In a way, the reason why I decided to pack up my life in New York City and move to Mumbai, with no friends, no family, no job, no savings, and no plan, was the city’s house party scene.
On my third day of ever treading Mumbai soil, I ended up at the JW Marriott for the MTV Immies. I think it was the last one ever celebrated. I had nothing to wear, except a little hippie dress my sister bought me in Africa, and a pair of worn-out chappals. The VJ on duty wanted to take a testimony of me for TV asking about my “look”. I remember this cracking me up. I was so not a part of this world. I shook off my chappals and sang Wade in the Water (Ella Jenkins) while wading in the pool under a full moon with a new friend I had made. The rest of the party looked at our misbehaviour with disapproval but also a bit of intrigue. But it was when the clock struck 1.30am that the evening really came alive.
Everyone waited outside, reluctant to leave behind their bonds, their highs...it was over too soon...or was it? I heard whispers, and some shouts: “Where are you headed now?”; “I think we’re going to so and so’s house”; “SMS me the address”; “Cool if I bring a few people?”; “Do they have any booze?”; “What’s the landmark?”
I was excited. I had never seen such an alive, excited, unique, and artistic India. For me, growing up Indian in America meant a lot of business majors, pre-med students, college graduates in button-downs and pants at fancy clubs, at times replicas of each other. Here, I was amassed in a variety of people — rule-breaking, tattooed, rock ’n’ roll, punk, hippie, corporate — and I loved it. We ended up at the house of an actress everyone called “Minty”. Her photo was in HT the day before, and I remembered thinking she was astonishingly beautiful. She fed the stray dogs downstairs, and everyone bounded up the stairs to her house. A crowd had gathered in front of her door like it was about to enter the next hip club in town. What ensued next is truly where Mumbai stole my heart. The people feeding into Minty’s house were all creative guys in one way or another. We began playing Dumb Charades. I came up with the most complicated film I could think of: Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005). I had just seen it at an independent cinema house in New York. “No one here will know it…,” I thought. Before even 20 seconds had passed, this guy in the corner shouted out the title, after I obscurely pointed to my shoes, mimicking a scene from the film. “How did he know? Who are these people?” I wondered. The guy turned out to be a phenomenal vocalist and guitar player. He was also the first person I started writing music with in Mumbai, when I formed my first band, Change of Plan. It’s Mohan Kannan of the Agnee fame.
The day before I left Mumbai for NYC after five magical days, 20 people were crammed into a 1BHK in Bandra, at 3am. One room was purely for music, interpretive dance, and poetry. The other was where the cigarettes and alcohol were allowed. There were purists in this toxic city. There were lovers longing for community. There we were, penniless, happy, bursting with stories and love to share. I met Randolph Correia in that ‘music room’; we free-styled until the sun came up.
Nine years, and four studio albums, later, Randolph and I have travelled the world, played at hundreds of festivals, thousands of shows, and been part of one of the most exciting movements of underground and independent art and culture. I’d go so far as to say that a lot of it starts at the Mumbai after-party. Long live.
Dogra is a musician and an actor. She tweets as @Shaair