Bob’s Birthday Bash in Barapani

A letter ripped off from the journal of a musically-retarded person, who went to the Knocked Out and Loaded concert of the annual Bob Dylan’s birthday celebration in Shillong

Bob Dylan at Massey Hall, Toronto, April 18, 1980. Photo by Jean-Luc Ourlin (Wikipedia)

Dear Uncle Bob,

Happy belated birthday, and may you stay forever young. If not for you, I would not have gone all the way to a lake resort in Barapani to see your birthday celebration concert but I did, with one of my friends, and we had a drunken and rock n’ rolling time. Quite contrary to the Indian standard time, of which 2pm on the ticket is 4pm, we reached the venue half an hour before the scheduled time. Though my partner, at the entrance he showed his identity card of a major Indian news agency, where he used to work 80 years ago—and we sneaked in comfortably without buying a ticket!

The concert would have probably started at 2pm and there was an unknown band doing a sound check. But then it also started raining so heavily. While taking shelter from the storm, we eavesdropped on a couple of guys with their shining smart phones at a makeshift bar: they said the weatherman said the rain will continue till 3–3:30pm. We were hungry and thirsty but we were nostromolonised when we saw the menu. A whisky peg costs, minimum, 150 bucks. (Waiter, we will come some day, wearing a coat and a tie and a pair of polished Red Tape shoes and will drink everything that is available in your bar, but not today.) We realised how unprepared we had came for the concert. I regretted my rucksack contained one Meghalaya Guardian copy, one Frontline, a notebook and 17 pens, but no camera, no whisky, damn no cigarette. Pity us. But don’t think twice, it’s alright.

When the shower thinned, we headed to Mawlai, the nearest town thirty minutes away from the secluded resort-venue to get something to eat and something to drink. I saw on the road one of the most fresh and amazing views of the hills. The rain had washed away all their tiredness and we can clearly feel their wild yet bracing green expression. Across the way, we can see their bald speckle here and there, which looked like the wounds of a stray dog, instantly reminding of the several mining scams in this state. As we got near the town, there were bandages of buildings. We were only peeping to find a liquor store then, but there was none as I checked the left side of the road while my friend, IB checked the right side. Instead the cab driver took us to Lama Villa, another ten-minute ride, and luckily we found our favourite shop.

Fast forward, we came back smiling around 4:30 and the concert had already started. There were nearly 50 people for the show.  Parker Ainsworth was performing solo and it was interesting to watch him singing like Naba Volcano and Khun Joykumar. There was no Chamelei or Torro number but he composed songs on the spot like the two ‘antique’ Manipuri crooners. For instance, he would ask the crowd to name the three most important things and would sing on those words. A song on peace, freedom and love was exceptional. He also belted Shillong is where you belong.

Barapani is one hour away from Shillong. Pic: Tripadvisor
While Parker was still playing, IB and I went down the bank of the Barapani lake for another round of shots. Words have failed to capture the delightful panorama of the landscape. There was beauty all around in all hues and shades. We were enveloped inside a colourful cocoon that we also became a part of the beauty. Neither word nor picture can capture the beauty. I was drunk with the beauty than I was with the whisky. I’m still in doubt if Scotland is more beautiful! (For that matter, Jawaharlal Nehru called Shillong the Scotland of the East and Manipur the Switzerland of India, while he was trying to rape the Northeast. Then Sardar Vallabhai Patel called him up from Bombay and told him that there must be an army brigadier in Assam or Shillong who could help him.)

As the sun was parting from the sky, a cowboy-looking guy appeared with a psychedelic-colour tee. He took permission to begin his show from Lou Majaw who was standing amongst the crowd. With god on his side, he played well and his vocal was so similar to you, Uncle Bob. He should have been born in America, not in some bloody Meghalaya. Next, a band with a female lead, performed a gospel rock number and a few of your covers. She sang just like Janis Joplin and she and her band should also have been in America. I was thinking of America throughout the concert. The whisky bottle was empty when Uday Benegal, the former vocalist of Rock Machine and Indus Creed got on to the stage with Whirling Kalapas. I cannot remember exactly, but something so annoying happened that I shouted at them a couple of times that they should perform Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. In such a small gathering, my barking was too loud. I should admit I still have all my regards for Uday Benegal. I still love all the Rock Machine numbers, especially Karen and Rock n’ Roll Renegade.

Pic: Facebook page of the event
It was quite discouraging to find that the show is a purely commercial venture. The reason why I had travelled three hours on a general strike (called by ULFA against Sonia Gandhi’s visit) was because this birthday concert was especially for you and it sounded so special from very early days of our lives, but not anymore. Now it only made me think of America and nothing else. There was no overt protest mood, no political statement and nothing but just scummy art-for-art’s-sake things.

That’s when Lou Majaw was on the stage and he was giving a kind of vote-of-thanks speech to the sponsors. I shouted some beautiful expletives several times that a couple of Khasi guys threatened me to keep my mouth shut and that they would throw me out of the concert. These two morons reminded me of some of my tribesmen, who listen to the Doors and the Sex Pistols and talk about morality like a troupe of RSS culture police. Then Lou Majaw asked me where I’m from, I replied Imphal and he said he got the most beautiful girl in Imphal but it is the worst place in the world. (OK, oldtimer, I got your point but it looked really uncool with Star Cement written on your vest. It only makes me more convinced that rock is 99% imitation and 1% inspiration in this smelly corner of the world. But I do respect you. I was a part of the celebration when you sang Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door at the end.) While we were coming out after the concert, I was completely knocked out and loaded. I remember hitching a ride back to the city but hardly anything more.


PS: Here’s a song dedicated to all your fans at the show:
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Scum (


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