Mirror, Mirror: Reflecting With Dualist Inquiry

Mirror, Mirror: Reflecting With Dualist Inquiry

Forget the anarchy prints, the painted faces, the inner sanctum. We traded all the primary musical eras up for a post-digital machine and even as Sahej Bakshi sits proud at its epicentre, he reminds me that there's a certain comfort to the existence of a hierarchy. His perfect coifs, the fitted clothing, it all suggests such a rock n'roll invincibility that I find myself indulging in some intentional staging for an interview with him; a spotlight here, a plush leather armchair there, I can almost see the production circus swirling around him, prepping him for a friendly game of To Tell The Truth. This despite the fact that we're practically drowning in anonymity at a central Oslo hotel.

Photo courtesy Irina Usova
Playing the lottery of good conversation with Dualist Inquiry…
"Life was pretty much ideal for me when I was young, at least from my perspective. I grew up in this incredibly sheltered, loving sort of environment. I was living with my parents and grandparents in an insane house in Chandigarh, every summer my uncles and aunts would come and visit. It was the perfect 'big, happy family' kind of existence you know? But yeah, looking back, you realise you actually knew nothing so I guess my world view was pretty narrow coming out of Chandigarh."
"Yes, I was only 11 but i'd already been playing the keyboards since I was 8 and the guitar by the time I was 9 so I was already on that kind of track. There was this school called Vivek in Chandigarh and they had a really great vision at the time; introducing artistic activities early on. I have to say i've been really lucky as far as all my educational environments, every school has been exactly what I needed at the time as far as sustenance was concerned. By the time I was halfway through boarding school, i'd already started to grasp the possibility of having music in my life. In a certain sense, it was all the most predictable thing you could have expected."
"I mean it's such a close community in India that it really didn't take long to spread but it's not that big a change. I don't look at it like that. With my Doon friends, it's more about not wanting to acknowledge that anything has changed. I mean no matter how exciting it is, i don't ever feel like talking to them about work, you know? It's comforting to know that I could not be doing what i'm doing and still be sitting there in that exact same way with those people; without Dualist Inquiry being a part of the picture."
"There is NO separation between his work and life outside of it," 
"Right, so the thing about Doon was that it was the perfect environment for me to be in. They really gave you the space to develop in whatever you were good at or whatever you wanted to. As a result of that, you really had that sort of motivation to get really, really good at it. There was a lot to achieve within that microcosm and for me. I had this incredible music teacher, Mr. Gursharan Singh, who really shaped me. He was incredibly open-minded and extremely hard on me but he gave me a sense of focus on duty that became nurturing. That kind of achievement-oriented world really does prepare you. If you rise up to the top of your game, you get to be somebody in that little world of yours and in my opinion, that's kind of like the real world."
The one who once struggled with his outward appearance?
"We're not setting the stage for a serious religious debate here."
"Honestly, I was just really close to my family. My dad, his brother, they all followed the tradition and it was something that really bound our family together. I think I knew pretty early on, around 15-16 that I wasn't feeling entirely connected to my identity but I just never wanted to open that can of worms. It certainly wasn't an alien concept. I had friends who were going out to barbers, cutting their hair and getting their asses kicked by their dads and chachas when they returned home. Maybe they'd get kicked out for a month but over time, everyone healed. 99% of the families I knew healed but it was difficult for me to even suggest because I was too close to my family. I couldn't fathom the idea of breaking their hearts but at some point, I realised it was taking away from my own philosophies about life. In a sense, it builds walls and i'm all for breaking them down. Human beings are essentially the same if you lay aside their generic differences in race and this tendency to group together and play this 'us and them' game. It was something I began to dislike at a very young age. I had so many questions in my mind and I used to wonder all the time why I had to dress differently."
"It's not that I shied away from being different. I just wanted to be different in my own terms, in my own way. The reason i've never spoken to journalists about this is because it's really, really personal. What was right for me is by no means applicable to other people and I would hate to be perceived as advocating that. I'm not interested in passing judgement on anyone else because what I think really doesn't matter. I have the deepest respect for Sikhs who maintain their hair and I know more than enough people who couldn't and shouldn't be without their turban. Everyone has a different psyche; a different journey."
"Look, I can understand all of that sounding a bit muddled but this is it in a nutshell--I just wanted to be Sahej. Not Sahej the Sikh or Sahej the anything else. I wanted to experience starting from a point of neutrality, identity wise. I guess when I was younger, i'd already seen who I was meant to be. I saw this unkempt hair and everything else and I think it was a very deep seeded need."
"I have a good metaphor for this," 
"The ironic thing is that the most obvious change was definitely on the surface but it perfectly correlates with the moment I really started to pay attention to who I was. I was trying to be a better person. The analogy is something like this--say you have an apartment or a house which you just don't like. It's not in the right location or the framework is all wrong. Then you're not going to paint the walls and decorate it with little knick-knacks. You'll just be like 'I don't like this fucking apartment, why should I decorate it from the inside?' On the contrary, say you really like the space you've been given. In that case, you're far more likely to get involved in the details of it. That's exactly how it was for me and my personality. I don't think I really cared too much about what was going on there because there was a big picture problem. Once that was solved, then I was able to focus on the more important things."
Shortly after Sahej cut his hair for the first time.
"Of course it does, because the music is the one thing (the only thing) that has stayed constant throughout. It was the one connection I always had to the real me. It's crazy because even when I was just 15 years old and in Doon School, I got a chance to get into a recording studio. There was a producer there and he produced some of my music for me. When I listen to recordings of it now, you won't believe it but it's the same sound! The dreamy guitars, the happy vibe, the electronic beats..and this was all 2001! So the music would have all been there but just on a more personal level maybe. I mean I could have just as well been DI, the Serdie, playing music but I truly believe that when you're not perfectly comfortable with yourself, you have a harder time putting yourself out there."
It makes me smile when he says this because I couldn't relate more. There probably aren't many people who can't relate with it. And just like that, in some final show of fated synchronicity, we're finally on the same wavelength.
"I think the place it would have made a huge difference is that i would not have been able to put myself out there. I mean when you're confident, you're sure about who you are, then you're less easily shaken by others' criticism, you're able to take more.Putting your own music out, it's scary as fuck. It's like you're saying this is who i am and you can't change it. So what I'm saying is if i'm cool with myself and i'm putting my music out there, even if people don't like it at least the foundation is sorted. So if i didn't have that, maybe that would have prevented me for being an artist. Who knows what could have been?"
"You know it's kind of crazy you've got me on record about this because I can't emphasise enough how personal it was. Or how little I think what I did matters in the grand scheme of things. All I know is that everyone has their own version of this story. Maybe not with a religious identity but with something. And no one knows what people go through to eventually become who they decide to become."

Words: Mandovi Menon Image Source: Sahej Bakshi

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