New Book On Indian Ocean Hits The Stands
A coffee table book chronicles the journey of the Delhi folk rock band through two decades, using photos from family, friends and fans
To document the life and journey of one of India’s biggest bands is not an easy task. It took Delhi-based author and Indian Ocean fan Vineet Sharma roughly two years to collate and create a visual and textual narrative of the band’s journey in the book that is simply titled ‘Indian Ocean’. This is the first time that Sharma, who is the publisher at Parragon Books and editor of several books on history, music, wildlife and travel, has taken on writing. What makes the book interesting is the story of the band being narrated through photographs, even if it is not told in chronological order. Says Sharma when we meet him in Mumbai, “This book doesn’t follow the clichéd format like this is where they started and this is their childhood picture archive and now they’ve started getting older. The visual story is fairly intertwined as the flashbacks are injected through the story. That way, I think the thread for the book was perhaps the most difficult.” Excerpts from an interview with Sharma.
How did you pick Indian Ocean?
Because they truly deserve it. They sort of changed the music scene for good and very early on in those years when nobody dared to do that. I remember that most of the bands would play covers and pretty much just western music. Then there was Indian Ocean. The college crowd saw pretty much a western lineup [in Indian Ocean] – a bass guitar, an electric Yamaha guitar, drums – and they saw them play some very Indian music. Fusion was the easiest word that came to mind. But it was nothing by the book at all. There were no vocals initially, no lyrics, very instrumental, beat changes across a 10-minute piece and a never-heard-of Indian style on western instruments.
This music has endured over 20 years, but Indian Ocean have managed to be ahead of the curve despite a lot of new music and bands coming in. So I think that’s what got me going.
Do you remember the first time you heard the band?
It was at Max Mueller Bhavan at the launch of Desert Rain, which was, of course, jam packed. I was completely enthralled. But during the course of interviews for the book, when all five of us got into one room at the jam pad and got talking, we realized that there was this early show they did at the Lady Hardinge College in Delhi [which was their first show] and I was there as well. And I asked “Were you guys known as Indian Ocean at that time?” and they said, “Yeah, we were. But nobody put our name up unfortunately.”
Tell us about how you tracked the band
For years, I kept going to their shows, but never went up and spoke to them. The first member of the band that I met was Susmit. This was at photographer Raghu Rai’s book launch and we got talking. We went hiking together soon after. I met Rahul at shows and the rest of the band all together at their practice pad, 16/330 Khajoor Road.
We decided for the book to be a visual and a textual narrative. At some point, I saw some stupendous pictures of The Beatles and I thought that I’m not going to find images like those. So where is the point of difference going to be? That was when we decided to start talking to family members, friends and we had some incredible pictures then. The family pictures we dug up showed us the fun times of the band and the struggle of the band. Those are fantastic photos and that’s how the journey started. Then, of course, Indian Ocean pitched in and they went online asking their fans and friends for photos. Then the challenge was that if we used all concert photos, the book would be all red and blue [since stage lights are usually in this color]. So I commissioned this lovely young photographer Shatabdi Chakrabarti to shoot some photos. He did a lot of good work, which were shot during the course of putting the book together. So there were three sets of pictures – archival photos from family and friends, fan photos and the third was from the photographers, who orchestrated the shoots.
What is the most remarkable aspect of Indian Ocean?
One thing that clearly strikes me is that all four members of the band had a lot of say in what had to be done. There is no one frontman in this band. All of them together are a true culmination of ideas and thoughts. Each would drag it into their own realm and make something out of that melody and the riff that somebody created at some point. Obviously, there are egos and clashes and those have been there all along and I think everyone understands that each member has a pretty strong personality, his own thoughts and his own take. At times, you see them quite publicly debating issues during interviews. But I think the most remarkable thing for me is how each of them have been immensely sensitive about the other person’s capabilities. Rahul once told me, “If it hadn’t been for Susmit’s single-mindedness, Indian Ocean wouldn’t have existed. He was the guy who was really driving hard.” And he said this at a time when Susmit was almost ready to move on. I think that’s really commendable.
What do you think is the road ahead for Indian Ocean?
I’m looking forward to seeing the evolution of Indian Ocean. It was a tough time with Susmit leaving. It’ll be very interesting to see what Indian Ocean and he [Susmit] with his project will come up with. When the book was almost done and the decision [of Susmit leaving] was announced, we had to have a meeting because it was a very difficult moment for me too. I had to add a twist to the story and be honest about it. It is not just saying somebody’s leaving the band. Here was a brilliant transition in the making and Susmit not only welcomed all of the new members, but also helped them evolve with the band. I’ve seen Nikhil [Rao, the band’s new guitarist] in the studio with Susmit asking him “Dada how do I do this?” It was simply wonderful. You don’t get to see wonderful transitions like this in bands.
Indian Ocean is available online on Parragon Books and costs Rs 1495.
Here’s a look at some photos from the book. Photos: Courtesy Parragon Books