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'Anytime is a good time to sing about inequality'

Last updated on: February 25, 2021 08:14 IST

Indian Ocean's Rahul Ram in a colourful, mast video chat with Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com about the band's latest song recorded for Oxfam.

Start speaking to Indian Ocean singer, bass guitarist and composer Rahul Ram and within seconds you will feel a connection.

He's warm, funny. His conversation is full of masala as he switches between English, Hindi and Kannada, occasionally breaking into song or cackles of contagious laughter, his beard wobbling.

Thoughtful too.

Being an artiste, he speaks with his heart.

It's what has made him the voice of injustice.

And why Ram -- who has a degree in chemistry from St Stephen's, Delhi, and IIT Kanpur, and a PhD from Cornell, New York, in environmental toxicology -- spent so many years in his youth with the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Or why his music touches on common man themes. It is packed with earthy, folksy, vernacular lyrics that touch you.

Rahul Ram

IMAGE: Rahul Ram performs at the Lil' Flea Festival in Mumbai. Photograph: Kind courtesy Prashant KpK/Rahul Ram/Facebook
 

Our video chat starts off quite informally. He is at his Delhi home when I Zoom-call him.

First off, he introduces me to his dogs. All female strays, adopted from the streets. Lufi, Antikuppe, Lycopodium, Mumtaz, Amavas, Rosa, Sania, Nisha, Anarkali...

There are not just one or two of them. There are 15 canine souls -- all at ease in his home!

They occasionally interrupt the video interview with a bark or a whine and Ram lovingly rebukes them with a "Girls, please!"

Rahul with his pets

IMAGE: Feeding time at the Ram household, left. And Rahul Ram with his little ladies, right -- he titled the photo: Jealousy. His wife, Ayesha runs a trust that works with street strays, sterilising them. Photographs: Kind courtesy Rahul Ram.

He adjusts the camera after he is seated and recounts to me the story of his ceiling. It is leaking and peeling. No repairs have been done by the landlord.

Ram cannot get the interiors repainted till the owner repairs the ceiling.

He doesn't mind showcasing the flaking ceiling in the interview too :)

Rahul Ram

IMAGE: Don't miss the ceiling.

The conversation moves to COVID-19. Ram discusses the pandemic that has overtaken our lives and how it affected him and changed our daily life irrevocably.

His opinion: "I think work from home has come to stay."

Ram, after shouting to someone in his home to keep the volume down, adds that employers and corporates "have to be okay with the family life coming on the screen!"

He continues: "And this suit wearing nonsense. I see my friends wearing suits! Neeeche chaddi hai, upar coat?!"

The musician goes on in this similar amusing vein, mixing humour with astute observations about our society and amazement at the Modi government's ability to always come out on top. Do hit play and hear Ram holding forth:

 

WATCH: Rahul Ram on the pandemic, PMs, suit-boot issues, inequalities and wfh.

 

Next up -- most important -- are the details of his latest song for the NGO Oxfam.

It's a composition about inequality in this pandemic that dwells on COVID mein kya hua and has the catchy refrain Oonch neech ka papda. Ram says: "Anytime is a good time to sing about inequality." Hear him:

 

WATCH: Project Inequality Virus: How Indian Ocean's COVID anthem was composed for Oxfam.

And then it's onto his other songs and what has worked best for the band music-wise.

Indian Ocean music is often spiritual, though Ram declares he has no trucking with "bhagwan-shagwan", but says the best music is about god, world over -- "It's an interesting irony. A contradiciton I deal with in my head."

Don't miss hearing him sing a stanza from Indian Ocean's much beloved ballad Kandisa from his drawing room:

 

WATCH: The best of Rahul Ram and Indian Ocean in his own words.

 

Please click here to see the #FightInequality Anthem .

RAJESH KARKERA