Photo Courtesy: Kalimpong info (Peter J Karthak with Choden Tshering Bhutia)
Ranjit Gazmer: My mother's favourite son!
PETER J KARTHAK
Among all of Amber Gurung's chelas at his Art Academy of Music in Darjeeling, Ranjit Gazmer was to remain my most steadfast companion, collaborator and fellow traveller for many years. Though he was senior to me, like most Academy members, Ranjit had the qualities of chumminess that made him young at heart, although he was already married and had two daughters by 1966 when we came together to Birgunj to manage an �English-medium� private school. With us were also Anuradha Gurung, now Anuradha Koirala of Maiti Nepal, and others.
Ranjit was a frequent visitor to our house, and had charmed his way into my mother's heart. His charisma was evident when Mother served us meals. She apportioned the best chunks of meat and the thickest gravy and choice achar to Ranjit's plate, with second helping ever ready for him before her own two biological sons. This was preferential treatment in Ranjit's favour, and mother's affirmative discrimination going against her own two sons.
My younger brother Mark, more blunt, vocal and forthcoming than me, could not take it silently anymore. �Why do you love Ranjit so much? He's your favourite son, not us!�
�Hush! Mother reminded us, He's a fatherless child.�
�Aha! And do we have our father? Mark was aghast. We didn't even see our father! At least Ranjit must've seen his for sometime. We're also fatherless children!�
Mother then employed her tried-and-tested Christian censure. Don't talk back to your elders, you smart rascal! Don't you ever argue with your seniors, you hear? Is this what they teach you at the Sunday School? Is this what you learn at the church?
Well, it's not fair! Mark, indeed, would not expect to be cheated by his own mother while Ranjit enjoyed her seamless doting.
But Mother had learnt her lesson. From the next time, she was judicious with the chicken legs between Ranjit, Mark and me.
Our Mother had reasons to take pity on Ranjit. During the British Raj, Gazmer sharafis controlled the gold and silver trade in the entire district of Darjeeling, Sikkim and elsewhere. But in India's post-independence era, Jawaharlal's Nehruvian socialism nationalised banks, turned princes into paupers, and drove Nizams to nihilism, rendered Rajas to ranks and minced Maharajahs to munshis. His daughter Indira did her bit in cancelling the destitute royals' Privy Purse and regulated the gold and silver markets. Consequently, the glittering jewellery shops of Chowk Bazar in tea-rich Darjeeling were reduced to mere pawnshops. Ranjit Gazmer was a dispossessd heir to this world turned upside down.
Ranjit began his musical yatra as Sharan Pradhan's twin and alter ego. As students at Turnbull High, he played tabla to Sharan's banjolin, later mandolin. At the Academy, Amber Gurung had to have Ranjit as his indispensable tabalchist at all times, during rehearsals as well as in public performances and recordings. Ranjit was a virtuoso in both shastriya tals and Bombay's filmi 'commercial' beats.
In the meantime, he - along with Karma Yonzon, Gopal Yonzon, Sharan and Jitendra Bardewa - was developing his own creative finesse and honing his musical genre that made him Sharan's partner at our newly fangled Sangam Club after our departure from Amber Gurung's gurukul. At Sangam, Ranjit excelled as a fine arranger while also working with Sharan on melodies. Jitendra was our principal wordsmith.
Sharan and Aruna Lama left Sangam in 1964, Jitendra also following suit very soon to form his own Shravan Samuha. These sad departures left Ranjit and me as the only creative duo at Sangam. I was forced to be a lyricist and singer to Ranjit's tunes besides maintaining my old self as a senior guitarist.
It was also the time when we both played with Louis Banks' quartet at the Gymkhana and other spots, he as the drummer and I as the bassist. During the day, I attended college while Ranjit worked at the IGRD (Indian Gorkha Recruiting Depot) very high up on the Jal Pahar hill, teaching 'A for Ekka' alphabets to the Nepali raw rangroots for the army.
It was also the time when I had already formed The Hillians, the first indigenous Rock 'n' Roll band of Darjeeling. My best friend Choden Tshering Bhutia was the glowing inspiration behind my musical nurture and other maturing developments during those years.
Because I owe so much to Choden for her contributions to my formative years in Darjeeling, she deserves to be a totally separate story which I must eventually write. The Hillians are also quite a story in itself. Right now, it is Ranjit's story.
By 1964, it was clear that Ranjit and I had developed a workable understanding: While he was the boss at the Sangam, I was the leader of The Hillians. While I was the singer, songwriter and musician at Sangam during its last days under Ranjit's leadership, he was the drummer for The Hillians under my stewardship. A finer partnership is rare in the world!
It was also a time when Ranjit and I developed a fetish for chords. As a result, Ranjit invented a C-Bm-Dm/G7-C chordal pattern with the other usual tonic, dominant and sub-dominant chords in place. I wrote the words and sang it. It was a super-duper hit in Darjeeling. But Louis Banks laughed insultingly at the unsuitable and out-of-place interlude. He replaced it with his own passage that had an E Major chord in it, making the song compleat. I on my part inserted A Minor. This song is called 'Mayalu', and The Hillians recorded it at the Hindustan Records in Calcutta in 1965. I believe the band 1974 AD has also recently recorded it.
By 1966, we were in Birgunj. Our gang had Anuradha, Ranjit, Phurba and myself. By the beginning of 1967, all of us had arrived in Kathmandu. There were three Hillians while Mark and Kamal Gurung were left in Darjeeling. Mark joined us later, and we became studio musicians at Radio Nepal. We had to sacrifice our creative urge and became mere helping hands to such maestros as Amber Gurung, Gopal Yonzon, Narayan Gopal, Nati Kazi and Shiva Shanker. But we turned out to be indispensable musicians without whose participation no major recordings were deemed possible.
My mother was happy to see Ranjit who stayed with us in Kathmandu while he was Amber Gurung's assistant at the Royal Nepal Academy.
Subsequently, Ranjit's elder sisters, married to rich mill owners in Bombay, decided to have their only remaining maiti and bhai with them. So off he went, leaving us, and eventually joined the charmed circle of Pancham Da, better known as Rahul Dev Burman. Thus he joined the Himalayan community of Hira Singh, Manihari Singh, Narayan Shrestha, Louis Banks, Danny Denzongpa, and later reinforced by Udit Narayan Jha, Manisha Koirala and others. The rest is history.
By the way, Ranjit Gazmer's bulging eyes remain one third open even while fast asleep. This is to say that we know him close enough!
- Courtesy: ekantipur