Andrew Buncombe: Delhi Notebook

The music didn't die. Just the drink
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The Independent Online

Two years ago, the Indian town of Shillong broke the record for the largest numbers of rock drummers to play together. Last year it won a similar record for the most guitarists, when 1,730 picked up their instruments and strummed. Meanwhile, every year there is a Bob Dylan festival.

This former British hill station in the north-eastern state of Meghalaya, fragrant with the scent of pine and blessed with cool breezes, is known as the town that rocks. Remarkably, many international stars will play in Shillong while bypassing India's major cities. But a recent booze ban has brought the music to a rude standstill.

A statewide crackdown on unlicensed premises – introduced after the rape and murder of a young woman – means that clubs and bars have to stop serving alcohol at 9pm. For the clubs that hosted bands, the effect has not been good. "Who is going to come to a club if they cannot get a drink after 9pm," one local told me, as we sat enjoying a couple of drinks at 10pm at a Shillong bar that shall remain anonymous.

It was certainly not good for me; I'd gone to Shillong to check out the music and ended up seeing nothing of it. I did, however, speak with the legendary local guitarist Lou Majaw, a pioneer of the town's previously celebrated music scene and organiser of the annual Dylan festival. "It's certainly made things worse," he told me. 'I know they have done it for a reason, it's for safety. It's not because they are doing it because they don't like late-night music."

Back in Delhi, I discovered that one of Shillong's most famous bands, Soulmate, led by guitarist Rudy Wallang, had played at a Delhi bar when I was in Shillong. I called him up to ask about his town's legendary status. He said: "I think that's wrong. Delhi is India's music capital nowadays."

Who wants yesterday's papers?

Meanwhile, there was a stack of newspapers to get rid off. In India, recycling does not involve a trip to a bottle-bank. In a country where precious little is wasted, it means selling your junk to someone who will sell it to someone else. Yesterday, I waited by the window for the paperwallah to cycle by. A couple of minutes later, he was guesstimating the weight of my papers. The going rate is five rupees per kilo. He reckoned my bundle weighed 10kg and he thrust a torn, grubby 50 rupee note into my hand. Before he left, he promised he would return the following week. "Wait until the pile is higher," he gestured.

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