Musician, lyricists, composer, philosopher and a born music maestro Mr. Paras Gazmer opens up about his life, his love of music, his songs and his heartbreaks and how he learned from all of them.
We all have heard of great composers like Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven who did not let their physical barriers prevent them from creating outstanding music. For music lovers in Darjeeling, Mr. Paras Gazmer is not only at par with Bach and Beethoven, but he is also an ICON who is yet to get his due recognition. We hope that this interview helps him connect with many more people who are unaware about this gem from our community.
Occupation: Works in the Dept. of Information and Culture (GTA).
Son of: Lt Deshraj Gazmer, Lt. Madu Gazmer
Better Half: Married but didn’t last long 3 1/2 months.
Place of birth: Tindharey, Kurseong 17 April, 1962.
Schooling: Kalimpong Blind School studied till matriculation.
Philosophy of Life: P B Shelley has said “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.” Songs should touch the heart. I write songs that touch the hearts. There are two reasons for this; I am blind since 1 and half years old so never have been optimistic about life. Darkness alone was my world. For a blind man when you are bored there is nothing to entertain you, except those which you can hear. Blindness is a bane. Everything is useless for a man who cannot see. I can tell about natural beauty in my songs because I have never seen one, I only write about those which I can feel.
Q. Could you please tell us about yourself, how was it growing up?
A. I was born a normal child, Mom says I was like an English kid, I was white goray with brown eyes. But when I was 1 ½ years old, I got severe attack of measles. This took away my vision and distorted my facial features. I joined Kalimpong Blind School when I was 7 years old.
In school I learned many things and music was one of them. My seniors used to play guitar, accordion and other instruments. I learnt to play guitar, much like rest of the Darjeeling musicians, by myself – bhui futuwa. I learnt guitar to be able to compose tunes, but I did not learn notations. I used to listen to radios, mic ko horns and whatever other audible sources were available and learnt music from them. My friend Kesar Tamang who is himself blind, and works as a piano repairman and tuner, is the one who taught me guitar. I used to sing since childhood kailey table ma kangyo (comb) bajaudai. I think that is innocent creativity.
Q. What is the fondest memory from your childhood?
A. There are many fond memories from my childhood, one of them was table ma chadaeyra baba ley latthi ma daru bandhey ra malai dinu hunthyo (my dad used to get me on top of the table, and tie a ladle to a stick and get me to sing on it) for the microphone feel.
Q: So what got you interested in Music?
A. I think that the fact my family was musically inclined has a lot to do with it, my father used to play banjo, and I used to sing. But I never took music professionally, not even today… In fact I never had any Gurus, I am just a music lover. It was mostly my family who encouraged me to take music.
Q. Can you tell us something about your struggling days, was it difficult to be established as a musician?
A. During my younger days, artists used to go to Nepal, they had to struggle a lot. But for me since I did not take music professionally I didn’t have to struggle. I only composed, I never felt like I was struggling. Audience gave me moral support, which became my inspiration. I never took music as a competition, so that helped.
Q. Which was your big break, as in your 1st performance which announced to the world that you have arrived? And how did that happen?
A. It was in 1979 Bhasa Andolan days, back then GDNS used to organise Yuva Diwas it was an annual programme. Though I was blind, I was mentally mischievous. Our school was reopening after summer break on 18th of July so I had to be in Kalimpong on the said date. On July 17, Kumar Gurung (gaow ko daju) asked me to come to GDNS programme to perform at a show on the other day i.e. on 18th. I asked my parents and was able to convince them after much persuasion. When I went to attended the function, the announcer did not call my name… parkhinchu… bolaudaina…
I later realised that Kumar daju had actually lied to me…. uss ley ta tessai dillaki garera po perfomace dinu aija bhaney ko raicha… I was only 17, and I believed him. I still remember vividly, the last performer was in the stage but I had already made my mind that I would sing today no matter what… so I started persuading Kumar daju… Finally Kumar daju called the announcer kunama (to the sides) and asked him to call Paras a blind fellow from his neighborhood… the announcer was flabbergasted he had the audacity to say “andha ley pani geet gaucha ra…?” anyway they gave me one chance to sing one song… I ended up singing 6… the audience kept on demanding it. I think that is when I got the confidence to perform in big stages, and also people were convinced that I could actually sing and perform.
