Zain Calcuttawala: ‘We Just Want to Normalize the Concept of Depression’
The Mumbai-based music producer on battling depression and his brand-new initiative Marbles Lost & Found
I am on the phone with Mumbai-based music producer Zain Calcuttawala, chatting with him about his work when he tells me that he was contemplating suicide just earlier that day. He says, “It just comes in waves sometimes I think and it’s exhausting.” Calcuttawala, 29, has been battling depression since the age of 17 but only started addressing the issue two years ago. “A close friend of mine then had been dealing with depression for a long time and based on what they were telling me about what they were dealing, I was actually kind of stunned because in my head I was like ‘Holy shit, this sounds exactly what I’ve been dealing with for the past 10 years of my life,’” he says.
Two weeks ago, Calcuttawala launched a podcast called Marbles Lost & Found to address mental health, depression and anxiety. In an introductory video about the podcast, he opens up about his own story and how people with mental health conditions can seek help. “I’ve been talking to a lot of people [who] have been dealing with a lot of things in a very similar light and for me, that was the epiphany and I was like ‘Why the fuck is it still so taboo?’” He adds, “If so many people are feeling this let’s do something about it and that’s when it started.”
Calcuttawala – who released his debut EP Just This Once under the moniker Bulli Bainbridge last year – grew up in Lagos, Nigeria for the first decade of his life before settling in Kodaikanal. He later moved to Mumbai in 2006. After graduating from high school, he decided to take a year off, much to his parents’ concern. “I thought I’m going to have a lot of fucking fun… I was one of the few people in my class taking a year off while everyone else moved to college. I hadn’t really lived in Bombay before, so I didn’t have groups [of friends],” he says.
The music producer says he got into a vicious cycle of waking up in the morning and sitting at his computer for almost the entire day, and then going back to sleep. He explains, “I just started getting really, really restless; really, really jittery and felt like I really wasn’t doing anything with myself.” Getting out of bed every morning felt like a task, as if there was a heavy weight on his chest.“That’s when it (depression) first started,” he says.
Two years ago, he hit rock bottom. Life seemed to offer only two options. “Either I’m going to take my own life or I need to do something about this,” he admits.
“I’m actually welling up right now thinking about it. It was a night when I was in a very, very dark place and I didn’t know what to do, I just tried to think of all the things that I could do to distract myself. Like, at first, I thought I’d watch a movie, and then as I started watching something I was like, ‘No don’t feel like it,’ then I was like let me try reading a book, I tried reading something for all of like a couple of pages and then I was like, ‘Let me try and brush up on my skills and watch a couple of YouTube tutorials on music production or sound engineering and stuff like that’ to keep the brain stimulated, and then I was like, ‘No couldn’t give a fuck,’ I just don’t give a shit about anything and it just started to spiral.”
The music producer soon reached out to a close friend of his, who at the time, was out but excused herself to talk to Calcuttawala over the phone for 20 minutes. “I was in tears and a real fucking mess,” he says. After this phone call, Calcuttawala felt relieved. That massive weight was finally off his chest. “It was very cathartic and emotional. It was the first time I felt I wasn’t alone.”
Apart from seeking therapy, some of the ways Calcuttawala makes himself feel better is by meditating, exercising and eating right. He says, “One thing that also helped me a lot is as soon as I realized that I could open up and when a lot of people opened up to me too that in itself can feel very cathartic.”
With his initiative Marbles Lost & Found, that he co-founded with friends Avanti Malhotra, Nisha Vasudevan, Ujaala Chaudhuri and Shadaab Kadri, Calcuttawala hopes to start a dialogue around mental health and convey that it is alright to talk about it. He says, “Thankfully there is more talk on depression and anxiety in the last couple of years, but there is still a lot of work to be done. As a starting point, we just want to normalize the concept of mental health.”
Marbles Lost & Found launched on June 19th and will release new episodes every Tuesday each with a duration of about 20-25 minutes with guests including those affected, their caregivers and professional therapists. The initiative has partnered with IVM Podcasts and is available on the IVM website as well as on the IVM YouTube and Soundcloud pages.