Between ambition and ability
Review of ‘Made in India’ by Biddu
If given a choice to read fiction or an autobiography, I will invariably choose the latter because there is so much life breathing in the pages there. It doesn’t matter if it is the real story of an ordinary citizen or a lauded and applauded celebrity. Autobiographies take you right into the heart of the moment when a truth is lived and this is what makes them so invaluable. For instance, who else but Biddu could have described Feroz Khan as ‘a lovable rogue with a cavalier attitude’ or that this actor had an accent that ‘was a fusion of Indian inflection, a BBC newsreader’s plummy-ness and the suggestion of a Yankee drawl’.
We all remember Biddu, don’t we? At least my generation remembers Nazia Hassan, her song ‘Aap jaisa koi meri zindagi mein aaye’, and the pleasantness in her voice that ‘was around C3, from middle C to G4 – warm, expressive, and nubile.’ To my mind and to the minds of many Indians, Biddu got his fame because of Nazia… and not the other way round. But hey, it was Biddu who gave Nazia’s ‘not so great voice’ some oomph and he ‘used a rhythm box with a Latin beat to give it a hip-swaying groove’ As I read through the story of Biddu, written by Biddu, I realised how struggle and devotion gave him the power to create songs that could make even sleeping chromosomes come alive!
Yes, I loved reading ‘Made in India – Adventures of a lifetime’ written by Biddu and his quests that strolled between ambition and ability. The insights and the ‘going back in time’ is not limited to the way he interacted with the listening choices of an average Indian, but as any autobiography must, the journey takes us through stories of how he reached the shores of Britain and of all the varied struggles he had to face. It is these adventures that come across as a combination of hilarity and candor as his life hops from one experience to another.
The author, when he first left the shores of India, was in his own words, akin to ‘savages unused to the touch of silk or the bouquet of a fine Merlot’ and he obviously has his own dose of bumbling and stumbling before he is able to step out of his old skin, so to say.
It is rare to find people writing autobiographies and admitting to their silly hopelessness as candidly as Biddu does… and this is what made me smile as I read about his naïve misadventures:
In my naivety I did not grasp the romance or history of the place. The other big problem was the language. The natives did not speak English. How dare they not? And my idea of Gallic speech was to imitate the shrug of the shoulders when trying to employ a conversation. I found pronunciation of French words horrendously difficult; when I asked passers-by where the ‘Champ Elsie’ was, I got blank stares in return!
But life stories do not maintain their prime position because of misadventures alone and must have their fill of insights, however trivial they may sound to any ear. Biddu admits that he ‘saw some of the singers on television and even the average ones were better than I was. As for the good ones… Hare Ram!’ It is this realisation that that fills him with a nervous dread and he thinks: ‘Could I cut it here in the West? India was a rivulet of flair, while Britain was an ocean of deep talent, and I realised there is a vast difference between ambition and ability.’ The journey of a man with an ear for music is interesting… but gets more intriguingly fascinating when this man happens to be an Indian trying to make it on British soil. Biddu did not believe ‘this tiny island could have so much talent. The music scene was infinitely more crowded than a slum dweller’s hut in Bombay’s Dharavi, and here I was preparing to enter this crowded dungeon of musical genius.’
The language is quite unlike the way Indians write their English and the writing style reflects the number of years he has spent in Britain, where ‘when I came to London I found there were more accents in this little island than there were flies in India.’ He goes on to reveal that ‘it was a time of love, peace, sexual revolution, eastern philosophy and drugs. A joint was no longer a junction or a place to hang out in and dope was no longer an idiot.’ And this is precisely what I mean when I say that Biddu uses his metaphors, similes, and other expressions as if English were his native tongue.
For the hard-core music lovers, the writer delves deep into the times he had lived in and his text, therefore, flows like the lyrics of a song flow into a composition conceptualized by a master!
Yes, there are revelations into the good, not so palatable, and the murkier side of the music scene as well. After all there will always be people managing the music business like Ghenzis Khan would manage his empire. So we come across laments like: ‘Sitting in his ivory tower, he had forgotten how others lived; he was unaware of their needs, their desperation or their desolation. For all his height, he was a pygmy of a man with no heart.’ And not far is the cry emanating from a creative soul that sighs and talks about good music that relies on acceptance by the radio, for instance. Biddu explodes at a point when he writes: ‘If Radio One did not play your song you could kiss its chances of success goodbye.’ Or ‘I realised that without Airplay, the chances of having a big hit were, in the words of the boxing promoter Don King, slim to nil. And slim was out of town.’ These are manoeuvres that the not-so-musically-inclined like me would not even be aware of. So there are insights not just into creating music but also into how to go about selling or marketing it… and also on how Biddu learnt to understand these moves because he too had his quota of songs that had‘…lost amid a thousand songs that suffered a similar fate every year. At least Marc wasn’t out of money, having recouped his costs from the advance that I negotiated with the record company. It was the one other thing I had learnt from making the Tiger’s record.’
Biographies, let me say again, are more connected to life than to imagination and have that special charm that makes them stand out in a world that is so full of concocted stories.
Title: Made in India: Adventures of a lifetime
Publisher: Read Out Loud Publishing
Price: Rs 295/- (in 2015)
You can buy this book:
On Amazon: Made in India: Adventures of a Lifetime
On Flipkart: Made in India (English)
07 October 2015