India Today - - INSIDE - —Palash Kr­ishna Mehro­tra

What hap­pens when you re­sign your­self to fate? Fate loses in­ter­est in you, al­low­ing you to take con­trol of your des­tiny. It sounds like ho­cus pocus, but it isn’t. A bit like the Delhi band, Men­whopause.

Men­whopause is spe­cial for many rea­sons. For one, it has been around, in some form or the other, for close to 18 years. It was in 2000 that fu­ture bassist Ran­deep Singh ap­proached the band at a gig, in Dilli Haat of all places. Sarab­jit Chadha, then lead vo­cal­ist (now proud fa­ther) and scion

of a car ra­di­a­tor em­pire, was wail­ing like a ban­shee in the au­gust com­pany of cot­ton bed­sheets and woollen dur­ries.

The band, like the city they sing about, is a sur­vivor. Be­tween them, Men­whopause has seen life up close: bipo­lar dis­or­der, al­co­holism, can­cer and Parkin­son’s. Some of its mem­bers chose to go their dif­fer­ent ways, but the larger Men­whopause project has never stood still. Lead gui­tarist Anup Kutty has played the role of Amar Singh, the ul­ti­mate back­room boy, stitch­ing to­gether sta­ble coali­tion gov­ern­ments year after year.

An ex­am­ple of this mal­leabil­ity is the en­try of for­mer fan­boy Shiv Ahuja, who has taken on key­board and synth du­ties after the de­par­ture of acous­tic mas­ter-weaver In­der Pal Singh.

Venues for al­ter­na­tive rock have dried up in Delhi, but the band hasn’t let this de­ter them. In­dia is a vast coun­try; Men­whopause has turned this ge­og­ra­phy into an as­set.

Last month, when in­dia to­day spoke to them over the phone, they were lost in a for­est some­where in Arunachal Pradesh.

They were look­ing for a place called Sei­josa, where they were con­tracted to play a gig. There is a de­li­cious irony to this. A band from Delhi makes an al­bum about Delhi, then says eff you to main­land Delhi and takes the mes­sage to the in­te­ri­ors of the North­east in­stead: the Pakke Paga Fes­ti­val, the In­ter­na­tional Loin­loom Fes­ti­val, as well as venues in Karbi An­g­long (As­sam), Diezephe (Na­ga­land) and Aizawl (Mi­zo­ram). It’s the ul­ti­mate revenge of the na­tive. To these they’ve added their own Ziro Fes­ti­val of Mu­sic, which Kutty and Ran­deep have been cu­rat­ing for the past five years.

In 2017’s Neon Delhi, their muse is Delhi, the city they grew up in. It’s about New Delhi chang­ing colour and char­ac­ter. The al­bum is lit­tered with ref­er­ences to what the cap­i­tal has wit­nessed, from mon­ster Red­line buses to the 1984 Sikh ri­ots. As Kutty says, “It’s also about noise. Wher­ever you go in Delhi you hear the sound of the elec­tric drill. It’s in­escapable. It bores a hole in your brain.”

Kutty and Ran­deep know some­thing about these changes. They ran a suc­cess­ful restau­rant and bar called The Toddy Shop in Hauz Khas Vil­lage, which briefly be­came the hub of Delhi bo­hemia. Their take on the ‘cap­i­tal’s hood of ex­cess’ can be seen in the video to the sin­gle ‘On a Boat’ (fea­tur­ing Preet Vi­har Hindi rap­per Faadu), the happy healthy off­spring of bilin­gual for­ni­ca­tion.

The mu­sic video fea­tures their cur­rent man­ager Sa­haj Bha­tia, who spent a night in jail for chuck­ing a glass of wa­ter at a Congress politi­cian ac­cused of fo­ment­ing the Sikh ri­ots. These are kids from the 1980s who started out in Delhi’s un­fash­ion­able sub­urbs: Srini­waspuri, Gau­tam Na­gar and Paschim Vi­har.

Neon Delhi is a slow burner, arty, ex­per­i­men­tal and weird. Good al­bums, it is said, take time to grow on you. One should be mor­tally sus­pi­cious of any­thing that sounds great on the first lis­ten. When they first de­buted these new songs at a packed gig in Hard Rock Cafe, Delhi, the ef­fect was that of a band solip­sis­ti­cally tinker­ing with their in­stru­ments.

First im­pres­sions can be mis­lead­ing. Neon Delhi is a head­phone al­bum, each song a care­fully crafted, heav­ily-lay­ered piece of jig­saw that welds per­fectly to­gether. Un­der the pound­ing open­ing riff of ‘Maybe Who Knows’, you will hear snip­pets of Modi and Ke­jri­wal. Says Ran­deep, “When we play live, we jum­ble up the or­der of songs. It’s a new jig­saw ev­ery time.”

Neon Delhi, though, is more than a com­ment on the rise/ de­cline of a city. There are sub­tle mo­ments of look­ing in­wards; they find is­lands of quiet in the midst of city thrum: ‘Let my words re­main/ The blush from the line/ That my bass rings into the void/ Let me give you a sneak of what the song sings’ (‘Let’s Sing a Song’).

The qui­etest of chords have been writ­ten in the car in the mid­dle of Delhi traf­fic jams. The band doesn’t mince words about work­ing in a soul-killing In­dian en­vi­ron­ment of sti­fling medi­ocrity and its hand­maiden, peer envy: ‘You are crabs, in a bucket, with no per­spec­tive/ Search­ing for the un­speak­able truth (while) you’re just a bunch of lies/ It doesn’t mat­ter if you come out good, cos in the end it’s out of spite...’ (‘Ship of Fools’).

In the Net­flix doc­u­men­tary on Keith Richards, Tom Waits says writ­ing songs is like an an­cient rit­ual; you have to wait for the song to let you in. Pause for a minute and al­low these men to wel­come you into this time­less tribal rit­ual, arms wide open: ‘Now that the song has ended/ You’ll get the tune/ When you’re back home’ (‘Back home’).

Bipo­lar dis­or­der, can­cer, Parkin­son’s— the band has sur­vived it all

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