“You couldn’t not like someone who liked the guitar.” ― Stephen King, The Stand
The bearded man with long hair, guitar in hand – profound & melodic voice with a magnetic personality on and off the stage- Rahul Ram is no stranger to the world of music. The heart-touching full-throated voice behind songs like “ruk ja re bandhe..ki kudrat has padegi” and many others is also a real-life crusader, when it comes to subjects like environmental issues, communalism, injustice etc. Rahul Ram opens his heart about his journey of life, travel and views on climate change:
- From St Xavier’s school to St Stephen’s College, New Delhi to IIT Kanpur and Ph.D. from Cornell University, an activist with the Narmada Bachao Andolan in the 90s and finally the mellifluous passionate man with the guitar – a remarkable and multifaceted journey, so far! How will you describe this journey in your own words?
It is very difficult to describe 50 years in a few words. I have never been the kind of person who would say ‘that was the highlight of my life or the best part of my career’ etc. For me, every stage of life seems to carry with it its happiness and challenges. I would always prefer to enjoy the fun of all these phases of life rather than analysing too much. In a word, it has been a journey full of happy memories. Days in school, college, MSc, Cornell and, of course, 30 years with the Indian Ocean- were enjoyable and enriching experiences. Yes, there were bad phases also. But, I do not give too much importance or dwell too much on them.
- You have always been upfront and opinionated about various aspects related to politics, humanity, the environment etc. Does the medium of music help express your feelings?
A few of them definitely do help in expressing your thoughts.. Songs like Bandheh, Mann Kasturi, Ma Rewa, Hille Le etc. did talk about my feelings about communalism, displacement of people from their own land etc. Most recently, the parody songs that we have done in Aisi Taisi Democracy are right on the mark in expressing my opinion and feelings on contemporary issues. To answer your question, yes, music does help.
- You have been travelling to various destinations for your performances and also for recreation. How do you love travelling and how important is it for you?
For me, travel is all about work trips. No, I don’t enjoy all of it (smile); long flights, getting up at 3 am only to rush for the next location etc. are the least enjoyable parts of most of my travels. Once I reach my destinations and have my free time between work, I do enjoy my travel experiences. I have never been a good ‘holiday person’! I hardly remember going for a pure holiday trip; it’s more like managing your own free time and breaks from work trips to enjoy and relax.
On the other hand, there are journeys that I will always remember. Journeys that I took with my band. Our trip to New Zealand, Grand Canyons, Arizona and many others. For the last couple of years, I have been enjoying my frequent visits to the mountains in Northern India where I have bought the land.
- Climate change, natural calamities, pollution and many other factors are constantly affecting our environment for the worse. Scientists have cautioned us about this being the high time to take real steps towards saving our planet. What advice would you give to the common people in this perspective?
My small but strong advice for people is to take it very seriously. Climate change is going to completely change the way we live. We are already experiencing it. We need to learn quickly to adapt to the new lifestyle. Consuming less electricity, avoiding wastage of natural resources, buying less stuff and living a simple an basic lifestyle is no longer an option but only ways to live. Climate change is not a joke.
- Please, share with us some of your memorable travel experiences.
In terms of sheer wonder, I drove across the US with my friend Brij Kothari. That was the time when I had just finished my Ph.D. and he had finished his MMastere took a car belonging to a friend and drove all the way across the western part of America. We have explored some of the amazing places like Yosemite, the rocky mountains of Teton, Grand Canyons, and all the national parks in the western zone. Those were the unforgettable three weeks- long drives, each day new experiences, no hurry and, of course, no money either! Budget sleep in the sleeping bags out in the cold, one meal a day managing the rest of the days with cold cuts and bread and no alcohol- all you need to have memories forever.
Another beautiful trip was with Ashim and Amit Roy, when we went to Southern Islandn New Zealand after finishing about seven shows in the North Island in the year 2002.
Travel experiences within India are too many to mention. My experience with the Narmada Andolan in the valley, living in Tribal villages is one that can not be replicated. These experiences remain in the mind. In those days there were no cell phones and I didn’t have a camera. So, not many photographs to look back on and share with friends.
- Any wish list?
I do not have a bucket list. I do not believe in bucket lists. Bucket lists are just not my thing. Rather, I believe, the ‘bucket list’ makes it more of a made-up commercial marketing ploy to make people think they ought to do ‘these’ things to be happy! I would rather think if your experiences and your reading draw you to a certain place you should just visit and enjoy.
- What are the future projects that you are planning?
Presently, we are working on the music for a big play on Baba Saheb Ambedkar. This is initiated by the Delhi Government and we are having a great time making the music. Indian Ocean’s next album is due sometime next month. It was all ready to go and then the pandemic hit, so everything stopped. We are hoping to get that done if Omicron permits. I want to do a big Aisi tasi democracy US tour sometime this summer. Also, an Australian tour is coming up.
So that’s my notion of Future Projects. just keep making more music and then keep going in whichever direction the world takes you!
(Interviewed on April, 2022)