A Passage From India

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Actually, Tushar’s getting excited about seeing Dream Theater at Ramblin’ Man. Let’s hope he knows where he’s going this time…

The timing of this year’s Ramblin’ Man Festival caught me off guard. Having already booked tickets for my summer vacation, I was especially irked by the fact that it would be Dream Theater’s only show in the UK this year. What I found slightly distressing was that I briefly considered not going. As recently as seven years ago, such a move would have been beyond the bounds of conceivability - virtually no band has occupied so central a position in my musical spectrum. Yet, here I was, caught in a moment’s hesitation.

Such brief hesitation is a far cry from my attitude towards following my favourite bands when I first moved to England. In a slight departure from the usual focus of Passage from India, I present to you another installment of ‘Crazy Things I’ve Done for Prog.’

It was the summer of 2009, and I had planned my vacation around Europe in such a way as to catch two Dream Theater shows, one in Munich and the other at the Gods of Metal Festival in Monza, Italy. I got to Milan a day ahead of schedule without a room booked for the night and had to spend the night outside the train station trying not to look like I was wondering who would stab me first. The next day, I boarded the fifteen-minute train to Monza. By the time I got to the Monza train station, a rather large group of metal fans had gathered and I just followed the crowd to the football stadium, where the festival was happening. The walk was about forty five minutes long, and, due to a staggering lack of foresight, I made no mental note of any landmarks that would help me find my way back later that evening.

I left the stadium some ten hours later, after Dream Theater’s characteristically superb ninety-minute festival set, uninterested in Slipknot, the headliner. As I walked out of the gate, it dawned on me that I had not even the slightest memory of which gate I had entered through. I turned left and asked for directions and got nothing. No one spoke English. Not to me, anyway. I turned around, convinced that I was now heading the right way. I was certain that the buildings I saw as I walked back were the same that I had seen earlier that day. As I walked on and the small town road turned into a broad highway, I had to admit I was lost. There was no one around for as far as I could see in either direction.

It was almost midnight as I turned left into what appeared to be a residential area. I found myself in front of a fence beyond which was a children’s play area, complete with swings and slides and a one storey building behind it. On the swing was a young boy, around twelve years old, being pushed by a much older man. Things were beginning to resemble a low budget slasher movie.

I tentatively walked in and asked them if they knew the way to the train station and was met with blank faces. “No English” was the gist of what they were saying, and as I started to walk away the man came up to me and asked me if I was Indian. Leaping at this sliver of hope I enthusiastically told him that I was. He asked me if I spoke Hindi. I said that I did. I thanked my lucky stars for the two years that I lived in Delhi when I was very young, then cursed them for not having made sure I practised my Hindi in the subsequent fifteen years. The man was from Bangladesh and knew a little Hindi.

Then, in a scene reminiscent of R K Narayan’s A Horse and Two Goats, he ‘translated’ from my broken Hindi into what seemed to be even more broken Italian as I had a conversation with the twelve-year-old boy asking him where the train station was. It was a mess. I asked if there was a taxi service I could call (having forgotten that I had only three Euros in cash on me). After about ten minutes of this confusion, the Bangladeshi man disappeared and retuned two minutes later saying he had found a car to take me to the train station. It turned out that he had just hailed a passing motorist who happened to be going to the station and asked if he could give me a ride. I got in, and found myself at the station fifteen minutes later just in time to catch the last train back to Milan. With the sheer number of things that worked out, against all sensible odds that night, I still shiver every now and then when I think of how lucky I was.

Both Dream Theater and I have been through the odd upheaval since then, but the memory of that episode served as a timely reminder of how much the band continues to mean to me and the ridiculous things I’ve done just to catch a ninety minute set of theirs. Needless to say, my vacation has been rescheduled, and Ramblin’ Man awaits me.