31 July, 2015

#Spotlight :: Made in India by Biddu

As a child, Biddu dreamt of going west and making it big as a composer. At the age of sixteen, he formed a band and started playing in a cafe in Bangalore, his home town, At eighteen, he was part of a popular act at Trinca's, a nightclub in Calcutta devoted to food, wine and music, At nineteen, he had college students in Bombay dancing to his music. 

In his early twenties, he left the country and ended up hitchhiking across the Middle East before arriving in London with only the clothes on his back and his trusty guitar. What followed were years of hardship and struggle but also great music and gathering fame. From the nine million selling "Kung Fu Fighting" to the iconic youth anthem of "Made in India" and the numerous hits in between. Biddu's music made him a household name in India and elsewhere. 

In this first public account of all that came his way: the people, the events,the music tours and companies Biddu writes with a gripping sense of humor about his remarkable journey with its fairy tale ending. Charming, witty, and entirely likable, Biddu is a man you are going to enjoy getting to know.



Read an Excerpt

Chapter - 11

Give Me the Titanic any day


I was greeted by an army in White: almost 400 men draped in white robes and with shaven heads; some had beads in their hands, mouthing silent prayers, parading on the deck like holy warriors awaiting god or his nemesis. They were pilgrims on their way to Hajj. I looked at them, stunned into a momentary silence. The visual was dramatic and surreal, like egg-white stalagmites against an endless blue sky on a bobbing ocean. They, in return, observed me with subtle confusion. A cowboy hat, boots, a guitar and hair like a woman’s. What kind of apparition was this? The devil incarnate? I felt as welcome as swine flu.
I walked nervously through the multitude as they peacefully parted to receive this newcomer, and made my way to the sleeping quarters below deck. I thought it best to pick out my cabin and unpack my meagre belongings and set my territory; hang up my guitar and hat on a hook, close the door behind me, kick off my boots and relax. I walked down the stairs and came across a miniature stadium of row upon row of wooden slatted slabs. Most of them had bedrolls unfurled over them. I looked around. There were no cabins in sight. It dawned on me these were my sleeping quarters. It was another jaw-dropping moment.
‘Okay,’ I thought, ‘I can handle this. But first, the bathrooms.’
I must tell you I have a thing about bathrooms. Call it a fetish, but they must be pristine, clean and modern. So I strolled towards the toilet zone and peeked through the swing doors. There were six Indian-style squat-on-your-haunches-type toilets. I shuddered at the sight of these unseemly hole-in-the-ground jobs. I noticed six sinks for washing and shaving. Four hundred of us were to share these facilities. My heart sank into my ankles. I would fight them in the trenches, I would fight them on the shore, but I could not fight them in the rush to an Indian-style kazi.
I sat on a wooden slab for a while, thinking up Plan B. Suddenly I felt a jolt as the boat came to life. I could hear the drone of an engine and the ungainly movement as the vessel lurched forward clumsily and we were on our way. This I could not miss. So I scrambled back up, onto the deck and looked at the city I was leaving behind. It was nearing sunset and against a blood-red sky, the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Hotel steadily decreased in size as our boat cut through the frothy dark-emerald waters of the open sea. I stood there clutching my rucksack, that little suitcase full of dreams, till the shoreline disappeared.

Gradually, the evening sun went down as darkness closed the door on light. I put my rucksack to a side, gently placed my guitar next to it and sat down. Sleep would not come easy this night. I looked up as a thousand stars put on a show, flickering like fireflies against a black velvet sky and a warm breeze gently followed us. One star in particular was bigger than the others and shone twice as bright. It twinkled and winked at me, making me smile. It was my Eastern Star.
The pilgrims were downstairs, probably resting on their bedrolls and having a right old gossip. I had finally left India behind, as I had always wanted to. Like I always dreamed I would. But fear began to envelop me like the surrounding darkness. Every part of me had wanted to leave, and yet at that moment, a part of me – a tiny, infinitesimal part of me– longed to stay. I hoped the feeling would pass.
As I lay there on the deck, I could hear the water slapping against the sides of the boat, maintaining a hypnotic tempo. Eventually I fell asleep, resting my head on my bag, one hand clutching my guitar, just in case one of the pilgrims should want to steal it!

I awoke in the dim light of dawn, to the placid rise and fall of the boat, as a veil of mist made the world opaque and mysterious. I stretched my stiffened bones and decided to use the bathroom before the morning sun could announce itself and well before the queues for the washroom began. I went downstairs, to find the lower deck busier than Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Obviously, every pilgrim had the same idea about their morning ablutions, especially before prayers. I stood in line, determined to carry diapers the next time. I clenched my buttocks, pinched my nose, held my breath and waited my turn. Thank God for yoga.
Later that morning I made my way to see the captain of this vessel.
‘Captain,’ I said, showing respect for his uniform if not for the man himself. ‘My name is Biddu. I am not a pilgrim but I’m also going to Basra, on my way to London.’
He shook his head gently but without any great response. ‘You see, I am a singer and rather well known in India.’
‘I see,’ he replied, with a smidge of enthusiasm.
‘The point is, I’m not used to sleeping on wooden slats and using Indian-style toilets. I hope you understand.’
He looked sympathetically at this moaner and said, ‘What to do, sir? This boat is for plying pilgrims and some cargo only. It is not a passenger boat. So sorry.’ He seemed to be on the verge of tears while tendering his apology.
‘Captain, do you have a spare cabin for me?’ I pleaded with some deference. ‘I will pay you.’ I wanted to use the word ‘handsomely’, but I did not think three pounds demanded or necessitated the term ‘handsomely’.
‘I am very sorry, sir,’ he apologized. ‘But there are only three cabins on this boat. One, I am afraid, is mine, and the other two are occupied.’

