He doesn’t look his age. There are almost no wrinkles on his face. And one cannot believe he is 73. That’s the first impression of this veteran composer from Siliguri, India — Ashok Rai, who is here for the Paleti series. And his youthfulness bursts forth as he talks enthusiastically of his passion — music.

Though Rai got involved in music at the tender age of 18, his was not an easy journey. “I 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,” says Rai adding, “but I rebelled against their will and got into it.”

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.

“We took this as an opportunity to start our Nepali music movement and used to sing our compositions. But I don’t think people were ready for the change and used to demand Hindi film songs,” 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. Calcutta’s (now Kolkata) HMV Records also presented him with a certificate for the highest selling record of the year.

Rai’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, “It 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.”

Rai has retired from his

job but is as engrossed in music as ever.

“After 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 people’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.”

He loves listening to Amber Gurung’s songs and sings them “especially when I am sad”. Pahad sukyo jasto lagchha is his favourite.

Rai will be performing 15 of his compositions at Paleti on August 31.