Under my byline

Winter warmth

Posted in Foodie, Profiles by Rrishi on 4 January 2009

(c) Susmit BoseChilas and chilling with urban folk singer Susmit Bose

“I keep telling young people that those of us who were not there in the ’70s really missed out,” Susmit Bose says. “The first stage of globalisation wasn’t market-driven, it was just heart.” He’s talking about the musical generation of Bob Dylan, with such songs as “Masters of War”, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Blowing in the Wind”.

But it’s more than the music: Bose is talking about the whole way of thinking about the world that was exemplified by the folk rock of Dylan, Pete Seeger (who is a friend) and many others. Vietnam, moon race, Cold War, nuclear threat, spiritualism: youngsters of the 1970s had a lot to react to, and they did. Bose calls himself an urban folk singer, and in his work tries to bring a bit of that 1970s spirit to our post-liberalisation generation.

“So all you young friends of mine,” he sings in a 2005 song, “Listening and swinging tonight / Unlearn your dreams of money / I’m telling you, it’s a point of no return.” (It’s titled “Money Talks and Cash Yaps”.)

“I went to somebody’s house,” he says, appalled, “and there was this little boy, about eight,” who, when asked about his goals, said “‘Big car, big house, money.’ The father, who was 43 years old, had the same kind of dream.”

Children get along with him, he says. “By the power of the guitar they find you accessible. They see the earring, bald head and gray hair and think — my god, why’s my dad not like this? They take me as a friend.” But his own children were less impressed. “My daughter used to say, please don’t come to school to pick me up. You look so poor!”

Susmit Bose, Song of the Eternal Universe, 2008Performing in the West during the 1970s, one of Bose’s songs topped the UK charts. But eventually he came home to India. He had a family, and by then “of course money was a criterion”. So he made documentaries, and also consulted for an ad agency. “At that time I was supposedly a star, so the agency put me into client servicing” — which meant, collecting money. “I learnt business” that way, he says. Then he set up a graphic design unit. “It did so very well that I got scared” and gave it up.

Now he writes, performs, records and sells his own music, at performances and through his website (he calls it “guerrilla marketing”). With three albums and some singles behind him, not to mention such oddities as a song for CNN on street food, he has turned to work in support of social issues. For instance, over the next year he will audition rock bands from the North-east to perform songs he writes on AIDS for the UNDP.

Bose with the Bauls (c) Susmit BoseBose’s songs are easy to listen to and sing along with. He has a simple, three-chord style — which led him to the Baul musicians of Bengal, with their simple but soulful music. “The Baul concept was so good,” he says, that he was hooked for life.

In accordance with his simple tastes (and modest kitchen abilities), he’s frying us besan chilas, one of those snacks that taste best on cold days. They go very well with pickle or chutney, and even better with warm conversation.

FAVOURITE RECIPE

WINTER CHILA

½ cup besan
2 cups water
Pinch of heeng
A little ajwain
A little dhania powder
Mustard oil

Stir together the besan and water with the heeng, ajwain and dhania powder to make the batter. It should be of medium consistency, neither too thick nor too runny. Heat a little oil in a flat, non-stick pan. Keep the stove on high heat. When the pan’s hot, spread the batter on it as for a dosa, one at a time. When you can smell the hot besan, the underside should be cooked. Flip the chila like an omelette, carefully, to cook the other side briefly. Serve immediately, with any of the following: pickle, green chutney or tomato chutney.

(All the images are from Susmit Bose’s website, where you can also listen to some of his songs.)

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One Response

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  1. Susmit Bose said, on 5 January 2009 at 9:28 am

    Rrishi, I liked your blog very much and the article in it has a different catch. Stay well and keep writing!!!!


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