Truth be expressed, you are probably as human as the other. So, when other humans say that the guitar is cool, you might have wanted to play the guitar yourself. I was not too far away from this common truth. After years of being an ardent listener to music, I mustered the courage to pick up the guitar. I was 23 at that time. A good friend arranged me up with my first guitar. An affordable, sensible, pragmatic, well behaved Givson acoustic. Let's call her...Priya.
Priya was dedicated...she never deserted me, when I shifted cities and even countries. She was loyal. She never left my room. She was good looking (in my eyes at least). She was constantly around to speak to me. I played with her whenever I wanted. She never complained. Sometimes she called out to me. Sometimes I called out to her. She always had a benevolent smile of understanding. It was a soul-less and lackluster arranged marriage.
Somehow I was not able to make progress at a pace which seemed to make sense. I say "make sense" because I thought I loved guitar music. I mean, I do love guitar music...I love those flowing solos from Floyd, those powerful riffs from Zeppelin, those soulful bends from Santana...everything about it. After years of mediocre "effort", I could just about strum some major chords and some minor chords. That was it. No matter how much I pulled at the strings, playing guitar was not pulling at my heartstrings.
I thought I was in love with Priya. I even said so to my friends but deep down I knew it was not working out. The worst part of it...I didn't know why. I was meant to love her. She seemed perfect. There was nothing wrong with her. So I kept enduring and trying, all the time refusing to fully acknowledge the cursed knowledge that this relationship is not going anywhere. I stayed with her for 7 years. Then suddenly, something shifted.
Instead of concentrating on my relationship, I started observing myself. More specifically, which parts of this relationship gave me pleasure and which ones did not. I found myself reflecting on which aspects of music deeply reached out to me.
I noticed my tendency to throw away the plectrum and use my fingers. I found myself playing ghost notes naturally in between chords. And if I closed my eyes, what came out was rhythmic in nature. Quite similar to Gabriela from Rodrigo y Gabriela. I loved this. I found myself resisting complicated chord patterns and longer progressions. I loved the 8th notes becoming 16th notes becoming something else. I also found powerful bass lines fascinating. Unconsciously, I noticed that my feet started tapping in perfect time with the drums. My body almost always swayed to groovy bass lines.
As you may have guessed by now, I finally realized that while the guitar solos were cool, I was truly in love with the grooviness of bass and anything percussive. This was my thing. I broke it off with Priya as soon as I knew my truth. I now had a choice...to learn drums or switch to bass. I decided to switch to bass. And at the age of 30, I started living closer to my truth.
I bought a Fender Deluxe 4-string Jazz Bass and an Ampeg BA110 amplifier. Came back home with it, set it up, hit that low E-string and didn't stop smiling for the next 10 minutes. If someone were observing, I must have looked like a child eating ice-cream for the first time. Of course, I didn't really know how to play bass and there started my journey of teaching myself bass. I started uploading covers from my third month, one of the best decisions of my life.
I told my then boss (who is a musician) about my breakup and my new girlfriend. He was shocked. He said "Why did you buy a Fender? Couldn't you have bought something more sensible? A beginner bass would have been 5 or 6 times cheaper. You could have upgraded once you become good at bass."
Without hesitating and with zero doubt in my mind, I said "It makes sense because I will use it on stage one day with my rock band!". I believed in it, blindly, with no proof. This was my word to myself. It came from the heart, not my IQ and logic.
Cut scene to Oct 2018. Me, my Fender and the rest of my band Spacebar were on stage @ Bluefrog Bangalore. 🙂
I woke up in 2012. It was not just a musical awakening. I quit my stable and steady job as a successful engineer in Germany. Travelled for a year hoping to find some life-changing epiphany. I found nothing except good stories and friends. I taught children from a Mumbai slum for a year, went into the startup life as one of the founding members of a 3D printing design studio, married, divorced, tried my hand at management consulting and now responsible for Growth in a VC funded hi-tech startup in Bangalore.
My life has been very interesting although not exactly a walk in the park. All I know is...I feel alive now. Alive, like I have never felt before. As far as I can tell, I keep getting better with age. Even physically. Whatever my life has become, it is far better than that "Everything is fine, but why am I not happy?" arranged marriage feeling. Far better. And guess what...through all my ups and downs, my bass has been my constant.
Playing bass is my meditation.
I hope everyone finds their meditation as well. It not just about being with yourself. It is about giving your life to something and continuing to give your life to that thing even during difficult times. It is not about judging how good you are, but about enjoying the process. It is about feeling love constantly and following it leading you into the light (and sometimes darkness). In this process, tremendous inner growth is possible.
Playing bass is my passion.
The word passion comes from the Latin word pati, which translates into suffering. Yes, suffering. Are you willing to suffer through pain to undertake something because you are committed to it? If so, you are passionate about it. That's it. In this process, the building of character is possible.
I am in love with my bass. But I also know that this love affair might end, but I also know that something else would reveal itself. It doesn’t bother me because one thing I know for sure is...I will continue living, not just existing. What about you?
If you are a growth-oriented person and feel like speaking to me about how to explore and navigate this uncertain life, I would be happy to meet you for a coffee.
1 thought on “Arun Maharajan, Bass Guitarist”
Good writeup. I enjoyed it thoroughly.