5.1

NAW- When did your literary journey begin? At what age did you discover that you wanted to write?

I must have been six or seven when I first started to write poems. If I remember right, I moved on to writing songs. I didn’t start writing prose seriously till later, and I had no real plans to write a book… or three for that matter.

I used to write a column called ‘Between The Sexes,’ for The Bangalore Monthly, which sort of set the stage for the books.

NAW- Tell us about your book ‘Men on My Mind.’ Were you focussing on a particular market when you decide to write it?

No I wasn’t. I’m not up on ‘markets’ and ‘demographics’ and ‘age-groups’ and other distinctions that I understand are important for business. For me, writing has to be real. I’m not trying to touch anyone’s heart either, only their funny bone. I like writing humour and mildly sexual humour interests me. We take things too seriously around here. Someone has to keep things light or we’ll become a bunch of thud-brains.

NAW- The protagonist doesn’t mind sleeping around before she can find the right man. The book is a pacey and nice read but the ending sort of fizzled out, did you do it deliberately so there would be scope for a sequel?

The point of the book is that the protagonist needs to sleep around so she can find the right man. In fact, in America, where the book is mostly set, it is a legal requirement. They tell you this at immigration when you arrive. “You must sleep around before you get married. We are trying to improve our divorce statistics.”

The ending was deliberate. Not a fizzle but a sizzle. It was a deliberate cliff-hanger if you will, since a) there was another book coming out, and b) how long can you make one book? I didn’t want it to become an eight-hundred page paperweight.

My just-released new book, a sequel, ‘More Men On My Mind’ picks up where ‘Men On My Mind’ leaves off. So there is a definitive method to my madness.

NAW- How did you come up with the title? Who designed the cover?

The title? Hmmm, it kind of popped into my head and the publishers liked it too. The artwork was entirely conceived of by the designers at Rupa. They have a great team.

NAW- Tell us about yourself? What do you do when you are not writing books?

Besides catching a ton of TV, I’m also a jazz singer. Have been for many years. I have a band called UNK: The Radha Thomas Ensemble. I perform with them sometimes. I also perform with just a piano player at times. It all depends. I just returned from a jazz festival in Romania. I’ve been singing much longer than I’ve been writing actually, so being an author is kind of new for me. When you perform with a band you’re subject to the whims and what nots of the other members of the band. Writing gives you your own space. It’s a different feeling. Aside from my own books I review other people’s books and write the occasional column. I used to work for a publishing house called Explocity, but I’m kind of stepping back from that to focus on writing and singing some more.

NAW- Did you carry out any research for the book? If yes, then how did you go about it?

Oh research is everything. Fortunately there’s Google, where you can dig up anything and everything. The story came from my head, but it’s set in places that I’ve been to but mostly forgotten. So refreshing my memory was a key part of making the story credible.

NAW- What are you reading right now?

I can’t read other people’s books while I’m writing my own. Just like I can’t listen to other people’s music when I’m trying to compose a song. It’s intrusive and there’s every chance that my creativity will be compromised. I’m working on my third book so basically that means research.

NAW- Please name your favourite authors.

PJ O’Rourke, PG Wodehouse, William Safire, Dr Peter Mark Roget. Noah Webster. I am certain all of them have influenced me. Especially Peter and Noah.

NAW- What are your upcoming projects?

My third book. My second album. Hopefully more concerts. But since I’m not driven to compete, I like the idea that I can sit around doing nothing hoping serendipity will fall on my head.

 

