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Beating the blues

Informal jamming sessions of the Delhi Drum Circle keep hearts beating and audiences mesmerised during hot summer afternoons

A teenage boy, intending to spend a quiet evening at a café, sat in a corner reading a Murakami novel. Unexpectedly, a trickle of people started arriving—some with musical instruments, some without. For the next few hours, his ‘quiet me time’ was interrupted by throbbing of drums, echoes of gongs, the jingling of tambourine and the tapping of feet—dancing to the rhythm of life.

But this ‘interruption’ turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Indeed, he was overwhelmed by the experience. Like him, many who were attending the musical gathering for the first time experienced something ‘magical’. This is what Delhi Drum Circle is all about—an informal gathering, where people from all walks of life assemble to play musical instruments or just enjoy the ethereal experience as a spectator. This jam session is more than just an event, or a musical show.

Every time they start playing, their initial asynchronous beats go on to strike harmony and synchrony, creating a ‘climax’ — like those in stage performances. The tiny, yet comfortable Kunzum Travel café at Hauz Khas village echoes with the thumping of drums. A lazy Sunday evening turns into a vibrant, lively one—filled with enthusiastic souls, beating their blues away.

The sweltering summer outside does not seem to bother these Delhites any more. The room vibrates with the presence of these talented people, full of zest and energy. Some of them are completely engrossed while playing. Most had a djembe (a West African drum) with them, but other instruments like dhol, gong, tuned pipes, tambourine, conch shell were also being played.

Rakesh Mathur, an aviation consultant by profession, started the Delhi Drum Circle about six years ago. It was his passion for music that led him to this. “The idea was simple—to create a space where people can come along, play drums and have a great time. And not necessarily musicians, anybody can join the community,” says Mathur.

A 59-year-old man, accompanied by his daughter, was dancing to the drumbeats as if there’s no tomorrow. His energy was infectious and can easily beat that of a 20-something. “Whenever I come here, I can connect to my own self. I get to meet some wonderful people—they are so loving, so full of life. I always enjoy a lot,” says Ananda Anaam, a regular in the Delhi Drum Circle gathering.

Maya came to Delhi for the summer vacation. Her nine-year-old son started learning mridangam since he was just five. “It is for him I came to attend the gathering. He loves playing drums,” she says. But since they couldn’t carry the mridangam from Kerala, she bought her a toy drum. When asked whether her little one, who’s just five, plays any instrument or not, she laughs and says, “No, no he just came to accompany his brother.”

“I’m not a professional musician. It’s just my hobby, so I recently bought this drum and I’m still learning,” says Poonam, who’s been attending these meetings for the last six months. Sensing the nine-year-old’s displeasure with the little toy drum, Poonam gave hers to him. Once the jamming began, the boy started showing his musical skills. But his mother was no less; she was as enthralled as her son, playing her heart out.

Amidst all the drumming, some pleasant sounds of gong, conch shell, tuned pipes, singing bowls—all these are audible. Sanj Hall, a musician, who flew this morning to India, is carrying varied instruments. “I have no permanent residence. I keep on travelling, from one place to another,” says Hall. Pointing towards his instrument bag, he says, “This is the only thing constant. With this, I keep on exploring.”

To him, music is more than just an art. He is into music healing therapy and has a band of his own as well. He believes every human carries within themselves ‘notes’, like those in music. For him, music is an expression, a way of living and an energy that binds souls together.

Like him, many musicians gather here to play, to listen and to create. Also, there are some who are regular spectators. “I’ve been coming here since its inception. I am not a musician, neither do I intend to become one. But I appreciate music,” says Subir Ghosh.

Mathur believes that many, after attending their gathering, have taken up music or have thought of learning an instrument. “It encourages people to learn drums or some other instrument,” he says. The meet has no permanent venue, it keeps changing. Initially they started off at Deer Park (Hauz Khas), where they used to meet regularly. But due to some restrictions, they weren’t allowed to play there any more. “We are planning to go back to Deer Park again, if possible. But we are glad that cafés like Antisocial and Kunzum are letting us arrange the meet.”

Anubrata Choudhury, himself is a drummer, is in charge of managing Delhi Drum Circle’s events and social media activity. It is through their Facebook page, which currently has 19,000+ followers, that people are informed about the whereabouts of the gathering. He believes these gatherings have a therapeutic effect, and can act as a stress buster.

However, when asked whether there’s any plan of expanding it or going commercial, he humbly replies, “Delhi Drum Circle is all about community bonding— a great place to make new friends, sing, play instruments and dance. Thus, we don’t want to ruin the essence of this informal gathering by going commercial.”

Mathur further adds that he was overwhelmed to see so many turning up this time. “Recently, the number of attendees was dwindling. So, I thought people might have lost interest in Delhi Drum Circle. But with so many people here, I feel I was wrong. It might take some time, but it is surely evolving,” says Mathur.

The jamming session went on for about two hours. Throughout the session, there was no idle chatter: people were connecting with rhythm and beats—conversing with each other through the language of music. The music lingers long after you have left—the beats make your heart beat faster than usual, the rhythm makes you wish you could dance your way through the journey of life.