A Passage From India
Tushar Menon brings us progressive tales from the Indian subcontinent
…And now for something completely different. In an undeniably Proustian moment last week, I was listening to Pain of Salvation’s new acoustic album Falling Home, and was immediately transported to the winter of 2011, when I accompanied the band on their first tour of India.
They were far from your standard Pain of Salvation gigs. The band were to headline IIM Lucknow’s Manfest and IIT Chennai’s Saarang within a week of each other, with an acoustic show in Chennai in between. None of the scenarios that I had concocted as a teenager involved seeing the band in either of these cities, and certainly nothing could really have prepared me for the actual experience.
There is not a great deal written about bands’ tour managers. They are enviable in their position of authority within the band. They are the unsavoury figures who usher the band out of a venue and tell you to back off as they sneer at you and climb onto the tour bus. To avid fans, they are the enemy and I always wondered what it would be like to be one. On this tour, I got a glimpse of that in my capacity as unofficial Indian liaison. Unofficial, because the organisers had not thought it necessary to send someone specifically to take care of the band on their first trip to India, until they realised I was travelling with the band anyway writing a tour diary. So, instead of being an unobtrusive chronicler of the tour, I turned into an obtrusive member of the touring party.
Pain Of Salvation in 2015
I arrived in Delhi the day before the band did. After spending the better part of the day travelling, the last thing I wanted to do was haggle with the autorickshaw driver. He sensed this, and proceeded to rip me off. He then explained he was, in fact, not ripping me off and that there was more to life than money. I was now in the odd position of hoping the auto ride in the freezing Delhi night would go on for a while so I could get my money’s worth from this part-time philosopher.
The touring party arrived safely and a few baggage-related concerns later, we were in Lucknow ready for the show the next day. I do still remember that show in vivid detail. The performance was truly virtuoso. It was exhilarating, constantly surprising and commanding. Never before have I experienced such a spectrum of emotions during a show.
We were up again at half past five to catch a flight to Agra. At the hotel, the group split up into several factions. One went straight to sleep, another to the only Pizza Hut in Agra (their excuse was that there is no Pizza Hut in Eskilstuna, Sweden, where the band is from). A third decided to go to the Taj Mahal just to observe from a distance. The fourth, which included frontman and president Daniel Gildenlow, decided to explore the area on foot and get something a little more local than pizza to eat.
Pain Of Salvation in 2011 when they toured India with Tushar.
It was overwhelming, just walking the half kilometre from the hotel to the restaurant, being bombarded by people selling Kama Sutra texts and bangles. We happened upon a souvenir shop which also sold sitars. Unable to resist the temptation, Daniel picked one up. He asked me not to film, but about a minute later he tuned it to what was most likely not a traditional tuning and said “Ah, you know what? Go ahead” and proceeded to play a stunning improvisation, including a rendition of Chain Sling in a major key, which left everyone speechless. It was as if he had been playing the instrument for years. There is a small but finite chance that that video will make its way into the world soon.
We had only two hours to take it all in. We had a flight to catch to Delhi and then onward to Chennai. As a result of some ethically ambiguous manouevres, we got the excess baggage fee waived. It was thus with a feeling of accomplishment that I sat with Daniel on the long flight. We share an interest in the philosophy of physics, so the first half of the conversation consisted of our attempts to create a self-consistent system of physical laws (how hard could it be, really? It was a nearly three-hour flight, so we had plenty of time). The conversation proceeded somewhat along these lines: Doppler shifted destructive interference, relativistic flapping wings, time travel paradoxes, the simultaneity of all possible ‘now’s, string theory and M theory. When we landed in Chennai, a bemused passenger turned and asked, “What planet do you people come from?”
The Chennai bit of the trip is itself the subject of an entire column, which I promise to return to at some future point, dear reader. For now, suffice it to say, it was eventful. And over before we had a chance to take it all in.
Celebrating the end of a fantastic tour on the final night, the party went on until 6 am. The atmosphere was euphoric, thanks in no small part, to the fact that there were as many fans as there were band and crew. Conversations were typically nonsensical. One of the longest discussions focussed on why the Swedes did not like the Coca Cola available in India. I volunteered the theory that is yet to be falsified, that the bubbles in European coke are smaller, thus smoother. What followed was a debate whose incomprehensibility was matched by its pointlessness. I still do not know who won.
A great deal has happened both to me and the band in the four years since and it is an experience which Daniel and I have revisited often with great fondness. In Falling Home, I have found the perfect soundtrack to my reminiscences.