Ayub Bachchu was the musician that other musicians looked up to
It’s hard to imagine that, as I write this, Bachchu bhai’s body might be six feet under, but, on the same token, it’s heartening to know that his soul -- that is his music -- still surrounds us as a universal truth. A tiny grain of truth, but nevertheless.
As a typical teenager in the 1990s, I was initiated into the world of music through the rank of a (for want of a better term) “metal-head” -- nothing less than the heaviest of music with ungodly amounts of gain and distortion in the guitars would do it for me.
I remember one day going to the local music store, a tiny place in Polwel Market, to check out new music, and the lanky, somewhat disheveled looking fellow (around my age) on the other side of the counter produced a cassette tape in front of me: The album was called Tobuo by none other than LRB.
As someone who usually judges a book by the cover, I decided to give it a shot.
There was just something about the album art -- a photo of Bachchu bhai and his band -- that screamed to me: “I know most local bands suck at being heavy, but I assure you, we’re not like them.” And so I told the guy to play the tape.
I didn’t even realize that, as the tape was playing, I was subconsciously instructing the dude to turn up the volume every 30 seconds or so. He obliged, but, looking back, I don’t think was necessarily doing it for my own enjoyment.
As he kept turning the volume higher and higher, I was poring over the back of the album sleeve, trying to figure out the name of the song playing: “Ekjon Jaroj Shontan” -- and I was sold. I handed over what I owed him and went back home with a tape that would loom large over me for the rest of my life.
Fast forward a decade.
In the year 2003, by some miracle, I had found myself sharing the stage with Bachchu bhai and his band, with my own band Black.
I was lucky that my love for music had placed me beside him in the spotlight, and many of the other artists who have influenced me in one way or another throughout the years.
Bachchu bhai and I toured together on a regular basis -- as regularly as the political climate of that time would allow -- and got to know each other really well, at least when it came to the topic of music. He even joined my old band in a show at the Army Stadium, where he played an extended version of the guitar solo to our song “Blues and Rodh” -- my teenage self would probably have had a heart attack at that prospect.
Bachchu bhai’s love for all things guitar was something that amazed me on a personal level. I still remember how, when my old bandmate and school-friend Khademul Jahan was talking giddily about his recently acquired Paul Reed Smith Custom 24 (as is expected of someone in possession of a Paul Reed Smith Custom 24) at a friend’s place, Bachchu bhai, out of the clear blue sky, cracked: “Jahan, I want to make love to your new PRS.”
No, he wasn’t drunk. And, despite the mirth in his tone, I do believe he was somewhat serious. But that’s what makes this memory all the more special and funny.
I remember watching the final match of the 2003 Cricket World Cup with him at his home, thanks to Manju, a common friend of ours. During a break, I asked Bachchu bhai exactly why he didn’t make music like Tobuo anymore, not hiding my own personal frustrations with his involvement in composing playback for mainstream movies back then. With a stoic expression, his only attempt at a reply was: “I’m only doing this so I can buy more guitars.”
Over the years, our relationship had boiled down to something strictly professional. We were never close or even tried to know each other better or on a personal level, but to be brutally honest, it felt as if we were simply scratching each other’s backs rather than really bonding. But friendship is a two-way street, I guess I failed to live up to my own obligations to that end.
After I left Black, Bachchu bhai and I became even more distant, to the point where we were simply exchanging pleasantries, myself retorting with a canned “apni kemon achen?” to his own “tui kemon achish?”
The last time I remember seeing him was last month at a seminar, whereupon I, once again, asked him about his health as he was fading to just another “someone,” an obligation to be checked off the list. His reply, however, was unexpectedly jovial this time around: “Rocking, brother. But, tell me, why do you look older than I do -- what’s the story?”
We exchanged some laughter and went our separate ways like we’d done a million times before and, as I’d thought, we’d do a million times more.
I know so many of Bachchu bhai’s songs by heart, songs that I’ve pored over each and every note, chord, and word too. While I would love to share some kind of anecdote that would testify to his reputation as a decent human being, unfortunately, I never got a chance to know him that well. But what I know is that his love for guitars, and music in general, were the primary motivators which drove him to become the man he was.
Its funny how, looking back, it was the music that Bachchu bhai created, more than anything else, that I looked up to in my teenage years.
And then, when I met him, he just became someone whom I professionally collaborated with a few times and exchanged a few hellos with at select occasions.
Thanks for all the music, Bachchu bhai. You had your own demons to fight just like everyone else, which you didn’t want to the world to see, and so you turned them to songs.
At least that’s what I would like to believe.
Jon Kabir is a professional musician, and a singer/songwriter for the band Indalo.