Composer Shantanu Moitra's Transformative 3,000 Km Journey Becomes A Captivating YouTube Series

Composer Shantanu Moitra's Transformative 3,000 Km Journey Becomes A Captivating YouTube Series

In Mumbai, I cycle to Nariman Point from Andheri and back every weekend

Roshmila BhattacharyaUpdated: Sunday, April 21, 2024, 01:04 AM IST
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During ‘100 days in Himalayas’, I realised that while this solo trip was personally satisfying, by not filming it, I’d deprived many of being armchair travelers. The idea of another expedition along the Ganga with a camera team came to me in Tibet.

In Mumbai, I cycle to Nariman Point from Andheri and back every weekend. Bored of the familiar sights, I wished for a new, longer route. The two thoughts married into ‘Songs of the River: Ganga’, a 3,000 km journey, 2,200 km along the river. 

Rigorous prep

My friend, Abro Bhattacharya, as a BBC line-producer, had been on two Ganga expeditions. He assured me my ‘ridiculous’ idea was doable. Knowing I had to cycle 8-10 kms, five days a week for 70-80 days, I got a nutritionist, changed my diet, got medically evaluated to learn technicalities like my lung capacity and practiced regularly at Bhor Ghat, Lonavala’s highest point. I even mapped my route on a cycle trainer, the machine simulating the inclines and gradients en route.

This was in 2018 after being rejected by a dozen corporate houses who couldn’t relate to the idea of a composer cyclist. Confident of doing the journey with my own funds, I continued my prep.

Surprise sponsor

During the Covid-19 pandemic I lost my father to Coronavirus. I couldn’t even say goodbye. We’d been discussing the journey every day and he’d planned to accompany me to his hometown Varanasi. The anger manifested in the need to start immediately, unsure if I’d survive. The second wave devastation had just ended. I wanted to get out of Mumbai.

Around that time, NCPA posted one of my songs from the ‘100 Days in Himalayas’ concert. Sangeeta Jindal, Chairperson, JSW Foundation, saw the clip and called to reminisce about the concert she had attended. When I told her about my planned trip, she greenlit it in 15 seconds and I had a surprise sponsor.

Fortunately, because of Covid, my crew was available. A month-and-a-half later, on October 1, 2020, we left for Rishikesh, having taken the required vaccination.

Musicians with a difference

I shared the idea of getting artists to the Ganga first with Indian classical vocalist and composer Kaushiki Chakraborty. She thought I was crazy! I persisted and decided to collaborate with those who had done something, other than music during the lockdown.

Singer-composer Mohit Chauhan had fed street dogs. Guitarist-singer-songwriter Taba Chake, had taken care of an entire village in Arunachal Pradesh.Carnatic-vocalist-singer-musician Bombay Jayashri had taught specially-abled children online while violinist-composer- educator Ambi Subramaniam, and his singer-songwriter-educator sister Bindu, had devised a way to continue education through music. Each went back with a lifetime of memories.

Rap and raga

In an Uttrakhand village of 25-30, I met a local musician who sang to his cow, goat and chicken. Unconcerned about a stage, audience or Instagram likes, he rapped on social causes despite not being economically deprived.

In Varanasi, a veena player would happily play to an audience of one, a child, these musicians far more content because their music goes beyond performance and results.

Finding closure

The journey started with the loss of my father and transcended into an Ananth Yatra. At Gangasagar in West Bengal, I prayed for all those who had lost someone to Covid and discovered when grief is shared, it reduces. I found closure.

The Ganga Project taught me spirituality isn’t about chanting mantras, but being comfortable with who you are. When you pray, it’s the only time you are not thinking of who you are and how you are looking.

In a village in UP, I saw a cloth bag hanging outside every third or fourth door which housed Covid patients. The community had come together to put food in these bags and underlined the essential goodness of people.  

Conversations with Ganga

My crew kept a distance, photographing me through telephoto lenses and recording me through a radio microphone. In Bihar, before the Chhath Puja, while resting under a peepal tree I noticed a couple drive up. The wife sat 50 metres away and gazed at the Ganga. Fifteen minutes later, when walking back together to their scooter, they spotted me.

I told them I was cycling from Gangotri to Gangasagar, then asked why they had sat separately. The man shared they had got married six months ago. Living in a joint family during Covid was tough, particularly for his wife still adjusting to her new home. So, every three-four days they would drive down so she could converse with the Ganga, her words flowing away with the water. I thank this experience during an extraordinary time for such lessons in life.   

It was different from the other journeys. Instead of whizzing by in a car, I was gently pedaling through the hinterlands of Uttrakhand, UP and Bihar, and saw our incredible country from close.

Last year, Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 12th Fail, a story about a boy from a village in Chambal, whose music I composed, released. Without stars or songs, it was the ‘Film of the Year’, reinforcing what I’d learnt. Humans like to believe they are God and can ‘see’ the future. But it’s best to work without expectations.

My father would say Varanasi teaches people to deal with complexities simply. As you watch babies being born and bodies burning on the Ghats, you understand the cycle of life. It breaks the clutter, gives clarity and brings peace. That’s the way to approach music too: Believe in what you do, someone among a billion will connect with you.

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