It was 2001. A musician friend and I visited the erstwhile (Not Just) Jazz By The Bay at Marine Drive, Mumbai to watch Nandu Bhende live in concert for the first time. As we entered the venue, we caught the band in the middle of a rendition of ‘Nights In White Satin’. They sounded so note-perfect that they almost had us believe it was a recorded track that Nandu and the band were miming over. Sanjay ‘Jack’ Barde’s water-tight drumming locked in perfectly with Keith Pinto’s well-executed bass lines, while Keith Viegas’s guitar wizardry added the scaffolding required to support Nandu’s massive voice. Together what they presented was a performance stellar enough to be etched into a music fan’s memory for a very long time. The place was sold out. The audience comprised the who’s who from the world of music and glamour. Jackie Shroff, Alyque Padamsee, and Gary Lawyer were there too. They made Nandu sing the title track off of the musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, I remember. If you are a fan of classic rock, by the end of the show, you would have suspected that Nandu secretly knew you. There was just so much of Deep Purple, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Crèam, The Who, Jethro Tull, and Led Zeppelin. Long story short, there was something for everybody to make a good memory with. What a legend this Nandu Bhende, I thought.
At around 10:15 am on Friday, April 11, we lost Nandu to a massive cardiac arrest. All of a sudden, life came to a standstill. It was unexpected and brutal. IT WAS COMPLETE MAYHEM. Personally, it was a big emotional setback. Nandu and I had played the same concerts, attended the same parties, and wished each other on our birthdays no matter where we were and what we were up to. It was hard to believe that I wouldn’t hear from him ever again. The day passed by very slowly. A feeling of fragility sank in. Friends called in to ask if it was true. It was just about two weeks back that they had attended his tribute to the Beatles. Little did they know it would be his last.
The funeral was at Shivaji Park later in the evening. It hurt when I hugged Usha (wife) and Amrita (daughter), but not nearly as much as it did when I touched Nandu’s feet to offer my prayers. If only I hadn’t waited for birthdays and special occasions to pick up the phone to say hello. If only I had met with him more often. It was too late now, and nothing felt heavier than the weight of regret. The air so was thick with grief that it was hard to breathe. But then I learned something I’ll never forget. Nothing binds people stronger than a sense of loss. By now, I wasn’t the only one with moist eyes. Remo Fernandes, Gino Banks, Sheldon D'Silva, Brian Tellis, Loy Mendonsa, Zubin Balaporia, Vishal Dadlani, Lesle Lewis, Joe Alvares, Keith Viegas, Parvez Qadir, Asif Ali Beg, KJ Singh, Chirayu Vedekar, Liston Steve, Sujeet Ramanna, Parag Kamani, Narendra Kusnur, Anupam Meattle, Navin Salian, Denzil Smith, and Zameer Vahanvaty were there too, amongst many others. As we hugged each other in catharsis, the emotional dust eventually settled.
In the days that followed, I spoke with several people who saw Nandu in the same light that I did. One of them is the renowned music industry professional, Parag Kamani. Here’s what he had to say.
“For me, it was a shock, especially keeping in mind that he provided me my first introduction to live rock music when he – as a member of Atomic Forest – periodically played at Mumbai’s Sophia Bhabha Auditorium, while I was still attending school during the seventies. The song that Nandu made his own was ‘Nights In White Satin’ which I remember most fondly, only to learn years later that it was originally performed by The Moody Blues. But, to me, it will always be Nandu’s.
A more closer interaction took place decades later when Narendra Kusnur – a fellow music listener-cum-journalist – initiated an informal club of like-minded fans about 15 years ago, which met every few months with a theme-based event when I actually received an opportunity of meeting my idol, Nandu. Although in awe during the initial meeting, I told him about how much seeing him perform rock classics live had influenced my tastes in music. Nandu’s knowledge was truly amazing as he had actually passed through the era of music that is now known as classic rock and, of course, decades before internet arrived. A more recent meeting occurred when Nandu decided to set up a Klassic Rock Klub Mumbai page on Facebook and asked my opinion on the logo that should be used. Of course, Nandu was polite enough to also ask for written contributions. Undoubtedly, there is no one like Nandu Bhende, and there never will be.”
And here’s what Amrita Bhende had to say about her father.
“Nandu Bhende is my father. Not ‘was’ but ‘is’. The fact that his physical form left us on April 11 is immaterial. His legacy, his values, his memories live on in his family, fellow-musicians, students, staff, and everyone he came in contact with. And these aren’t the ramblings of an emotional daughter, but the testimonials of the hundreds of people, even complete strangers, who have come up to us over the past few days, some barely controlling their tears, sharing their moments of transformation as a result of their interactions with dad. Doesn’t surprise me in the least. That very much was dad. The gentle rockstar as some have called him. The shy man who transformed into a rock powerhouse the minute he stepped onto a stage. The man who shed tears when a piece of music moved him. The man who taught his kids that everyone was equal irrespective of their gender, sex, economic status, and background. He taught us to look ahead and never worry about the past. And so we will. Through his music, in our hearts and minds, our knight in white satin lives on.”
As I bring this tribute to a close, I’m listening to ‘Nights In White Satin’. The words have begun to resonate with me more than they have ever done before. Please forgive me if this is too poignant for your comfort. Some emotions just run too deep.
Gazing at people, some hand in hand
Just what I'm going through they can't understand
Some try to tell me, thoughts they cannot defend
Just what you want to be, you will be in the end
Just what you want to be, you will be in the end… a legend.
Article by 2Blue: 2Blue (a.k.a Tirthankar Poddar) forayed into the Mumbai rock circuit in 2000. Having gained notoriety for his powerful high-pitched singing and on-stage charisma, he was soon invited to sing for Vayu. After 5 years in Vayu and countless monumental shows, 2Blue formed the hard rock band Zedde (pronounced z?d). Always a man for his heroes, the self-taught singer attributes his vocal prowess to his childhood heroes: David Coverdale, Joe Lynn Turner, Ian Gillan, Ronnie James Dio, and Bruce Dickinson. For him, if a thing was good once, it always is.