But before the big stage of GDNS, back in 1972 I sang in Saraswati Puja organised in Chandmari… believe it or not, I had performed a Bengali song then, with Chandan Subba in Harmonium.
However in terms of really “Big Break”, I think that my album Sajha ko Gham (1993) was the actual big break, I got. When that album released in 1993 and later Mero Bhagya album in (1999), I became a bonafide composer and musician, I guess.
Q. Your work, in particular songs that reflect your personal life have been recognized by Nepalis residing world over as being some of the most honest and most painful songs, where do these songs come from?
A. Altogether I have composed four songs on blindness. ‘Sajhako Gham’, ‘Mero Bhagya Chyateyeko Kagaj Jasto’, ‘Mo Netrahin Ko Sunidew Kahani’, and ‘Sit (dew) Sanga Mitaidincha’. These are satire/replies for society and heart breakers.
Sanjhako Gham was written and composed between 2 to 4am. I was in love with a woman who had promised to show me the world through her eyes, but she left me. Her voice used to ring in my ears and I couldn’t sleep at night. So the song was composed.
Darkness became my life partner. Bimal a friend of mine was the first person to listen to the song. Back then I used to live in Chandmari, my sister cried after listening to the song.
Second one, ‘Mo Netra Hin ko Sunideu Kahani’ was for the society at large, people say handicaps are part of the society, but they do not treat them as one.
My third song, Mero Bhagya Chyatiyeko was written when I was in Kolkata with a girlfriend, her family was also happy with our intimacy. Things were being set for marriage. However, I later learned that she was already married and was separated from her husband, though not divorced. The couple settled the matter between themselves and the woman went with her man, I became an outsider. I even heard her say ‘amale ta malai andha sanga bhiraunu ateyko thiye cha – mom was about to get me married off to a blind person’. This broke my heart and again an epic song was created. The line “जानी जानी मैले संसार नादेखेको होइन, भाबी ले यस्तै लेख्यो, मेरो दोष होइन – I did not will to unsee this world, my destiny was written as such, how is it my fault” from the song was a reply to this. Though the girls broke my heart, they inspired me to write songs…. (saying that he laughs a hearty laugh…)!!
Q. Your songs are indeed heartbreaking, how do you find the inspiration for your creativity?
A. Other than girls, loathing and my own physical inability, I have many inspirations to write and compose songs. Both Hindi and Nepali artists have inspired me. Narayan Gopal, Pawan Golay, Om Bikram Bista, Gyalmo didi, Aruna Lama, Hira Rasaili, Kumar Subba and music directors such as Ambar Gurung, Gopal Yonzon, Basanta, Manikamal Chettri. Out of all these Gopal Yonzon has been my most favorite. He is my idol.
Q. From amongst all the projects that you have handled, creatively which was/has been your most difficult project, and why?
A. Music depends on mood and not on routines. Of late, I have not been able to compose songs these days. So creatively there is no difficult project, it sort of comes out naturally, you don’t pull it, it is not a commodity that you are making, it is an emotion, a feel. It comes when it comes, so how can that be difficult? As far as recording is concerned, I have not done much except for the two albums and out of these two, Sanjhako Gham was significantly a difficult project. I was in Nagaland for a show, and Rajesh Bardewa and Mani Kumar Sir had taken the responsibility to do the recording. During this time Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated and I was stuck in Nagaland. It was a crisis period in India. Recordings were going on in Dibyabani hall and I was not able to come, Rajesh Bardewa (uncle) and Mani Kumar Sir did it without me.
Q. Which project is the closest to your heart and why?
A. “Afnu chora chori ta sabai ramrai hunacha ” but I think “Sajha ko Gham” and “Mero Bhagya” is something that I feel very strongly about. Though it was written with my feelings, the singers had their own way to relate to these songs, and so it has been with the audience. Pema Lama sang Sanjha ko Gham with his own feel, what it meant to him is different from what I had in my mind when I wrote the song. These songs are evergreen not only because of their lyrics but their music arrangement has also been done wonderfully.
Q. What do you like the most about your profession?
A. For some music is just for fun, “nachnu ufrinu matrai bha”. But for serious listeners it brings peace to your mind it takes you to a higher level.
