He doesnâ€™t look his age. There are almost no wrinkles on his face. And one cannot believe he is 73. Thatâ€™s the first impression of this veteran composer from Siliguri, India â€” Ashok Rai, who is here for the Paleti series. And his youthfulness bursts forth as he talks enthusiastically of his passion â€” music.
Though Rai got involved in music at the tender age of 18, his was not an easy journey. â€œI was born in a tea estate. My parents wanted me to study and get a job in a good post. They never wanted me to get involved in music as it was looked down on,â€ says Rai adding, â€œbut I rebelled against their will and got into it.â€
Rai talks of the weekly Staya Narayan puja where jagaran (staying up the whole night) used to be held and geetanges (singers) were called to sing.
â€œWe took this as an opportunity to start our Nepali music movement and used to sing our compositions. But I donâ€™t think people were ready for the change and used to demand Hindi film songs,â€ he says.
His parents came to know of his involvement in the music world only after his composition sung by Kumar Subba won the first prize in a competition. Then in 1963 his first song Baisakhi ban ma was released. Calcuttaâ€™s (now Kolkata) HMV Records also presented him with a certificate for the highest selling record of the year.
Raiâ€™s passion for music continued and was the music teacher at Kumudini Homes for 38 years. He had been penning romantic songs, and when he heard his daughter sing a romantic, a thought struck him.
He recalls, â€œIt hit me that I had only composed love songs. I felt I had not made any contribution to society as a musician. I felt this urge to do something for society through my music. That is when I started penning progressive songs about people, for the people.â€
Rai has retired from his
job but is as engrossed in music as ever.
â€œAfter all the ups and downs I have seen in life
and the music industry, all I can say is we should not forget our base. Music does change with to time and
so do peopleâ€™s choices, but one should not forget where it started. Nepali music is unique in its own way, and we should work to preserve and develop it.â€
He loves listening to Amber Gurungâ€™s songs and sings them â€œespecially when I am sadâ€. Pahad sukyo jasto lagchha is his favourite.
Rai will be performing 15 of his compositions at Paleti on August 31.