I moved to Mumbai in '97. I was just another engineering graduate circling the sun in search of employment. Nothing good came my way. So I swallowed what was left of my pride and borrowed more money to enroll for MBA. There I met a girl. We became inseparable. When I landed my first job, she was the first person I called. I’d call her 5 times a day. After finishing work, I’d ride all the way to Marine Drive to sit with her by the sea across the road from the erstwhile (Not Just) Jazz By The Bay. Our conversations always spilled over to the other side of midnight. They were interesting but every time I looked up at the neon sign above the club, I’d disappear into my own world. And she’d bring me back saying, “You will!”
Soon we started going to NJJBTB together. Our first time was Gary Lawyer’s show. That night, Gary invited a sardarji up on stage to sing with him, introducing him as the ‘Urban Legend: Jaspal Dugal.’ Jaspal was a ball of fire. He sang like he had sold his soul to the devil. After the show, he complimented every woman with alarming generosity. He kissed their hands, their faces, and well… their several other 'places' in between. But no one complained. Not even the boyfriends and the husbands. That’s just how Jaspal was… well-spoken, well-groomed, but not even remotely within the vicinity of well-behaved.
Let’s fast-forward a couple of years please.
I was invited to front what would eventually become one of India’s leading classic rock bands, Vayu. As luck would have it, our first show was at NJJBTB. That night, I looked from side to side. I didn't see the beautiful hazel-eyed mind-reader I used to sit by the sea with. (I bet she had erased my number by then.) But I saw Jaspal. After the show, he told everyone from the management team that we needed to be booked regularly. “These guys are spectacular,” I remember Jaspal saying. For the next 5 years, Vayu became a staple name at NJJBTB. Fuelled by our new-found popularity from having headlined all major college festivals in and around the city, the shows attracted large motley crowds from far and wide. But there was one girl I never saw again, and one man I always did.
I don’t sing for Vayu anymore. Jaspal doesn’t live in Mumbai anymore. Yet here we are defying time, geography, and lifestyle... to carry on our own modest version of God’s work. This photograph was taken in Pune in 2020. (Thank you, Rohan Padale.) Looking back, everything I’ve been through has led me to this. Every road. Every choice. Every place. And every person. If I had found a job in ’97 right after moving to Mumbai, I wouldn’t have enrolled for MBA. I wouldn’t have met the girl I took to Gary’s show. And I wouldn’t have known Jaspal the way I do. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Because you see, no matter how tough life gets, it wants you to win.