Who is Roger Waters? The Pink Floyd singer who taught engineering students to sing in English
Photo: Wikimedia

On Thursday, the grim state the nation finds itself in was further exacerbated when the newsroom, consisting mostly of 20 to 25-year-olds exhibited their wanton ignorance about either Roger Waters or a band named Pink Floyd. For the ignorant, Pink Floyd co-founder and frontman Roger Waters was in the news after he recited a poem by Delhi poet-activist Aamir Aziz.

Roger Waters said: “This is a young man none of us know. His name is Aamir Aziz. And he is a young poet and activist in Delhi. He is involved in the fight against Modi and his fascist, racist citizenship law.”

Irrespective of one’s political views, not knowing Pink Floyd or Roger Waters is a cardinal sin that one cannot abide by. How can one now know about Pink Floyd, the English band which not only changed how one views psychedelic rock, but also taught guys from mofussil towns how to speak English properly?

Born on 6 September 1943, Roger Waters was one of the founding members of the rock band Pink Floyd, which has sold over 250 million albums worldwide and remains one of the most popular rock bands to this day and age.

More importantly, Pink Floyd is the gateway music to adulthood in engineering colleges in many mofussil towns, usually accompanied with mind-elevating substances to facilitate higher-brain function.

Pink Floyd is often the first proper English music many youngsters – born and bred on a heavy dose of Backstreet Boys – discover after leaving their homes. In fact, legend has it that one can’t graduate from a North Indian engineering school without hearing a soulful rendition by Bablu from Begusarai shouting: “I have become Comfortably Numb.”

Anyway, back to Roger Waters.

The Pink Floyd singer’s father was both a devout Christian and a Communist Party member, suggesting the twain shall meet. A pacifist who joined the Territorial Army – but didn’t feel the need to shout slogans to shoot traitors – he was killed during World War 2 when Roger was just five months old.

The grief and alienation of war remained a symptomatic part of Pink Floyd’s music which was founded in 1963. However, it was in 1968 that Roger Waters, came into his own, taking the spot as the lead creative force and vocalist after Syd Barret’s departure.

Waters would play an important role in creating hitherto unseen thematic concept albums such as Dark Side of the Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), Animals (1977) and The Wall (1979).

His lyrics spoke of the devastation of war, the futility of men fighting other men.

Wish You Were Here was a tribute to the drug-addled Syd Barret, the former frontman who lost his grasp with reality. Comfortably Numb was inspired by a heavy dose of tranquilisers and is considered one of David Gilmour’s greatest guitar solos.

Shine on You Crazy Diamond is a nine-part symphonic composition, made more symbolic by the fact that a bald and ageing Syd Barrett actually turned up on the day of the composition.

Comfortably Numb was the perfect song to listen to in a state of complete inertia, as the body no longer listened to the signals sent by one’s brain.

Their concept albums were unlike anything seen before. The Wall was a rock opera about a rock star called Pink who seems to be an amalgamation of Waters and Syd Barrett. Animals was deep critique of capitalism, borrowing heavily from George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Wish You Were Here took on the greed of the very industry that made them famous.

Waters would leave in 1985 over creative differences and remain in the news as a solo performer, staging one of the most elaborate concerts after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

While Waters would remain active – both musically and as an activist – for most students he would remain an indelible part of the college experience thousands of miles away in a country that his forefathers colonised.

This was epitomised by Chetan Bhagat name-dropping the band twice in his novels. Ryan – a character from Bhagat’s debut novel Five Point Someone – also belted out a version of We Don’t Need No Education. The trippy notes of Shine On You Crazy Diamond make an appearance in Two States. Honestly, I’ve no clue if Pink Floyd turned up again because C-Bag became almost unreadable after that.

But Roger Waters rekindling in Indian public consciousness is a reminder of simpler times where the nation didn’t feel like it was being torn apart by hate. Or perhaps it was, and we were too privileged or stoned to notice.

Whatever the case, Pink Floyd’s music was the perfect leitmotif for the rigmarole of engineering life as childhood aspirations were crushed to make way for a life as part of an assembly chain – to become another brick in the wall.

Nirmalya Dutta is Web Editor of The Free Press Journal.

He tweets at @nirmalyadutta23.

The views expressed in this article are personal and are not necessarily endorsed by The Free Press Journal.

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