NAW Interview with Radha Thomas

INdia Psychedelic

When Sidharth Bhatia contacted me about a year ago armed with a bunch of probing questions about my life as a rock’n’roll singer in the band Human Bondage some two centuries ago (well, I exaggerate, it was in the mid-70s), frankly, I was astonished. “I’m writing a book about rock’n’roll in India, back in the 60s and 70s and a bit of the 80s,” he explained.
Who cares about that I wondered. Most of it was a dim memory. I couldn’t really recall any specifics. I remembered having a lot of fun, being surrounded by cool-looking men, being in the spotlight, which was great. And best of all, I didn’t have to go to college.
But if I remembered nothing much (I don’t think I gave Sidharth anything concrete to go on), the opposite is true of the people who came to listen to us perform. It is almost 40 years since I rocked out, and I am always taken aback when people recall which song I sang at what show back in 1975 and even what I wore. I am shocked that they even remember me.
We must have made an impact because night after night there were hundreds of people listening to us and recording it in their brains.
But all that fan-following and adulation didn’t lead to fame and fortune. This was India. Rock’n’roll bands were competing with Bollywood while reproducing Jimmy Page’s guitar solo on Stairway To Heaven, and Carlos Santana’s wail on Evil Ways and producing perfect reproductions of Hotel California.
Bhatia has patiently contacted dozens and dozens of bands from way back in the 60s, like the band Savages. He points out that while the going may have been tough for them back in the day, one of their records, Black Scorpio, sold for a whopping $3,000 on eBay in 2011. I guess that’s why the word “fan” comes from the word “fanatic”.
Bhatia correctly concludes that of all the rock’n’roll musicians and bands that tried to “make it” in the big bad world in India, there’s been only one person who has succeeded. He of course is Biddu (he doesn’t like to be called by his last name, Appaiah), who boldly went where no Indian had gone before, to the West, where through perseverance and luck he created Kung Fu Fighting, and went on to do much more. Biddu is also a writer, and besides his autobiography, he’s written a novel. Biddu put India on the map in terms of pop or rock’n’roll while most other Indian bands either faded away quietly into corporate India or the grave, because the drugs were a-plenty.
Bhatia captures the ambience, the mood of the era in his book India Psychedelic impeccably — the parallels between the zeitgeist (which was basically to tune in, turn on, drop out, as decreed by one Timothy Leary), the bands that lapped up Leary’s diktat and the music that was in turn exhilarating or downright awful. It
didn’t matter. It was heady and unreal.
I loved reading India Psychedelic. Bhatia rekindled many memories that I’d completely forgotten.
Like the one about C.Y. Gopinath, a friend and writer for Junior Statesman or JS (the only magazine that ever covered the activities of rock’n’rollers and even put our pictures on their pages), had done a story about the life of a beggar by dressing up as one and actually living on the street to write a first-hand experience. At a time when reality journalism was unheard of in India, he was unique. It made him famous.
But since he was a family friend, my mother (who didn’t give a single naya paisa for journalistic accomplishment) ordered him to accompany me in an auto each night to The Cellar (a disco in Connaught Place where I had just begun singing with the Human Bondage) and bring me back, because she didn’t trust me on my own.
CY would amuse me on those rides. He told me that he could make people do whatever he wanted merely by concentrating on the activity with all his focus. “Watch now, I’m going to make the auto driver scratch his left ear with his right hand,” he’d say and screw up his face real hard, as if his gallstones were acting up. And damn it if the auto guy didn’t oblige. In a few minutes he’d be scratching his ear, unaware that a superior human being had taken control of his mind.
This happened very, very often, yet I don’t know if CY was a psychic or not. He lives in Thailand now and I wonder if he’s learned enough Thai to control minds out there.
I am sure that Bhatia’s book is going to bring back forgotten memories for a lot of people who lived through that era. I know the musicians who read this book will certainly enjoy reliving some of their antics.
It’s a bit strange to review a book where you know so many of the characters, share a history with many of them and can still call a few of them friends. It’s almost impossible to be objective.
My ex-husband Suresh, lead guitar player of the Human Bondage, refuses to read the book. He doesn’t think there was much of a scene, certainly nothing worth writing home about. This despite the fact that according to JS, “Suresh Shottam is about the best guitarist in the country. His guitar is heavily influenced by Indian classical music.” Suresh is contrary like that.
But there’s a case for recording and preserving Indian history, no matter how thin the slice or how irrelevant the subject matter is to the larger population. Art is art and Indian rock’n’roll (and jazz) artists don’t ever get the kind of recognition their hours of practice and heart-felt performances ought to command.
So we’ll take our 15 minutes, thank-you-very-much.
But I do have one complaint.
Sidharth, if you’re reading this, my name was Radha Ramchandra. Not Ramaswamy. History is now going to remember me as someone I never was. Boo hoo.
Radha Thomas, then Radha Ramchandra, was the lead singer in the rock band Human Bondage, before turning her attention to jazz. She currently has several jazz projects and performs all over the world. She is also a writer. Her first book was Men On My Mind, and its sequel, More Men On My Mind, will be released in June.

Radha Thomas

Today, I received notice from SoundCloud, a place where I’ve been posting my music, paying for the privilege too, that my album ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ released in 2012 was in violation of copyright.

First I gulped.
Then I swallowed.
Then I got mad.

After all, I had paid Harry Fox, a music licensing company, gobs of money to redo a few jazz standards. They took the money immediately and sent me the physical licenses to allow me to sleep peacefully at night.

The other the other songs were originals, meaning they belonged to me, Aman Mahajan and Suresh Shottam, reasonable fellows who wouldn’t come out clawing in the middle of the night without warning.

So I dashed off a bunch of emails to SoundCloud hoping they were real and not just flashes of light in the clouds.

They were very quick, very responsive and very helpful.

And here’s what they said, “Whenever a sound is uploaded to our platform, it’s checked against the fingerprinting database to verify whether or not the content is copyright protected. If there is a match, we don’t publish the sound. So, if your upload has been blocked, an original copyright owner (The Orchard, who probably distribute for the label you released the album on) submitted it for fingerprinting and requested that its publication on SoundCloud to be prohibited.”

Ok, I said, but whatsitgotta do with me? I don’t know orchard from meadow. I do know Fox and they already got my money.

SoundCloud believed me immediately and restored my tunes and they’re back on the cloud. Proof is https://soundcloud.com/unkensemble/sets/album

But then I did a little snoopling (snooping on Google) and found out that this is the new way of things. According to a bunch of websites, companies are allegedly throwing blankets of ownership around artists on the internet and laying claim to their work.

My understanding of the situation is that they’re locking up the music first and asking questions later. Are we, as artists, guilty before we’ve had a chance to dust off the licenses and email them? It only takes a second, you know.

Is this a big ploy to increase revenue for lawyers? I don’t know. Here’s something to think about if you’re a musician: http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/permalink/2013/08/13/stealingartists

But know this. There are some ogres out there with gargantuan reach and they’ll get you. And if you don’t fight back, it doesn’t matter a whit that you’re legit.