Vol. 4 Num 138 Sat. October 11, 2003  

The pioneers
The carefree boys of the '60s
A glimpse at the 'Windy Side of Care'

Every man's life is a fairy-tale written by God's fingers."--Hans Christian Anderson. At least, this is what will hit you when you enter the house located in Paribagh, with a spacious garden rarely seen nowadays. You gaze at the pre-independence British architecture and your eyes linger at the big windows, where you think you might find some long gone traces of the Windy Side of Care, the first music band ever to be created in the country. Coming out of the house is a jolly looking person known by the name of Rafique Mazhar Islam, a.k.a Sajju, the rhythm guitarist of the band. As he, along with the manager of the celebrated band Rafi Omar, also a cousin, shares the memories, you can't help wondering at the beauty and animation of this true fairy tale which God had woven for them back in the late '60s.

Sajju (Sa): Back in 1964, I along with two friends Sufi Rashid and Fazle Rab would just tinker around with our guitars and play at colleges for the students. After a while, Sufi left and I would then play the rhythm, Fazle would play the lead, and then Shabbir Quadir joined us as the drummer. That's when we formed our band Iolites. I think it refers to a musical beam or northern lights [smiles].

Rafi (Ra): Yes. And I think I joined you guys after my brother Fahmi got into the band and began to play bass. That was way back in 1967 and that's when we changed the name to Windy Side of Care. I guess we got the name from Shakepeare's Twelfth Night, which refers to a carefree life. And I was the manager [smiles Rafi]. It was more like a family actually. We were all cousins and would live just across the street from each other. So we could jam any time we wanted to.

Sa: Back then, Alamgir, now a well-known singer in Pakistan, would come along with us everywhere. He was a little fellow then, always dressed in shorts with a mouth organ in his hand. He had a God gifted voice and could sing with a lot of devotion and dedication. We also taught him to play the bass guitar and he would then play for the band until Fahmi joined us. Then Alamgir became the lead vocal of the band.

Ra: Do you remember Ashraful, Sajju? Now he is a cricket legend in the country and is more famous than we could ever have become [laughs]. Ashraful was the assistant manager basically, and he would arrange the stage and do all the necessary running-around for us. He had hordes of good contacts which we used to our benefit.

Sa: Yeah I remember him [beams at the thought]. And do you remember Bunting Panni? He would play the organ for us. Back then we used to call it an electric organ, I think now it's referred to as a keyboard.

Ra: Everything has changed now. At that time, we never had the practice spots that the new folks have today. There was an old Nach ghar on my grandfather's lawn at Paribagh from the Nawab's times, and we would just practice there. There was no standard sound system as such. We would just plug into the tape recorder and makeshift amplifiers and put the volume high for all to hear. And Nana would scream his head off at us to keep the volume down and also grumble for the extra usage of electricity.

Sa: During all our gigs and shows, we would place our friends at different spots around the stage and then decide if we needed any changes regarding sound. We would jam the whole night sometimes. We did Cliff Richards, Tom Jones, the Beatles, a whole lot of Shadows, and the popular number House of the Rising Sun.

Ra: Back then, there were only a few bands. You could actually count them on your fingertips. There were the Lightning from Chittagong, Rambling Stones, the name was an inspiration from the Rolling Stones [he informs, smiling], Insex Dui from The American School and ourselves, Windy Side of Care. Another well-known band in Pakistan called Bugs was our contemporary. They would put up their hair and dress up like the Beatles.

Sa: Do you remember the Lion's Club organising a contest between the bands? We actually clinched the first place [smiles proudly at the long gone memory]. We even tried to be a little different with our clothes back then. Though we kept it simple, I think the people around us would somehow get into our trend! We were the first ones to wear kurtas on top of jeans.

Ra: Those days the kurtas used to be short, so we also found this style very comfortable. We even wore American army jackets during a show, and that also got to do a lot with our spectacular performance. However, our wardrobe was quite simple, yet elegant and trendy.

Sa: We would jam for hours sometimes at the Intercontinental Hotel, now Sheraton, where we would perform often. We would probably be paid around Rs. 750/- for a night's show where the entrance fee would be Rs. 5/-. In fact our last show was done there in 1969, as I can recall.

Ra: We performed a few times at the Ladies' Club. It used to host a whole lot of meena bazaars back then. I remember just jamming at Dhaka Club from 7 in the night to 7 in the morning straight. The audience just wouldn't let us leave.

Sa: I remember we performed at the Holly Cross College once [smiles brightly at Rafi]. When Sister Mary Joe requested us to perform for her girls, we were stunned! I mean, back then it was quite conservative and on top of it we would be performing at a Catholic school. But it went off well, especially for our manager who got a chance to flaunt himself in front of the girls [laughs].

Ra: We had all worn specially designed jackets with polo necks for that show!

Sa: Later on, we sold our instruments to Zafar Iqbal at one point. He had turned out to be a movie star later on in his life until he passed away. We got Shabbir to get replacements when he went to Honk Kong. We got ourselves Pearl drums and Fender guitars after scrapping about $720. We had even managed to grab some great deals for ourselves. We travelled all the way to Sylhet, at Srimangal, and performed at the Monsoon Ball there. It was difficult back then as well. My parents were very strict and I used to make up excuses about staying over at my cousin's place across the street and would jam the whole night.

Ra: I remember all the stress we had to go through. At times, a show would begin, but there would be no sign of Sajju at all. I had to cover up and lie to my aunt and uncle all because of Sajju [smirks]. I also remember smuggling Alamgir out of his boarding school.

Sa: Alamgir studied at a Cadet College, and we used to sneak him out almost every other night for shows. Those were the really good times now that we think of it.

Ra: We even got a chance to take out a record--a 45 RPM--from EMI. We were all so excited about it! We went all the way to Karachi for the recording and stayed there for around 15 days. My parents lived there then, so I told Sajju's mom, my phuppi, that we would just be having a nice vacation, since it was the holidays. But I am sure she had suspected something fishy.

Sa: We had composed a number called Byartho Premik and did two fusion tracks, mainly a blend of the east and the west. We had also been the first ones to introduce this sort of music at that time like the instrumental we did based on Raga Bagyasree. While we were in Karachi, the Karachi TV had requested us to perform on a weekly television show, in which we performed for an hour at least. In between the songs, the host of the show also interviewed us.

Sa: Sometimes, I find myself going back to the late '60s with all the guys. I did hear that Alamgir is now in Canada. Shabbir passed away. He was suffering from cancer. Fazle passed away recently from a burst appendix. Fahmi is in the USA and I have been living in the States as well for the past 30 years. But I am going on with my music in Hawaii. We have a little band and we call it Blue Rain. We do a lot of experimental music.

And they said a lot more. That was definitely not the end of their true fairy tale. The Windy Side of Care is an example of passionate music and also a revolution in our cultural field. Though it is lost in all the complexities time has to offer, the memories still linger on. And maybe, at some point of time, while passing by Paribagh, you might just come across the remnants of the Windy Side of Care and feel the vibes of their last guitar strum.

Rafi Omar and Rafique M Islam seen chatting with representatives of The Daily Star.