Down M G Road

Reflections

Down M G Road

Long before Gandhigiri became fashionable and Bapu appeared to Munna Bhai in a dream, I saw him standing forlorn at a corner of M G Road. Dwarfed by the Chinnaswamy Stadium opposite the Queen’s statue, he watched a diagonal road named after his wife, Kasturba, run away in the other direction. A pigeon perched on his head gave sidelong glances at indifferent passersby on their ritual walk down Bangalore’s glitziest avenue.

It was 12 years ago. The jam room was in a tizzy. We had a concept gig in a few weeks, and all we had was one song, an audacious idea and lots of problems: Who’d be interested in a crazy rock band doing a serious concert on Gandhi? Where will we host it? How do we raise funds? And more importantly, what do we play? Questions flew thick and fast between Chris, Saggy, Ryan and me. But as they say, when your intentions are right, things eventually fall into place...

Rewind... Born from the ether at Oyeindia.com and named after the status message when a web page downloads, Document: Done had made an incendiary public debut at Freedom Jam, re-interpreting Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny speech with in-house DJ Assad Namazi at the console. The next year, we jammed with a live radio on stage with Ye Akashvani Hai, our tribute to radio. At a time when bands were still doing covers, we had an irreverent approach to original music, drawing inspiration from what we saw around us.

It was ironical to find cities in India with M G roads that were the exact anti-thesis of Gandhi’s ideals of simplicity with malls, arcades, pubs, restaurants, beggars, touts and hookers. It bothered me so much that after my caffeine fix at India Coffee House, I went home and wrote a song overnight — Down MG Road. But it didn’t seem enough…

Tired of watching reruns of Attenborough’s Gandhi on TV every 2nd October, we decided to reclaim Gandhi Jayanti through music. It was a plea against token tributes and an attempt to make an icon relevant again. We derived our inspiration from his life — the Dandi March-inspired Namak, the train incident in South Africa became a reggae-funk track Bogeyman, while Chris recreated the soundscape of his Indian rail journey on G Train. We even rehashed the Godfather tune Speak Softly Love in the instrumental Godfather of the Nation.

The songs were evolving, but we still needed a venue! I wanted a place on M G Road for impact. So Chris Avinash used all his colloquial Kannada and sarkari skills to get permission from the commissioner’s office for Webb’s Ground. Having a sponsor logo for a gig like this seemed a sell-out, so we asked for contributions from friends, wives, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, their boyfriends or anyone who believed in our cause. Since the Indian one-rupee stamp carried Gandhiji’s image, the entry was kept at Re 1. We made a loss, but won a legion of fans.

The song, Down MG Road, struck a chord with listeners and helped us win Radio City Live in 2002. And so, we decided to do it again, this time as a ticketed event at Ambedkar Bhavan. In our posters, instead of the lathi (walking stick), Gandhiji was shown holding a microphone! We borrowed a laser projector from Saggy’s father to beam clips from Gandhi onto the screen and jammed with saxophonists, DJs and classical singers.

Gandhiji’s favourite hymn, Abide With Me, and Vaishnava Jana To were part of the playlist, while Priya Ganapathy played the lilting Doni Sagali on flute. We wore kurtas and Gandhi topis as other local bands showed up to support our wild dreams.

As we transitioned from Bogeyman to Get Up Stand Up, the whole audience actually stood up and sang along. At the end of the show, a silver-haired man walked up to us and said, “Well done.” I recognised him as Rakesh Sharma, our man on the moon, and couldn’t resist “Yahan se Bharat kaisa laga Sir?” He smiled and said, “Sarey jahan se achcha.” The tour de force silenced all doubts about the gig’s feasibility. To quote Gandhi, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Years later, every time I catch Gandhi on TV or follow his breadcrumb trail across India or stroll down an M G Road in Pune or Pondicherry, Kochi or Kanpur, I think of the gig. Is 2nd October just another day that comes and goes as we continue with our busy lives? Does it matter at all? If it does, I’d be happy to rewrite the final words of my song — ‘And now I must stop, it’s the end of the road, there is no MG on M G Road.’

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