Rahul Ram : Bassist and Vocalist of Indian Ocean
It is very unlikely that you will come across another IITian like Rahul Ram. To begin with he is Masters in Chemistry from IIT Kanpur, a PhD in Environmental Toxicology from Cornell and has been involved in social movements like Narmada Bachao Andholan. But he is most famously known as the lead singer and bassist of the band Indian Ocean.
Rahul Ram comes from a highly educated family. His parents were professors; as a result very high academic standards were maintained in the family. Rahul Ram decide to pursue chemistry and started preparation for IIT JEE but he didn’t like the intense preparation required and subjects like trigonometry, so instead he chose to join St. Stephens. He had been playing bass guitar since junior school and continued to play by joining bands outside of Stephens and performed in events.
After graduating from St. Stephens, Rahul joined IIT Kanpur for his Masters degree. In IIT due to the rigorous system he was completely engaged in studies. In the final year, students in his batch coordinated with each other to get to the best universities in US and he managed to get into Cornell.
Cornell was a happy time for him. The flexibility of education system there allowed him to take the courses he wanted to study. He spent the years in Cornell studying social and development sciences along with his research work and completed his PhD in 4 years (1986-90). With an all A score and strong research behind him, he looked for work with leading environment NGOs. But no good offer came his way. During his PhD, he also got married to Amita Baviskar who was doing PhD in Development Sociology from Cornell and was girlfriend of Rahul since Stephen’s days.
Return to India
Though Rahul thoroughly enjoyed his stay at US, he did not want to settle there. He hardly had a career plan and just followed his passion. He believed he had to be good in what he was doing and education is an asset. In September 1990, he returned to India and joined Narmand Bachao Andolan (NBA) Support Group in Delhi as an associate activist for Rs 2,000 a month. The experience of living in villages with tribal’s and in various jails completely transformed Rahul’s life. He realized that material pursuits and happiness were not related. Adivasis he met had no wealthy possessions but they were happy.
Photo source: IndianOceanMusic
After the agitation he returned to Delhi and started playing music again to earn money. In 1991, he took up his classmate Susmit’s offer to be a part of Indian Ocean for a show but continued to do his own things.
Periods of uncertainty never bothered Ram as his parents and wife were extremely supportive. His sources of earnings were concerts, playing at jagran and creating pamphlets for the NBA; Ram cruised through with ease. He enjoyed freedom more than money. While music continued, he started giving guest lectures in various colleges including the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi.
Money was tough for the band too. Though their music had grown its own strong following not being mainstream music, it was rejected by music labels in India and abroad. Slowly as media abroad started to appreciate Indian Ocean music, the conditions for them started to change in India too. With the release of Kandisa in March 2000, the band went on to acquire cult status and it changed the fortune of the band. Later band worked on music of Black Friday, Gulal, Peepli and many other projects.
From managing his day for Rs. 10 a day, today Rahul Ram earns in seven figures. But it was never the money; it always was about freedom and passion. In his own words at IIT Delhi, foundation day speech he says “Your notion of what makes you happy is what you need to figure out in your head. If you are willing to do what you want to do, I think there are some things which are very clear. You will be poor for a very long time but I don’t think that matters.”
Foundation Speech at IIT Delhi
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