One evening, shortly after he had finished composing the soundtrack of the 2014 film PK, Shantanu Moitra was reminiscing about his college days in a chat with Gulzar. "'What is it about those days that you miss the most?' asked Gulzar saab, and my mind went straight to the mountains. For a middle-class Bengali boy in Delhi, trekking was a favourite engagement. I missed the feel of the rucksack on my back," recalls the 49-year-old music composer. "When I answered his question, Gulzar saab asked another, 'What prevents you from going to the mountains?'"
(Front row, from left) Purbayan Chatterjee, Ani Choying Drolma, Shantanu Moitra and Kaushiki Chakrabarty at the Song of the Himalayas presentation
Such was the impact of the celebrated poet-lyricist's words that Moitra began wrapping up his professional commitments. And in February last year, he embarked on what was to become a life-changing journey. "I did not begin with the idea of a journey of 100 days, but I wanted to challenge myself. However, I was pretty sure that I couldn't do it alone. It was important for me to travel with someone who knew the Himalayas. And who better than Dhritiman Mukherjee?" says Moitra, referring to the award-winning wildlife photographer based in Kolkata.
To chalk out their travel plan, the duo first went diving in the Andamans. "It made all the difference. When you are in the city, you only think rationally," he smiles. Moitra and Mukherjee started their journey from Ladakh, and covered Himachal Pradesh and North Bengal, including the scenic Sandakphu peak on the West Bengal-Nepal border, in the first leg of the trip. "What's the life of people in the hills like? What kind of schools do their children go to? As a city dweller, I knew little about this," reveals Moitra, who lived and travelled like a local.
After 50 days, Moitra took a break from his adventure, when he had to return to Mumbai. Together with Ani Choying Drolma, a well-known folk singer and Buddhist nun from Nepal, who is also the UNICEF's Goodwill Ambassador to her country, vocalist Kaushiki Chakrabarty, sitar player Purbayan Chatterjee and flautist Ashwin Srinivasan, he presented a musical collaboration, Song of the Himalayas, inspired by his travels. Moitra completed the second and last leg of his journey last month, traversing Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. Tomorrow, as part of the NCPA's One World Many Musics event, he will present a sequel to his earlier concert, with the same team.
The Brahmaputra in Tibet, Punakha, Bhutan and A Tibetan landscape
"The soundscape that Shantanu da has created is unique and goes beyond existing genres. It has elements of folk, thumri and even trance. There is a bilingual song in Nepali and Bengali too. The barriers of language are only in our heads. When you are one with nature, something changes," says Chakrabarty.
The evening will also feature Moitra's compositions in folk Himachali, interspersed with Buddhist chants and Sanskrit shlokas. "I will be singing spiritual hymns that belong to the Himalayan Buddhist culture. The music is a beautiful fusion and it has been a meditative experience to be a part of this," shares Drolma.
Was music on his mind when he set out on the journey? "No, in fact, I was running away from music!" replies Moitra. "But when you see rhodendrons paint the mountains pink, or you step out in -30 degrees and soak in the white expanse of a frozen lake on a moonlit night, your fear goes away. When there are no reference points, you use silence as your instrument. You create music for the sake of music."
ON: October 6, 7.30 pm
AT: Tata Theatre, NCPA.
ENTRY: Rs 600 onwards
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