Ever dreamt of a rockstar life, an extraordinary existence full of glitz and glamour under constant arc lights? Ever imagined the sight of crazy fans throwing themselves on your feet and pretty girls going weak in their knees at a mere sight of yours? Err…if you happen to be a rockstar in India, I am afraid it won’t be as easy as it sounds. Yes, it’s sad and it’s true.
Meet Arvind Singh, one of the oldest and well known faces of Delhi’s rock and roll fraternity, who vents his frustration at the Indian rock scene when he says, “Doing rock and roll in India is the biggest irony”.
A veteran of over four hundred gigs, Arvind is the driving force behind Hundred Octane, one of the oldest rock bands from Delhi, rocking since 1993. An amazing lead guitarist, one of the most sought after music teachers, a great guy and a dedicated family man, Arvind dons many hats.
One fine weekend, I happen to drop in at his jampad at Rajouri Garden, an unlikely place to pursue an unlikely dream - rock and roll in one of the swankiest places of North-West Delhi. A sweltering summer day, it’s 5 o’clock in the evening and not a single stray on the road. The place bears a striking calm, as if the entire town is asleep. As I make my way to Arvind’s jampad, I come across curious eyes, which help me in finding out its exact location.
Once I reach his place, I am welcomed by an immaculately dressed, hospitable sardarji, who tells me to wait by the time Arvind arrives.
Till the time Arvind arrives, his pet dog tries to be friendly with me, sniffing me all over the place. Satisfied, she settles down in front of me with her tongue sticking out in a watchful gaze. As I pat on her forehead, she curls up and gently leaves the place.
Arvind arrives; his eyes look a bit heavy due to sleep. A brief introduction, he manages to flash an affable smile before taking me straight to his jampad - a rooftop room. “Please remove your shoes”, he says before we enter his haven, a slightly unkempt place featuring Hundred Octane graffiti along with Led Zeppelin and Pearl Jam posters splattered on the wall. I must admit the room looks a bit dingy, but that’s how it is for its open only for true rockers. As I settle down in the room, I can see a lot of electronic gadgets placed right next to his equipment - a couple of acoustic and electric guitars, a bass guitar and a drum set along with empty packets of cigarette and lighters.
As we settle down and wait for other band members to arrive for weekend jam, I get chatty with Arvind, who comes across as a sweet tempered guy with no hang ups. “Everybody has some priority in life; I have no priority except rock and rolling. Beyond music, there is nothing much I can do. I even left my permanent job two years ago for music,” said Arvind.
A married guy and a doting father, Arvind lives in a joint family which respects his career decisions, “Music is my identity; I cannot think beyond that, if there is no music, there is no me. A lot of people say do Hindi or commercial stuff, well; I would have never left my job if I had to compromise. I cannot kill my emotions,” quipped the true blue desi rockstar as he puffs his cigarette.
Life has never been a cakewalk for Arvind. Rocking since 1993, Hundred Octane saw many line-up changes till they finally found their groove. Many people came and many people left but Arvind was the only original line-up member of the band. Well, he even wrote a song for rock and roll posers, who initially join the music scene but flake out later – ‘Mr Masquerade.’ Today, Puneet Vohra (vocals and guitars), Tushar Pandey (bass guitar) and Kevin Binu (drums) are the new members of Hundred Octane.
“Are you able to survive on gigs alone?” I enquired. “My main profession is teaching music, I am one of the most sought after guitar teachers in Delhi, Ansals’ and Jindals’ are my clients. I know my responsibility. I am still doing fine. Look, I don’t have a dream of owning a Mercedes but my family is living comfortably.”
“My philosophy is that there is no fixed destination in life. There are just milestones. What’s more important is the journey.”
“As I said, I cannot imagine life beyond music. For me, this is reality and this is dream. Even ten years down the line, I’ll be still rocking. No bondage, no compromises, free life...,” said a philosophical Arvind, who draws inspiration from Pink Floyd, Uriah Heep and Grand Funk Railroad.
“Despite being one of the oldest rock bands, Hundred Octane has struggled to match up the steps of its contemporaries?” I asked. “I am not a good businessman,” pat comes the reply.
With Puneet, Tushar and Kevin having arrived, it’s time to rock and roll. Arvind insists that I check out their stuff, which I readily agree and Hundred Octane belts out some classic stuff - Led Zeppelin, Testament and Pearl Jam.
Believe me, it’s an adrenaline rush to see Hundred Octane performing at their jampad. Once inside, it’s totally a different world from placid streets of Rajouri Garden. I bet you, Arvind is a livewire when he is shredding guitar and so is everyone in his band. Oblivious to the world around, it’s a rapturous sight with joy written all over their faces, eyes gleaming as they hit crescendo with each note of the song.
And yes, they all are happily chasing their dreams! Are you?