Updated: May 9, 2022
A battered airport shuttle drops us off at 2am in front of the Gateway to India. Mumbai opens her arms to us slowly. At dawn the sun turns the broad inlet into shimmering bronze as wealthy joggers in designer gear negotiate the waterfront promenade. The people who have slept on the street begin to stir. Three children are asleep on two hessian sacks nearby and their father wakes each with a kiss. As I try to process what is happening around me I hear the song. Maybe it came from a passing car or from the open-air coffee shop of the Taj Mahal Hotel across the road – who knows?
As we made our way north through Rajasthan to Delhi the song was everywhere. There was no escape. Sometimes I would shudder to consciousness late at night, sweat drenched and hysterical, as Disco Deewane played endlessly in my head. It was sweeping the country: from cities to hill stations and beyond. Every bus driver in the country had a cassette and played it relentlessly. The charts were going wild. The big smoke female songstress brigade had their saris in a tangle because here was Nazia Hassan, a fifteen year old girl from Pakistan having a hit song that didn’t come via the well-worn hit movie route.
Rhythm House, Mumbai’s pre-eminent music shop, was setting sales records as wealthy locals snapped up vinyl and cassettes. On the day of release 100 000 copies were sold in Mumbai alone. Most Indians couldn’t afford to purchase the record let alone have anything to play it on so HMV gave a free listening and the police were called to quell the ensuing riot. The song was a hit in Russia, South Africa, and all over South East Asia. It was also on heavy rotation on Peruvian radio stations. All this put Nazia and her producer, Biddu, well on the road to nirvana.
I was very happy for them but I was still being slowly broken by this song. It got to the point where I would confess anything to anybody for the sweet relief of not hearing the song for just twenty four hours. We headed east thinking that the sacred city of Varanasi would somehow have escaped the madness. Along with seeing my first dead body, and for that matter my second and third, I found Disco Deewane had beaten us to the Ganges. A Dutch guy told me that peace was to be found by heading to the middle of the mighty river at dawn, saying a short prayer in Hindi, and diving in. It worked. For the first time in months I was at peace. As long as I kept treading water.
*This story was first published on Stereo Stories in 2022