12. What is the secret of your success when so many others have failed in your field?
A. I am not successful; I have been successful only through audience. For an artist to be successful, the listeners should like your songs. “Mero lagi award chai swrota haru ko tali… kahiley nasakkiney, bharaiiii samma kan ma gunji rahaney tali” and this is an encouragement and inspiration for other songs as well.
Composition should be good “dharilo composition hunuparcha.” I think of audience when I compose songs. Both lyrics and music should be good. Lyrics is writer’s perspective, music is listener’s angle. They can interpret and imagine numerous things in a good music. Both should go hand in hand, in tune, it shouldn’t be like “cancer ko bimari ma chilauney ko dabai”.
Q. Was it difficult for you to be established in the world of music?
A. We were not as sensitive as kids are these days. They cannot bear small problems, we were so interested in music that we sat for hours doing it, we didn’t have instruments back then. All the songs which we heard, learnt and memorized were through the radios. It is hard to compose really serious music these days, environment is changing, sadly we do not have good listeners. Previously there was a good music environment, these days people are just copying western culture. They lack originality.
Along with this is the question of recognition. Musicians are recognised only when they are dead. What is the use of recognitions for dead musicians? Whereas, if someone is recognised while living, s/he will be encouraged to work more. So a request is to recognise musician when they are living, it will help them a lot. Secondly, recognition in monetary terms is better. Though this sounds money minded, but it is the reality. Most of the artist lives in a poor condition, some sort of financial assistance will not only encourage them, but will also make them able to record music and use better instruments. An empty pocket is also some form of disability.
Q. Did your physical disabilities in any way hinder you from learning music?
A. Never had problem in learning music, it was interest that that guided me. Be it vocal or learning instrument I could do them easily. My timing was natural and perfect. Even if your vocal is not good, a perfect timing will make a performance beautiful. I never took formal education (class) in music. Whatever I learnt was from my friends and radio. All India Radio Kurseong was popular back then, I sat for B High audition in guitar. Generally there are three levels of audition A, B High and B. This B high audition is conducted by the Member of Audition Board (MAB) where as for B it is the local audition committee. Members of MAB are not local people. It was only me from Darjeeling who had qualified the audition in guitar back then.
However I have never sung in album, I have only performed in stage.
Q. Can you tell us some of your upcoming projects ?
A. I am planning to revive old songs with old partners; they are staff members in Information and Cultural Department. Also rerecording some of my older songs is in the book now.
Q. Any suggestions for improving the life of those with physical needs?
A. We need a strong mentality among people about the needs of such people. We should educate our children about the problems of such people. Though it is claimed that such people are part of the society, not much is done to help differently abled people around. One of my friends Mr. Raju Thapa – who is also blind has helped me by installing a voice software in my phone. By doing so I can hear a voice which tells me whatever operations I am doing in my phone.
Q. Any words of advice for youngsters who want to follow on your footsteps, what are the qualities that are required to be a successful musician?
A. My experience tells me that first we should know our culture. These days people hardly listen to folk songs. Learn what is your own first, and then go for others. We should all listen to Lok Geet first. Music is a universal language, try to learn local and regional first. English [foreigners] are bored with their own stuff, so they look around and analyze other’s music. “Oxford [book store in Chowrasta] ma goyera afno sanskriti kinnu naparos… music melody ta jamana anusar ko kura ho, afno chinnu parcha tyes pachi aruko… ama ko dudh ko paribhasa bujnu sakeyna, Lactogen khayera kaha huncha”.
I am ashamed of westernized pronunciation of Nepali words as well. The diction needs to be local, “bidesi le Nepali gako jasto hunu hundaina,” I also suggest music professionals to do shradhanjali to old time songs, redo them. Every successful Indian artist has done this. One can easily find Shraddhanjali albums to Kishor, Rafi, Manna Dey, Hemant Kumar and others, but in case of Nepali artist there is none. I haven’t found any one doing shrddhanjali album on Narayan Gopal or Gopal Yonzon or any other.
This interview was taken by Mr. Rabindra M Pradhan for TheDC.
This interview would not have been possible without the help and support from the amazing Sriju Bal Tamang, whose efforts made this interview possible in the 1st place.
TheDC editorial note:
We are most grateful to Mr. Paras Gazmer ji for taking his invaluable time to answer all our questions, and we are hopeful that his story will inspire many budding artists in our community.