Hot Music In A Bombay Hotel

A book that delights in how jazz—both as music and worldview—once infiltrated the emerging, cosmopolitan metropolis of Bombay

01 December 2011

ON THE EVENING OF 14 AUGUST 1947, in the last moments before the stroke of midnight, while Jawaharlal Nehru was probably clearing his throat before facing the Constituent Assembly, the following words were passionately delivered to a small group of distinguished people in Bombay: “Today, we join the community of the free people of the world. The flag which was once the symbol of rebellion has become the flag of the people. Let us hope that under it this country of ours will find peace, dignity and greatness again.” Presumably, the gathering then fell silent as Nehru delivered his monumental lines. “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes …” And at some point, in the tumult of those historic few minutes, the time did come for that small crowd to roar in approval of the ecstatic version of ‘Jana Gana Mana’ blaring off the stage.

The speaker of those less known words was DF Karaka, aesthete, libertine and, later, a pioneering journalist and the founder of the tabloid Current. The distinguished gathering included the then Mayor of Bombay, the preeminent industrialist JRD Tata and Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister, Vijayalakshmi Pandit. The venue was the ballroom at the Taj Mahal Hotel at the southern tip of Bombay. The orchestra that burst into ‘Jana Gana Mana’, the song that was yet to be confirmed as India’s national anthem, was a rare amalgam of the bands of Chic Chocolate and Micky Correa.

The following evening, a banquet was held at the Karachi Club to toast the founder of the newly created nation of Pakistan. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had made sure that one of his favourite musicians from Bombay was there to complete his experience of Independence. Ken Mac and his band had been flown in by a special Tata Airlines flight, and held the bandstand. As the evening unfolded, Ken Mac sang Jinnah’s favourite song, ironically called ‘The End’. The band played its heart out.

Sanjay Iyer has been a feature-article writer and a teacher for most of his working life. He most recently worked at India Foundation for the Arts in the field of arts education.

Keywords: Review Bombay history music Jazz western musical Taj Mahal Foxtrot Taj Mahal Hotel