( Photo from Jimmy Page’s website for illustration only)
Today was the day Led Zeppelin ceased to be on December 4th ,1980. The day that changed the history of the Rock n Roll world forever. The mates, John Henry Bonham/Bonzo left behind said “We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep respect we have for his family, together with the sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were”.
I was a horribly precocious kid in 1980.Most of my time was spent reading.Hungrily, I sought new ideas, new experiences. “Literature is a textually transmitted disease, normally contracted in childhood”, they say. So bloody true! I was thus a ‘congenitally sick’ child, living in fantasy and make believe worlds.My Ma would despair and mutter about my rather fanciful imagination and words and my absolute steadfast refusal to behave like a ‘lady’. A glorious ‘performance’ of femininity and womanhood was perhaps what she wanted for and from her youngest daughter, condemned as we all are to live within the severe limitations of society.But the Scorpion woman that she is, she passed on her fierce independence and fearless forays into the unknown to me, her Scorpion child.So the accidental sufi learned very early to tread the forbidden paths and make friends with those who were marginals.Living on the peripherals of society, listening to tunes of rapture. Ecstatic.Mad.Glorious.Deep.
One such marginal was Bonzo.He was a friend of my parents, a couple of years younger to my Dad.He came to live with us in the summer of 1980.Bonzo was his self styled nickname, after John Henry Bonham.His real name I shall not mention here, because he is survived by his wife and two children.I had heard passing references to him in my parents’ conversations.Vague murmurs about ‘wandering’ , ‘cannot settle down’, ‘idealist’, ‘irresponsible’ , ‘alcoholic’ etc.Before , I left for school, I heard my Ma telling the house orderlies to prepare the guest room, in a remote corner of our ground floor bungalow, for Shahib’s friend. I remember being very curious and excited about this mysterious man.
Nothing had prepared me for his eyes.Coal black, glittering and haunted.They bored into my being, searching for something.Then he smiled a smile of exquisite tenderness and camaraderie. ‘Little friend,little sufi’, he told me in English,’you shall be my light”. I clutched his hand trustingly and looked upto see my parents smiling gently.
His devotion to my parents was touching. They were ‘Dada’ ( elder brother) and ‘Boudi'( sis-in-law who is both mother & sister) to him.He never ate with us and rarely left his room, drinking throughout the night.But yet, he would be cold sober and sharp during the day.Reading relentlessly from hordes of his books kept in cardboard cartons.And listening to Led Zeppelin on his gramophone.He would smile and say that he would leave his books to me.I cherish the beautiful ramblings of his poetry and prose he scribbled in loose sheets of paper, now yellowed and frayed,but the fountain pen ink still not faded. As if his blood still flows brightly and restlessly in the words.I have a framed sheet of paper in my study . It reads ‘Build a stillness within you,a sanctuary where you will retreat and be mad.So free that even the Gods shall be envious”. His initials ” S.R.C” are signed with a flamboyant flourish. He made me love rock n roll.He cried when he talked of Jim Morrison. He said Hendrix was God. He was devastated with the death of John Bonham and the band breaking up.He told me about the rock concerts of the late 60’s/70’s when he lived the life of a ‘useless bum’,touring Europe and North America.
As suddenly he had come into my life, he left too. Within five months. I never really said goodbye to him. I wasn’t there when he left for his village, very near to my Dad’s.It seems he wanted to sell off his ancestral home, land, ponds, granaries etc there and give the money to his family who were in Calcutta.A few months passed before I again heard his name in my parent’s conversation.Sorrowful words “wasted his life”, ‘shouldn’t have”, ‘so brilliant”,’we should have stopped him” etc.My question was answered with a gentle ‘He is no more.He was very ill “. Much later, I learned, he had shot himself.
His books, papers,his records,the gramophone,his fountain pens,a silver pocket watch,a cheap cigarette lighter, a torn, damaged leather wallet with a picture of Marylin Monroe, several cloth bandanas, a copper glass, a table lamp were all packed and kept in our store. His family did not want it.
Some years later, I opened the book cartons and lost myself in them.Rumi says ‘Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure’. This strange , ruined friend of my childhood, gave me Borges,Joyce,Nabokov,Blake, Rimbaud,Anais Nin,Beckett,Marcus Aurelius, Rilke, Elliot, Tagore,Proust,Jidu Krishnamurthy,Kerouac,Tolkien,David Foster Wallace, Vonnegut…whew. I took all of them out and arranged them in our study. His records were broken and damaged. I used Fevicol and cello tape to put them back together. I couldn’t bear to throw them.They lie with his other belongings, still, in our own house(i.e my Dad’s house after he retired from the Government of India). One day, some house help, in a spring cleaning mode, will just throw them out, I know.It won’t matter.Inanimate objects.
Do I then miss him? Not really. He is a shadowy figure in my mind. Bonzo, who was the investigator of shadows. Bonzo, of the haunting sweetness. Bonzo, whose beautiful madness was scorned by those who thought they were sane.
But yes, perhaps, also his legacy lives on in me, inasmuch I can never relate to a man who doesn’t explode in Led Zeppelin.And a thin bamboo bookmark with galloping horses etched in black ink takes my eyes repeatedly to these lines in one of his books by Anais Nin. They read “I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.” Write emotional algebra, as Nin says. No analysis, because that is for people paralyzed by life.
The accidental sufi plays this for her childhood friend…http://youtu.be/nFb9cruqoaY
Hey Bonzo, you must have met “The Bonzo” up there in Heaven ? You guys must be rocking out,not resting in peace, man! 🙂