Twenty years ago in June 2000, I reached Dharwad in North-West Karnataka to join the State Bank of India’s College Road Branch as a probationary officer, after an intensive stint at SBI’s Staff Training Centre, Agra. The bank had a policy of sending probationers to training centres in different parts of the country before bringing them back to work in their assigned branches.
My colleague Sri Krishna Chandra had been posted in Hubli Main Branch, and the two of us were new and enthusiastic friends, so every other weekend we would try to meet up. I would leave Dharwad in the morning and take a minibus down the busy Pune-Bangalore road, a journey of about 45 minutes. From the road we could see a railway line criss-crossing large industrial areas – notably that of TELCO and Tata Motors, other massive factories, and Indian Oil’s gigantic storage tanks. It was a deeply fascinating ride and it produced in me epiphanic visions of India’s industrial landscape – which I had only encountered after leaving Shillong. The industrial grandeur sat well with my predilection for psychedelic music and dystopian science fiction.
I had brought my Philips double deck cassette player with its strong bass speakers. In Agra, my music had been the few cassettes I had brought from Shillong, most notably Bang! The Greatest Hits of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, which I always had on repeat as Chandra and I battled drowsiness in the intense heat of the Agra afternoons, back in our room after classes, ritualistically trying to crank up the air cooler with its clunky beating fan and dripping rear panels. Other trainees, noting the blaring bass from my room would join us for impromptu breakdance sessions.
In Dharwad, I scoured its lanes and streets for music shops and cassettes to buy. Chandra and I would take turns to explore each other’s towns, and it was deep in the heart of the cacophonous Dharwad main market, neatly submerged under a large banyan tree, that I chanced upon a dinghy but joyously noisy tape recorder and repair shop. That morning, we had sauntered through a delightfully haphazard press of cloth, fruit, electronics and bangle shops, passing between us a small box of the delicious Dharwad Peda from the Misra sweetmeat shop on the hilltop above the market.
I was actually drawn in by the sight of a gent outside the premises, bending over a speaker box assembly, a screwdriver and a pair of tweezers delicately balanced in each hand. As my rapacious eyes took in the dark interiors, he looked up, gave me a toothy smile and animatedly nodded for us to step inside. We sauntered past the wooden counter into the inner depths. I suddenly espied a pile of dusty tapes arranged high on a wooden shelf with their faded spines facing outward. I have no memory of most of their names, and in all probability they were nondescript and “condemned” – the word people in Karnataka love to use to describe junk.
But the one that really caught my eye was Elemental by Tears for Fears. Their 1993 album with the tinted picture of frontman Roland Orzabal on the cover sleeve.
You can imagine my joy at this chance discovery in leafy Dharwad, bless its ancient soul. Yes, I had heard of them, but I had never before heard them. The patron of the shop said nobody had ever looked at this part of his shop and then he excitedly said, “20 rupees off… I’m Natraj! Come and see more next week, I have friends, I mean another shop with a really big collection!” I was beaming smiles at him and then at Chandra, and we gratefully promised Natraj we would return to his shop.
That night, from one of the local eateries dotting College Road, Chandra and I got ourselves a big bag of fried chicken, two-three cans of beer and we rushed back to my place. Carefully inserting the cassette into the cavernous belly of the double deck, we were immediately hooked to Tears for Fears, completely in a trance with the expansive melodies, powerful synth and guitar work and philosophical lyrics. It was an album that was balm to my experiences of loneliness, nostalgia and travel.
I was missing my beloved Shillong. And while I felt welcomed in my place of work, and almost at home in quiet sleepy Dharwad with its myriad walking paths and the stately Dharwad University with the railway line cutting through, existentially I found myself adrift. With each of the tracks on the album, especially the proverbial Fish Out Of Water, the title track Elemental, Dog’s A Best Friend’s Dog, and Goodnight Song I found succour of a different kind. And to top it all, complementing my visions of the railway lines and oil storage depots, on the B side of the cassette, was this exquisite, spaced out, near-wordless track called Gas Giants!
So this little account is a tribute to Dharwad-Hubli, to industry, to railway lines and to my musical benefactor in that cassette shop under the big banyan tree! Dharwad, my early experiences with the SBI, my friendship with Chandra and Tears for Fears are all inextricably linked. Elemental represents to me a safe and comforting place, its music stored deep in my imagination and in my memories.
Author: Adil Hasan
Adil Hasan was born in 1971 in Shillong, north-east India where he lived for close to 30 years before moving to Bangalore. Having previously worked in the banking industry, Adil is now a visual artist and a freelance writer. His poems have been published in Kitaab and The Thumb Print magazine. ‘MAD, Attock, Attandi” a short story, was longlisted for the Half and One Prize, 2018. An exhibition of Adil’s industrial-themed art titled Escape The Dark – A Digital Fantasy was held in 2014 in Bangalore. He is presently working on a collection of prose poems juxtaposed with his artwork.