this forum or in private to y.power007@gmail.com.

Thanks & Regards,

Yogesh Bahadur