mid-day Lunchbox: Cymbals of authority
Master percussionists Trilok Gurtu and Sivamani talk about the diversity of Indian food, why America is a funny place to be in, and tasting wine with Gaggan Anand
There is a point when, while having lunch at By the Mekong at St Regis, Trilok Gurtu picks up his unused chopsticks. he then holds the one in his left hand like you'd hold a pen and tells Sivamani, who's sitting beside him, "You know, this is how I'd hold my drumsticks in the beginning. My technique wasn't correct, and the Catholic guys near my home [in Mumbai] would say, 'What men? What are you doing? That's the wrong way.' There was no one to guide us, you see."
The confession shows how comfortable Gurtu — widely regarded as one of the most innovative percussionists in the world — is in his own skin. The Hamburg resident is in India for a series of concerts and workshops. And for a man who has won a host of international awards, including a Grammy that he forgot to receive, he comes across as someone who has no airs whatsoever.
Sivamani, on his part, manifests his own humility by referring to Gurtu as his 'Guruji' multiple times, having first met him in 1982. That appellation comes from someone who is arguably the most high- profile percussionist in the country. Sivamani first shot into the limelight as AR Rahman's go- to drummer, before carving a niche for himself as a solo performer who plays a variety of instruments. He flies off to Chennai for a concert immediately after this edition of Lunchbox. But not before he and Gurtu have a heart-to-heart about their journey into the world of music. Edited excerpts.
Shunashir (to Sivamani): What were your early days in Chennai like?
Sivamani: My journey started with live music and the first day that I played jazz with Frank Dubier [an Anglo-Indian trumpeter] in Chennai, there were these local boys who started throwing bottles at me. But that turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I decided to leave the city. At first, I wanted to move to New York. A friend of mine had even prepared all the documents in Mumbai. And I later started thinking, 'Why do I have to go to America leaving my family and friends behind? Why don't I just move to Mumbai?' Plus, my band — with Louiz [Banks], Shankar [Mahadevan] and all these guys — was here. So, I shifted my equipment and realised that I really like Mumbai once I started living here, in 1997.
Trilok: You know, my own experience with America was not very pleasant. Life over there and the way people talk is really artificial. For instance, I didn't understand what they meant by 'fodoka'. I thought, 'Fodoka? Yeh kya hai yaar?' And then I realised ke gaadi mein chaar darwaze hai — four- door car. Also, they'd say things like 'I'm coming to check you out,' and I couldn’t digest all of that. Then, I once ordered a pizza and since I had no money, I asked for a small one.
But when it came, it turned out to be this big [stretches his hands out to indicate a huge size]. I asked, 'This is small?' And the guy said [puts on a gruff voice], 'Yes sir, this is the small one.' So, I didn't like the food either and eventually decided to move to Europe, which was my own blessing in disguise. For, that's where I cultivated my music, starting to add Indian elements like the tabla to my sound.
The food — including steamed Peruvian sea bass, Vietnamese style pomfret, veg tom tum soup and burnt garlic fried rice — arrives
Trilok: You know, it's so irritating when people in the West think that all Indian food is teekha. I'm like, 'Aisa nahi hai yaar.' The Italians think that their food is regional. And I tell them, 'My friend, no. After how many kilometres does your food start changing? 50? Well, ours changes every 10 km. enter a different lane and you’ll find a different cuisine.’ But one thing I am really big on [ in the West] is wine. I even have a cellar in my house. And not many people here know that I have held wine- tasting sessions with Gaggan Anand, who I know really well. In fact, I am more of a foodie than someone who’s looking for concerts.
Shunashir (to Sivamani): And what about you?
Sivamani: I enjoy cooking, too. Whenever I was on tour, I would call my mum when I would get bored of eating pizzas and burgers. She would give me the step-by-step recipes for sambhar, rasam and fish curry, the powders for which I would pick up whenever I went to Chennai. But I am starting to learn new things now. For example, there is this chicken dish I cook that has no masala in it.
Shunashir: How do you make it?
Sivamani: Well, it's my secret recipe, so I can't tell you that (laughs).
If you had to cook dinner at home tonight, what would you make?
Sivamani: I think I’d make a khichdi.
Trilok: I’d probably do a pasta.
One instrument that you would like to learn.
Sivamani: I'd love to play the mridangam.
Trilok: Vocals. I got this complex from my mother, who would never say, 'Kharab gaa raha hai.' She'd just laugh!
If you had to take each other out for lunch in Mumbai, where would you go?
Trilok (pointing at Sivamani): His house (both laugh).
Sivamani: There are so many places really. But maybe I’d take him to Trishna.
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