From here on, the story takes a turn that would only come under the heading, ‘Believe it or not’. But believe me, dear reader, what happened is true.
‘But captain,’ I implored passionately, ‘you have to help me here. I cannot last another five days using those toilets and sleeping with 400 pilgrims. They are in a state of godliness, while I am in a right state. Last night I slept in the open. I cannot do that every night.’
‘What to do?’ he reiterated. ‘Unless you want to speak to the two brothers who are occupying the other two cabins.’
‘No problem,’ I answered, sounding like a native.
‘They are married to two sisters and each couple is using a cabin. So you see there is a slight problem.’
That did put a damper on things. But I was desperate. There was no other word for it. ‘Can I see these two couples?’ I asked the captain.
So we toddled off in the direction of the two cabins and the captain knocked on the doors of both of them. A man emerged from each one.
‘This young man would like to talk to you both,’ the captain announced cryptically.
Then followed this brief conversation.
‘Gentlemen,’ I said, looking at the two brothers and noticing how similar they were in appearance.‘My name is Biddu, and I am a well-known singer in Bombay.’
They wore a look of curiosity or apathy, depending on the interpretation. Perhaps they were not from Bombay.
‘You see,’ I began and continued with my rant about not being used to sharing sleeping accommodation with 400 room-mates or using Indian-style toilets.
‘I see,’ they replied, having heard my diatribe.
‘So, if you gentleman and your wives would move into one cabin, your generosity would allow me the use of the other cabin. I shall pay you for the slight inconvenience. I would not normally ask you this favour but I am doing it as a last resort. Please take this.’
I held out two pounds as the carrot.
‘We will have to talk to our wives,’ one of them said meekly. ‘It’s up to them. We must get their permission first.’
They did not seem to be unduly bothered by my bizarre request. Ten minutes later they met with me.
‘All right,’ said one of them, shaking his head and letting slip a hint of a smile. ‘Our wives have agreed, but on one condition.’ ‘What’s that?’ I enquired. Fearing Indian men as monetary predators, I had held back a pound, in case I had to up the stake.
‘You said you are a singer,’ one of the men replied self- consciously. ‘But please to beg your pardon, we have not heard of you. Our wives are requesting that in return for the cabin you please sing one or two songs for us.’
So,by the time the boat had docked for its brief stop at Karachi, I had acquired a cabin for myself in return for two pounds and an Italian version of ‘Hello Dolly’ called ‘Hola Chica’ and a rendition of ‘This Land Is Your Land’ in the original English.

I could not believe how kind and polite these people had been. It was simply amazing. No further persuasion was required after my initial request. It seemed the most natural thing for them to do, passing up their own privacy and comfort for a total stranger. The cynic in me thought the money may have helped. I thanked them profusely and told them that at any time during the trip if they wanted me to sing for them, all they had to do was ask, and I would gratefully burst into song.
They never made a request during the whole journey.
The cabin had two beds, so I can only assume the couples were having a few risqué nights thanks to a ‘well-known singer in Bombay’. As for me, the rest of the voyage was in relative luxury, even though the food was largely inedible and rats jumped ship rather than eat our leftovers. For the most part, I was oblivious to the praying mantis-like drone of the boat and pilgrims in prayer, and five days later we came up the Persian Gulf to its final destination, the seaport of Basra.




Biddu's Playlist:




About the Author:

"I was born at a time when many had finally learned how to walk upright."
Thus begins the amazing roller-coaster journey of a young man in his quest to become a success ....
As a child, Biddu dreamt of going west and making it big as a composer. At the age of sixteen, he formed a band and started playing in a cafe in Bangalore, his home town, At eighteen, he was part of a popular act at Trinca's, a nightclub in Calcutta devoted to food, wine and music, At nineteen, he had college students in Bombay dancing to his music. 
In his early twenties, he left the country and ended up hitchhiking across the Middle East before arriving in London with only the clothes on his back and his trusty guitar. What followed were years of hardship and struggle but also great music and gathering fame. From the nine million selling "Kung Fu Fighting" to the iconic youth anthem of "Made in India" and the numerous hits in between. Biddu's music made him a household name in India and elsewhere. 
In this first public account of all that came his way: the people, the events,the music tours and companies Biddu writes with a gripping sense of humor about his remarkable journey with its fairy tale ending. Charming, witty, and entirely likable, Biddu is a man you are going to enjoy getting to know.



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