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Swarathma Sings the Lab’s Song

As an urbanist who’s also a musician, there is one project of the Lab in Mumbai that has grown almost humorously close to my heart over the past couple weeks: the Lab’s song, “Is Shahar.” That’s right, this time around the Lab actually has its very own song. And what’s more, it’s a damn good one—so good, it’s been stuck in my head for the past two weeks.

Produced in collaboration with the seriously fantastic Indian folk-rock group from Bangalore, Swarathma, “Is Shahar” (in English, “This City”) is the band’s reaction to the themes the Lab is addressing here in the city.

“Mumbai is a city that we’ve played in several times and we’ve grown to love . . . so when we were approached to write a song for the BMW Guggenheim Lab, and when we understood what the theme was, I think it really resonated with the kind of stuff that we believe in as well,” Jishnu Desgupta, Swarathma’s bassist told me. “The fact that we need to responsibly and sustainably build the cities that we are living in, and how more and more people are living in cities than ever before, and the issue of public and private spaces—we really felt that we could very naturally write a song about something like this without having to really analyze it. We felt it more than we thought about it,” he said.

As much as they’re known for their high-energy grooves and unique blend of Indian traditional and rock genres (the groove and rhythms of “Is Shahar” were inspired by Sufi qawwali handclapping patterns, and the manjira chime rhythms heard from the musical bhajan groups that travel Mumbai’s commuter trains, Swarathma is known for their meaningful lyrics. As Desgupta put it to me, the band “naturally tends to write about issues that surround us”—though he emphasized that they also “don’t claim to know the answers.” One of their best-known songs, for instance, “Pyaasi” (“Thirsty”) addresses a long-standing conflict between two South Indian states about the ownership over water resources. Another, “Topiwalleh,” supports the nation-wide movement against corruption.


Swarathma, the band behind the Lab song

Below are the lyrics of “Is Shahar” with English translation; above, you’ll find an adorable and beautifully Mumbai music video put together by Mumbai Lab Team member Héctor Zamora; and here, a link to download the song freely and pass it on. One more recommendation from my end: this is best listened to somewhere you can dance and also sing along at the top of your lungs. From personal experience, I suggest doing all of this while making breakfast (with no one watching).

Is Shahar

Written by Puneet Sharma
Translated by Jishnu Dasgupta
Music by Swarathma

Main me kya rakha hai ji,
Main ko hum karo mil ke,
Hum huye jo hum sab to,
Taar tab judein dil ke

What’s in a “me”? 
Let’s make “me” a “we”
For when “me” becomes “we”
We sound like a symphony

Hum ka tarana
Gaaye zamana

The chorus of “we”
Becomes everyone’s symphony

Chhoti chhoti boondo ne milke hi, is shahar ke seene me samandar banaya hai.
Thoda thoda sabko baanta hai, is shahar ne zindgi bhar jo kamaya hai.
Main to akela hai sala,
Hum hai bada matwala,
Main ke mareezo se bolo,
Hum ka piye ek pyala.

Little droplets have come together to make the ocean that is this city
This city has given itself to everyone that has come by

“Me” stands all alone, the loser
“We” is the man of the moment
Tell those suffering from the “me” virus
To take just a swig of the “we” juice

Maano jo shahar ye paheli hai, to hum is paheli ke karodo tukde hai ji.
Hum jo milenge tabhi suljhegi, ek doosre se hum kaahe ukhdein hai ji.

This city is a giant jigsaw, and we’re the pieces of the puzzle
That comes together when we come together

Aao paheli ka jodein,
Main ka ahankaar todein,
Ban jaaye mumbai ke jaise,
Mil jaaye gar thode thode.

So let’s all come together now
Break the fake pride of “me”
Become like Mumbai city now
If only we take little steps now

Is shahar ki saansein hum,
Is shahar ki aankhein hum,
Is shahar ke honto pe,
Khilkhilaati baatein hum.

We’re the eyes of this city
We’re the breath of this city
We’re the sweet words on the lips of this city

. . .
Photo: courtesy Swarathma