“Bro, you are fire”
Remembering the blazing force of nature that Amit Saigal was.
Being an avid reader and collector of RSJ, I first wrote to Amit back in 1994 from Shillong, sending in a 4 page hand written article about the evolution of punk rock to thrash and how Sex Pistols and Discharge had ultimately led to Megadeth and Sepultura. I was in the 9th standard, not very confident of my amateurish effort. Surprisingly a month later, I received a typed out letter in the post where Amit and Shena Saigal wrote that they loved the article and though it could not be published, I was welcome to work for RSJ when I grow up. Boom! Instant bragging rights amongst friends! That is how cult RSJ was. Little did I know that many years later that would actually happen and in 2007 I joined RSJ fulltime to redesign and rebrand the magazine into a glossy new avatar. That is who he was as a person, always inspiring, reaching out and spreading his passion. Before creating the RSJ Logo, I asked Amit Saigal ‘This means so much to so many people, but what do you want it to represent?’, taking a long puff he replied “It’s got to be something passionate man, like a guy with a wailing guitar on stage and a fire in him, something legendary.” That’s the reason why the guy in the ‘R’ of RSJ is Randy Rhoads. Bet you didn’t know that, but that exemplifies the passion that defined Amit Saigal.
Rock Street Journal logo designed by Reuben in 2007
You see, passion is an infectious thing. When you meet someone with the same passion you have within you or aspire for, it ignites a fire within. That fire is flow and the flying hands of creativity. That fire makes us do inexplicable things like suddenly pick up an instrument and rock out without a care about whether we are good or we suck. That fire is pure freedom, always the biggest catalyst for change. Amit Saigal was made of that fire. How else can one explain the sea of change he made happen with Rock Street Journal. Could India have had a flourishing rock music scene without Amit? That’s like asking could have the theory of relativity been discovered without Einstein. Maybe, maybe not. We will never know. But what we will always know was the raging force of nature that Amit was. Almost singlehandedly creating a counter culture, supporting artists, running a magazine, organizing gigs and laying out stepping stones to what has become the independent music scene of this subcontinent of billions who can hardly see beyond the mainstream.
Using the powers of the print and entertainment industry and then the internet, he was the one who chased a rock n roll dream to create this ‘scene’ with single minded focus when so many shied away from it or confined it to a hobby. He was many stories to many people, the band mate with killer blues licks, hangout buddy, a loving father, non-stop rocker and Goa Trance raver. To the growing numbers of people that make up this jigsaw of a ‘scene’ today with their own stories about Amit, how his favourite quips were ‘fully fantastic’ or ‘bleeding madras’ or how the scene kids liked to call him ‘Papa Rock’. But nobody can claim to know him best or ‘own’ him. Don’t forget Amit was freedom, he could not be tied down to one spot, one person or one gig. His mind was always racing, his eyes always gleaming with mischeif, his smile always ready for the next adventure. Unheard of adventures like convincing boring corporate houses to back festivals that became cult names by their own right and brought down seminal international bands to this country, opening eyes abroad in turn and the floodgates to a sub-culture that grows larger as a beast. In my half a decade of working arm in arm with him, he taught me every rope trick in rock to feed that beast, that burning desire to create more subversive things.
Amit was not bothered about petty things like what is ‘selling-out’ and what is ‘underground’, what is ‘profit’ or what is ‘loss’ behind a festival or a massive ‘History Of Indian Rock’ 15th Anniversary issue. He didn’t care about who is a ‘rockstar’ or who is a ‘poser’, what is ‘metal’ or ‘electro’ and what is ‘jazz’ and the small minded arguments about how these do not mix. He only cared about how to mix these ingredients up into a Molotov cocktail and lob it into the unsuspecting world outside. So it would explode and make this fire a counterculture movement, until it blazed and raged across the nation. Arsonist he was, watching in glee as kids discovered a whole new frontier after being ignited. There are no two ways about it, he was and always will be RSJ. He was what we always aspire to be. I feel privileged that I could contribute to his blaze and we are lucky to have known and worked with him in our generation.
I still rue the day I had to walk into the RSJ office to write his obituary, remembering all our momentous days together. The times we sat in until 4 am at RSJ headquarters for weeks to prepare for bigger and louder festivals while he fought through illness and treated the team to dinner. The time at Moscow airport enroute to Inferno Norway, bone weary and jetlagged but still drinking beers and planning the very first full festival cover feature for one of the world’s most iconic extreme metal festivals. The times we argued about whether putting out a free compilation CD with every issue would help us break even. Never stopping from chasing that dream in celebration or in dejection while navigating around the pitfalls of constantly generating fuel to feed this fire and keep the little scene alive with new ideas. But the beauty is that the fire still rages and always will in his memory. Today more than any time in the brief history of India’s alternative music culture, we need more people to be like him, to believe in his vision and continue to keep the fire burning. Dear friend, brother and mentor you are and will be always fire.
Follow Reuben under his moniker 'Visual Amnesia' at -
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