The Creative Section (Vol. 5, No. 1) is on its way and will be published by the end of May, 2024.

ZAPPA LONDON - Bina Sarkar Ellias (India)





-         Bina Sarkar Ellias (India)


Heathrow airport was a carnival of people. People from every continent swished by at all angles. Walking speedily ahead with my luggage trolley I hurried towards the serpentine row of bland chauffeurs holding bland placards with passenger names; my eyes panned the long row of faceless men, and I did not find my name until I approached the very end.


At the very end stood a bird of paradise; tall, with a magnificent plumage of green and purple hair. He wore orange; an orange jacket cut at the sleeves and black boots that came up to his knees. His bare arms were a forest of tattoos. A polka-dotted red scarf hung cheerfully from a thick-set neck and his ears were pierced with a row of shimmering rings. Was he real?


Catching my breath, I acknowledged my name with a smile and he came around, swiftly took the trolley off my hands with a cheerful “May I?” and swept it off to the waiting car. We sped in silence, he with his leather-gloved hands firmly on the wheel, me with my jet-lagged thoughts sluggishly watching the garden houses fly past. The air was just-washed clean and a rare London sun beamed happily on the housetops. It was not a long drive to Harrow-on-the-Hill and the minutes zipped away,  just like the car.


I was musing over the curious fate of being driven by the most exotic persona in that pale queue ­­–– it was as if I was singled out for an out-of-the-ordinary experience, when I found him looking at me through the rear-view mirror. His grey-blue eyes smiled and he broke the silence with, “You are from India. I can tell. I have lodgings with an Indian family.”


His accent was distinctly Welsh. While I affirmed my origin with a nod, I was about to ask if he was from Wales when he continued as if he’d read my thoughts, “I’m from Tenby, a fishing village in Wales.  We are fisher folk, but music’s in my blood. I used to be good at catching fish but I catch a fine tune better! So I came here to be a musician; a part-time rock musician. Or rather, I’m a part-time chauffeur. I play the first guitar.”


“Where do you play?” I asked. “In a garage,” he offered, “And at night, at the local bar. And the rest of the time, when I’m driving. The guitar strums in my head. The strings are my life line. Rock is my soul. And my guru, Frank Zappa.”


“Frank Zappa!?” I exclaimed, “That amazing rock star whose lyrics set the American establishment on fire?” “Yes.” he replied , “He was a genius. Too bad he had to die. He was a true artist. A genius artist whose satire burned so many holes, we could see right through them… right into the hypocrisy of not only US’ politics, the strident Right-Wing Republicans and their social system, but right here at home too.”


“What do you think of race issues, here?” I asked, alluding to the skin-heads who were in the news lately. “It’s too bad,” he said, “Xenophobia is a disease. Fortunately, in our world of music there are no borders. Many of my friends are immigrants; from Africa, South Asia and East Europe. In fact, I believe in a free world. Maybe I would like to come to your country and settle down, and it would be such a shame if I wouldn’t be welcome.”


 “True,” I said, “But we’re talking of civilians. What about the British troops who settle indefinitely… in lands where they are not welcome… Afghanistan, Iraq, …?”


“That,” he said, switching gears, “Is unpardonable; an act of terrorism. And we should be ashamed of ourselves. Particularly, since it is not our war. And even if it is Bush’s war, there is no justification for it. Not Saddam. Not 9/11. Bush’s more slippery than the oil he’s pursuing. In fact, there is no justification for any war.” He was deeply disturbed and drove silently for a while.


“There is no justification for any war.” He repeated softly. Even as I agreed with him, I could not help thinking of history’s recurring trajectory. The cycles of war and peace witnessed and not learnt from. “I think people must learn to respect each other’s cultures”, he continued in the same soft voice, almost whispering. “That’s what Zappa believed. He was all inclusive, man... Bridging rock and pop, jazz and rhythm’n blues. Even the classical. He had no barriers. And his lyrics and music… they did not lull listeners into a stupor like some rock musicians do, or like the media does. No, he compelled them to think.”


Just then, the car stopped at No 34, a white stucco house on a tree-lined street. It was to be my address for the next five days. I was sorry that the distance was covered so quickly.


He put my bag down on the portico with a quick “namaste”, Indian-style. Then he opened the car door and I watched the green and purple plumage disappear behind the pane.  Just as I turned around to enter the house, he wound down the window and said, “‘In the fight between you and the world, back the world.’ That’s what Zappa said.”


I never learnt his name, as often happens in such brief encounters. He remains etched in my memory as the Zappa guy.