In January this year (2015) I came across a post titled “Songs We Played in Loop This Year“. In the post, way down at number 7 was an album called “Sketches of Darjeeling” by Bipul Chhetri. Along with all the other entries, I gave it a try and as it turns out that it was the only one to have stayed with me till now. What’s so special about it? I don’t know. But there is something compelling about all the 6 songs that made me listen to them on loop, buy the album (my first purchased music), fall in love with Nepali language and eventually travel to Kalimpong (Bipul Chhetri’s hometown).
This is the first time I am writing about a music album. And it’s not a review. I don’t even consider myself qualified enough to do a music review. However, it’s a recommendation, a humble plea, an insistent demand – any of these which makes you listen to it once. I am already done personally asking everyone that I know to listen to it. And now that since, I don’t have anyone else to pester, I am turning to you – the people of internet – to give this album a chance. It has brought me so much joy on so many occasions. I wish the same for you.
Before I write about each song in detail, here’s a brief intro about the album and artist. “Sketches of Darjeeling”, as the name suggests, is an album that captures all the quintessential elements of Darjeeling — be it the toy train, the rains, the monasteries, wildfires, rivers, transport, love and divinity. Anyone who has ever been to Darjeeling or surrounding hills can easily relate to this.
Bipul Chhetri is a musician originally from Kalimpong, now teaching music in a school in Delhi. Having studied music from Trinity College, London, he beautifully fuses modern musical sensibilities with Nepali lyrics. People in Kalimpong and Darjeeling are head over heels for their “Bipul Dai*”.
*Dai = brother in Nepali
Starting with my favourite “Asaar”, which is a month as per Hindu Calendar (आषाढ) when the first rains hit upon India. Historically speaking, this month has inspired the likes of Kalidas (Meghdoot) & Mohan Rakesh (Ashaadh ka ek din) to create their art. Here, Bipul Chhetri has painted us a picture of Kalimpong town getting drenched in the rains. Lyrics here.
Have you ever had a relationship with a song? You know, when you find that one song — the song you’re absolutely certain was made especially for you — and fall hard in love with it. You listen to it every day, sometimes even multiple times in one sitting. You introduce it to your friends. They accept and appreciate it with open ears and minds and hearts. You love that song. You want to be with that song.
~ from this article
Asaar, for me, is that song. If it were a girl, I would go on my knees and propose her to marry me.
2. Mountain High
“Mountain High” starts with a resonant, all too familiar sound of prayer bells heard in Buddhist Monasteries (or is it the sound of cowbells from the grazing fields?). With the lyrics that hints at the presence of “almighty” all around us who manifests himself through each & every element of the nature, it is no wonder that the song ends in hypnotic chants of “Om mani padme hum”.
This song also speaks about longing for your home or hometown, which Bipul must be feeling often while in Delhi. Listen to the song and tell me did you also find something similar between Bipul’s chanting “Home calling home” and a Buddhist monk chanting “Om mani padme hum”.
3. Deorali Darah
Deorali Darah* is a place near Gangtok (Sikkim) from where you get lovely views of the towns Gangtok & Darjeeling, Khangchedzonga peak and surrounding hills on clear days. According to an interview, this song was written when Bipul “took a train from Kalimpong to Delhi to reunite with his girlfriend”. How sweet! I am yet to figure out the connection between the place and story behind the song. Lyrics here
*Darah=hill in Nepali
4. Dadhelo (Wildfire)
Forest fires / wildfires are common in the Neora Valley forests during the dry winter seasons. They can be seen from anywhere in Kalimpong and surrounding regions. This song is about a Wildfire burning inside the heart. In one line he says “batasa ma failyo aago” (flames are soaring in the wind); in another “chaarei teero andhaaro chha” (it is dark everywhere). The fire within is such that it only burns, doesn’t give light. My guess is that when he had had enough of “Dadhelo”, he took that train journey to Delhi and wrote Deorali Darah en route. Lyrics here
5. Ram Sailee – Ode To My Father
My second favourite from the album (third if you also consider Syndicate which is a solo track), “Ram Sailee” is a salutation for a young girl in Nepali. This soothing song was originally created by Bipul’s father. It portrays the emotional state of a person contemplating about life, sitting by the river (khola* kinaare).
*Khola = river in Nepali
6. Rail Garee
Easily guessable from the name, “Rail Garee” is a song about the world famous toy train of Darjeeling. With an upbeat tempo and overall mischievous feel, this track almost feels as if it doesn’t belong in this album. Figuratively speaking, it tells the tales of various characters that you meet and the various events that take place on the “train (journey) of life”.
7. *Bonus* Syndicate (Single)
After the success of this album, Bipul Chhetri released a single track called “Syndicate”.
As per the myth that I got to hear in Darjeeling, Bipul was waiting at Kalimpong bus station, where he saw a beautiful girl and instantly got the idea of this song. He wrote as well as composed it on the way to the concert he was playing at.
Being part of a once-communist-West-Bengal, taxi stands and bus stations are called Taxi syndicates in this part of country. “Syndicate” is a song about strangers we happen to meet in public places and the momentary fantasy world these encounters create for us.
P.S.: If you liked Bipul’s songs do buy “Sketches of Darjeeling” (only Rs 100) and “Syndicate” (only Rs 20). Bipul has not bribed me to write this article. This is just me reciprocating the love he has given through his music.