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The Rediff Special/Lindsay Pereira
January 11, 2005
His name was Sutradhar. V K Sutradhar. Everyone just called him Sutra, though. No one knew what the V K stood for. When I did find out, years later, that it was Vishramabhookar Kaluvartane, I realised I wouldn't exactly publicise it either.
What made Sutra special, however, was not his name. Sutra was special because he made Elvis Presley come alive for us.
We first met, in the early nineties, under the quiet stone arches of St Xavier's College. I was tall and lanky, with shoulder-length hair; he was short and round, and sported sideburns. He said he came from a tiny village in South India. And we liked each other almost at once.
By day, Sutra would attend his lectures, quietly, unobtrusively. By night, however, in Dhobi Talao's Sun Light bar – a particularly poignant name, if you thought about it -- Sutra would down three large pegs of Old Monk with water, and wait for his knees to start twitching.
It happened with unfailing regularity, week after week. Newcomers would stare. Regulars would nod passively, in the manner of old-timers who find little to elicit surprise. As smoke rings would rise around us, chairs would shift, we would form a small, tight circle, and wait for Sutra's transformation into the King of Rock 'n' Roll.
Alcohol, we had all come to realise, had an unusual effect on Sutra. It prodded, pushed and released something deep within him -- his unquestioning, overwhelming love of Elvis Aaron Presley. How he had heard him in his village down South was a mystery, but that is how it was. Within minutes, legs shaking madly under the tiny wooden tables, he would hold his small glass tumbler like a microphone, and drawl…"Well, it's one for the money, two for the show..."
His upper lip would curl menacingly, fuzzy moustache in tow. His eyes would glaze over, then sparkle. Or maybe they didn't sparkle at all but, three pegs down ourselves, we assumed they did. In that little bar, behind rough, uncomfortable tables, V K Sutradhar would rise and fall, doing it all from Blue Suede Shoes to Love me Tender. Around us, men arrived and left, drank slowly or quickly, nodded appreciatively or glared and squabbled. Sutra sang on.
In time, there grew to be something ritualised about those weekly performances. They were never discussed in times of sobriety. Sutra continued to attend lectures, studied for his Bachelors' in Political Science, and went home quietly five times a week. We knew nothing about his family, where he lived, what he did on non-Elvis nights. Where did he get his music? Why did he like Elvis as much as he did? What made him worship that man alone? There were no answers. We assumed he lived alone, in a one-room apartment given over to worshipping the King. We pictured him lying awake at night, surrounded by posters of Elvis dancing, Elvis smiling, Elvis handing out silk scarves in Vegas. He knew the lyrics to 426 songs by heart, he once told us, and we accepted this information sagely. But about what Sutra was really like, we knew nothing at all.
If Elvis were alive, he would have turned 70 on January 8. In Blackpool, I'm told, fans met for a three-day convention aimed at finding his best impersonator in Europe. At Graceland, his home in Memphis, there were four days of celebrations -- including a performance by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and something called 'Elvis-themed bingo.' As January 9 unfurled, Jailhouse Rock was named the 999th Number One in UK pop history -- 47 years after it was first released. Not at all bad for a man who left the building 28 years ago.
As for Sutra, he walked off, Bachelor's degree in hand, into the sunset. That was ten years ago. None of the people who formed his little audience know where he is today. We like to think he's still singing though, in some small bar in a corner of India, recreating the magic of the King for a new batch of open-mouthed converts.
No, Elvis isn't dead. He's probably somewhere in Tamil Nadu.
Illustration: Utttam Ghosh.