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Taking the Plunge

In 2016 I bid farewell to the familiar, and set foot into the unknown.
Taking the Plunge by Vernon D’Souza
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Waking up after an afternoon siesta, sipping on a cup of tea and then heading out for a walk with my friends was a luxury I never knew I was living. Life in the city of Asansol is beautifully slow and her people have the power to stop and observe life and its ever-changing ways. Which is why, I believe, that the state of Bengal has produced and has continued to produce so many artists over the years. But art needs consumption, and its consumers are spread far and wide. Today, the artist must travel to feed his art to its consumers who tire and bleed after long, grueling hours of work in the metropolises of the world.  Asansol was my safe place, and because of the rich culture of art and music in Bengal, the artist in me was born. I honed my skills in this sleepy town, where days seem to have pity on the struggling, and nights comfort them. Such is the beauty of a city such as ours that leaving seemed to make one feel guilty; and when one did leave, they would have left behind a part of themselves that they could always come back to if they lost themselves in fast-paced metros that found it shameful to sleep.

I was so used to the quaint monotony of life in the city of Asansol; her quiet by-lanes, the slow and laid-back life, precious time with my family and friends. I was content, but I was restless too. A young dreamer with a heart brimming with ambition, I wanted take my God-given talent in music to the next level. I knew that that would only be possible, only if I left my hometown. I had promised myself that I would not go down in history as a waste of talent; but little did I know that my steps would lead me to the city that never sleeps – Mumbai.

In 2016 I bid farewell to the familiar, and set foot into the unknown. I was overwhelmed by the sheer size and pace of Mumbai. The people never really did seem to sleep, and nobody seemed to have the time for anyone. Life seemed to be in one mighty hurry in Mumbai. This, to anyone new in the city, is quite intimidating but the heart and courage of a small-town boy was not to be underestimated. I soon realized that Mumbai was not just a city, but an ecosystem within which dwelled the dreams of millions. Everyone arrived in Mumbai with the dream to succeed; the competition was tough, and I spent many sleepless nights, wondering if the city would ever accept an outsider like me.  But I gave her a chance; and she slowly accepted me with open arms. I immersed myself in the city’s ways: as I travelled from one suburb to the other in crowded trains, drinking in the sights and sounds and experiences that Mumbai had to offer, I gradually began to put myself out there.  Soon I was sending out emails to various performance venues, music directors and musicians. Open-mic nights and local gigs became my regular haunt. I began to network with other artists like myself, and slowly, immersed myself into the world of music. I began performing at local cafes, and worked my way up to performing at renowned venues. I went on to lend my voice to numerous advertisement jingles, and movies. The artist in me kept me from being washed away by the pace of the city; I was keen on becoming successful, but valued my rest and leisure. Everything began falling into place when I learned to take life one day at a time, without killing myself over meeting deadlines and being over ambitious.

Mumbai had given me a platform to showcase my talent, and fueled me with an ambition that made me search for greater heights. It now beckoned me to explore newer horizons, and soon I found myself drawn to the world of acting. I was very taken up with the idea of being an actor; to be, for a few hours, someone I was not since the idea felt liberating. Unsurprisingly, auditions became the norm, and so were rejections. After repeated efforts, though, I was selected to act in an advertisement film of a well-known car company. It was well received. However, a real breakthrough came a few months later when I auditioned for Lillete Dubey’s Jaya, a rock opera based on the Mahabharata, and was selected to play the part of Sanjaya, the charioteer of the blind king Dhritarashtra. It was my debut in the world of theatre, and I thoroughly enjoyed the grueling rehearsals, the camaraderie amongst the entire cast and the heady feeling of being on stage, delivering my lines to a packed auditorium. The entire process was nothing short of being cathartic. I was doing what I loved the most, and very importantly, making a living out of it.

Life took another interesting turn when, amidst the glitz and glamour of showbiz, Mumbai gave me the opportunity to try out my other calling – teaching. It was my good fortune that my professor, Dr. Michelle Philip saw in me the bearings of a good teacher, and I was offered the post of a guest lecturer in English at Wilson College for a period of six months. I accepted the offer with gratitude, and plunged into teaching heart and soul. I soon found out that teaching was much like performing, and I had a whale of a time teaching Shakespeare and Milton to my class. I joined Bombay Scottish School soon after, and teaching became an integral part of my life even as I continued nurturing my artist self through music performances. I teach at both these institutions during the day now; and at night I am back on stage, singing to an audience. I have since created numerous bonds, and have had a roller-coaster of an experience juggling these professions all at once.

However, living in Mumbai did not come without its challenges. The city’s pace, the constant hustle and the competition tested my resolve at every turn, but I found strength in the city’s spirit of resilience. I learnt to adapt and embrace change with open arms. I was transformed from a wide-eyed dreamer to a seasoned artist and teacher, equipped with the tenacity to overcome any adversity. As the years passed, this gigantic, intimidating metropolis, became more than just a city to me. It became home, a place where I forged life-long relationships, and embraced the rollercoaster ride of chasing my dreams. Each day brought new challenges and experiences, molding me into the man that I am today.

Taking the plunge from Asansol to Mumbai has been a transformative experience for me. Mumbai has tested my grit and spirit and challenged by beliefs, but ultimately, honoured and reaffirmed my steady commitment to following my heart. As I continue to navigate through life in this city, I remember the biggest lesson it has taught me: that if one pursues their dreams with unwavering determination then nothing is impossible in Mumbai. However, I consider myself fortunate that I have a tiny, loving corner in the world called Asansol to return to every once in a while, especially when I feel like I am losing myself in the dream city which, famously, doesn’t sleep.

Vernon D’Souza is a singer-songwriter, actor, and teacher based in Mumbai. He teaches English at Bombay Scottish, Mahim and is a guest lecturer at Wilson College, Mumbai. His music has been played in over 7 countries and he is also the first artist from Bengal to have been played on 94.3 radio one International.

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