Being on Coke Studio India’s sets was a pure manifestation of magic for me. About 6 months earlier I was casually talking to the director who happens to be a dear friend. He was doing Zee’s Sa Re Ga Ma Singing Superstars and so I happened to mention Coke Studio Pakistan to him. I was thrilled by the music of CS-P to the extent that my heart soared everytime I heard it. Having studied singing since a very young age, I would dream of being a singer until I auditioned for a TV show in my teens that led to a lot of heartbreak resulting into me giving up music. Until that fateful day when my dear friend called up from Lesle Lewis’s studio saying that he was doing the Indian version of Coke Studio. I was thrilled! When he mentioned about auditions happening for the backing vocals, I spontaneously volunteered. He asked me to send the Red Chillies crew a tape of my vocals for which I sang one of my Coke Studio Pakistan favorite – Meesha Shafi’s Chori Chori, sung originally by the legend Reshma. I mailed across my audition tape to the Red Chillies crew and let go. Having not done my riyaz for over 4 years I knew I had little hope. However, ignoring my inner critic, I just kept my fingers crossed, praying dearly that I get to atleast watch Coke Studio recordings for a day.
For several days nothing happened. I thought that it wasn’t meant to be and left it at that. Either ways I would get to be on the sets over a weekend I thought. However, a couple of days later I got a call from one of the Red Chillies crew asking me to drop in that evening at the recording studio in Mumbai from Pune. It was a short call and I was on my way to work with a colleague of mine. She dropped me off midway and I rushed to my salon to get my makeup done for the audition in another city in the evening. After a total rush of couple of hours of having gulped down my lunch, apprehensive about reaching Mumbai on time, I finally boarded a shared cab that would take me to the aspired destination in a few hours. Hopefully with the makeup on intact, I told myself. I arrived well before the time at the beautiful recording studio and I was incredibly nervous. I thought the makeup had melted! After about 45 mintues of waiting in the chilled studio’s lounge area, the Red Chillies crew alongwith my dear friend arrived. Though I was so nervous, that it didn’t reassure me in the least bit! Candles were being lit by the studio’s manager. A group of three Mumbai girls also arrived and their bubbly nature made me even more nervous. I was back to my 15-year old self! 🙂 Soon Lesle arrived. I was struck by his simplicity and warmth as he greeted each of us with his ever-lovely smile. He went into the recording room and so did my friend and the crew members. I was called in. I went in and was struck by how lovely it really was. Though I was nervous to bits and Lesle could clearly see it! He asked me to breathe deeply and sing something that I was comfortable singing. I sang him the same song, Chori Chori. He asked me to sing something in English afterward, and instead I sang a song in Spanish, for I could think of nothing in English! He said nothing, and I was asked to pose for a photograph. A photographer took one with my friend sitting next to me, and that was it. I went back to the lounge area, pulled out a box of fruits and began to eat. I was famished with the proceedings! The other three girls went in, and as I heard them from outside, I knew they’d be selected as they were clearly rocking! About half an hour later I was called in again, and asked to sing harmonies with them. Since this was something I hadn’t done since my schooldays, it took me quite some time to pick up my part. We rehearsed for a few minutes and sung them. That was it and we were informed that one of the crew would get back to us. I went back to the lounge area and waited for my friend to get done so that I could go back to his place to stay the night since it was too late for me to catch a bus back to Pune. However, after the girls had left and the crew members were about to leave, my friend invited me back to the recording room to just be part of what was going on. Soon I was listening to cue tracks made by Lezz (as I fondly like to call him) and the discussions about the tracks by different singers. Soon Lezz picked up his guitar and started playing his original melodies. That was a defining moment in my life! Memory of how I had stood years back in the front row of a screaming crowd at a Colonial Cousins’ show in IIT Mumbai’s cultural fest – “Mood Indigo” – flashed in front of my eyes. I remember seeing him quietly playing the guitar behind Hariharan and being awestruck. Had I known then that I would be sitting across him listening to him play with his signature sensuous style I would have simply scoffed with disbelief! The room was filled by the sounds of his guitar being softly played, as we all just sat still, listening to his incredible fingers making honey from the nylon strings. It was the sweetest memory of music I had encountered after what seemed like another lifetime ago. As I left that day, I was in a state of worship, grateful to simply have the musical ear that could receive beauty in that inexplicable way.
