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Blowing in the hills

India?s metros may reverberate with hype each time an international rock band visits the country, but obviously the soul of the music itself resides elsewhere.

india Updated: Jun 01, 2006 01:03 IST

India’s metros may reverberate with hype each time an international rock band visits the country, but obviously the soul of the music itself resides elsewhere. Every May 24, in a hill town in Meghalaya, half the globe away from Minnesota, Bob Dylan’s birthday is celebrated with a performance of his music. It’s been a ritual there for the past 34 years. In 1972, the year Meghalaya attained statehood, its capital Shillong saw the first Dylan happy birthday event. Since then, rocker Lou Majaw and a small, always changing group of musicians, have kept their freewheeling fest alive.

Majaw is a cultural institution in Shillong. His long-haired, shorts-clad figure is familiar to everyone who’s grown up there. The town’s residents may poke gentle fun at the veteran musician, but they love him and his kind of music. Any taxi in Shillong, if it belongs to a local Khasi, will likely have rock or pop playing. Chances are, it will be old songs by bands past their prime. Performances by old bands like Michael Learns to Rock, which probably wouldn’t fill a large auditorium in most places on earth, can still fill an entire stadium in Shillong.

The decaying charm of the little town in North-east India that loves its Welsh choirs and its classic rock is unmistakable. Its once fabled natural beauty is on the wane, and its architecture is being taken over by a land mafia. Yet, there are few better places in India — and perhaps the world — where globalisation can be experienced live, in action.