This is a memory I shall cherish for a long time because that was a restart of my association with music. Though I didn’t qualify as the backing vocalist, I got a chance to do the production of a musical documentary Lesle wanted shot as Coke Studio progressed. Hence, I worked at close quarters with him, spending incredibly blessed moments understanding his vision, his music, his melody, his direction. I also got a chance to interview the various artists on the show, understanding the heavy influence of Bollywood and commercialism on the Indian music today, interacting with these artists and talking about their music, their history with Lesle, and even about their spiritual interests with the people who were genuinely open and warm.
Meeting my favorite artist…..
When I met Bombay Jayashri on the rehearsal day, I found it hard to believe she was the incredible singer whose profile I had read in order to interview her. She was very simple, down to earth, as if the set was one of the chores on her to-do list of the day. I was taken in by her simplicity, her charm and her alert presence. And yet, she was ever smiling, totally relaxed, attentively listening to all that Lesle Sir was telling her and the happenings around her. Even though there was a fair bit of hustle bustle around her with Richa Sharma coming in and Ustad Rashid Khanji also coming in, she was calm, patiently alert.
The next day was the shoot day. She came in post lunch, and after getting her makeup done stepped out of the vanity and greeted us all with a wide smile. Just watching her made me happy! She was to sing with Ustadji. “Kaatyaayani” was shot a couple of hours later and there was a long wait before the remaining 2 songs where she featured were to be shot. I got a chance to do a lovely interview with her where she spoke at length about her diverse background and stories of working with Lezz about 20 years back! These stories clearly reflected her dedication to music and her everlasting patience that gave her the undefinable grace that she so epitomises. It was the best interview I had ever experienced! I felt like touching her feet for she totally looked like a Goddess in the splendid orange saree and the simple red necklace. Deep within me I wished I would study music under her someday and I could imbibe within me as much grace as she did! I could not help wondering the depth of experience this lady would have gone through to attain such a poise that very evidently is not from upbringing or a social class, but can only come through the quality of spirit, defining the soul’s powerful journey. I watched as she patiently sang take after take of a particularly song that was finally pulled together at 3am. She had a flight back to Chennai at 6am. And after the take, her eyes were completely red. Her face looked stretched with exhaustion. And yet she sang every take, weaving every note with the very fiber of her soul, as if it were the first…and the last. In between these she would sit down exhausted on a chair provided at the corner. Yet every time a crew member approached her, she would smile…a smile that lit her beautiful eyes every time. She was a Goddess in earthly presence. Out of sheer homage, I had the pleasure of serving her tea in one of those breaks, though I was supposed to only take interviews. In my child’s mind, she was already my idol, one I aspire to be in many years to come.
That night, or dawn if I may put it that way, as my director-friend and I drove back to his home, exhausted, I was lost in tears. Something about her presence and observing her had stirred me to the depths of my being. I felt incredible humility in her presence, one that I have experienced in the deepest, most profound meditations in my spiritual workshops. But to see it being imbibed was a first for me. In the wee hours of that day, I wept until I was empty to the best of my abilities. I felt like owning back the music that I had disowned for so many years in the pursuit of my spiritual healing. She gave me back that state of worship singing had brought me to although very unconsciously several years back when for hours I would rehearse with my tanpura at home as a child. I quietly made intent to sing that way, and perhaps with her too someday and drifted off to sleep. After coming back to Pune from the Coke Studio stint, I got back to resuming my classical singing classes.
A month later as I saw her episode telecasted my tears welled up all over again at the sacred experience it was just being there and experiencing music being created in the darkness of the sets. I took the courage a week later to call her up and it was a thrill to hear her lovely voice over the phone as I told her how very touched I was with her performance. She sounded just like she had the first time I met her – an image of a wind chime happily dancing in the wind flashed in front of my eyes – taking everything in its stride and retaining its grace through every sound.
This post is a dedication to this incredible woman who inspired me immensely, both musically and as a person. Thank You Ma’m for your Godliness!