May 26, 2010 / 2:09 PM / 9 years ago

Bob Dylan mania in India's northeast

SHILLONG, India (Reuters) - To Bob. Wherever you are.

Guitarists hold their guitars at a stadium in Shillong, the capital of India's northeastern state of Meghalya, October 26, 2007. Hundreds of guitarists played Bob Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door" in India's remote northeastern hills on Friday, attempting to break the world record for the largest guitar ensemble. REUTERS/Utpal Baruah

With those lines, Andrew, a popular musician in India’s northeastern town of Shillong who goes by one name, kicked off an annual festival to commemorate Bob Dylan with a concert featuring the music icon’s best offerings.

This year, a hundreds-strong crowd clapped, cheered and bobbed their heads as they sang along with bands and musicians who had come to mark Dylan’s 69th birthday, which was on Monday.

Their loudest cheers were reserved for Shillong’s best-known musician, Lou Majaw, who has organized Dylan’s birthday celebrations since 1972 because, he said at that time, the musician’s songs had given his life meaning.

Shillong is in a troubled region hit by a separatist insurgency waged by various groups, and Dylan’s words against war resonate with many local inhabitants.

Majaw, a stocky 60-something, with silver hair of a length befitting a rock star, acknowledged the fans and bands, and summoned on stage an architect who had come from the southern city of Hyderabad.

Strumming on a guitar and playing the harmonica, Jasper Dasan showed no signs of nervousness as he did a rendition of “Blowin’ in the Wind” against a giant poster that said: Bob Dylan’s birthday celebrations #69.

“This was a real dream for me, to come to Shillong and sing at this festival,” said Dasan, a silver-haired, bespectacled man.

Dasan’s appearance contrasted with many long-haired tattooed musicians who also paid tribute to Dylan on the small stage erected at the city’s busy traffic roundabout, with the crowd parting occasionally to let cars and bikes through.

Vendors selling pink candy floss and corn on the cob mingled with Dylan faithfuls at the festival, whose highlight this year was an afternoon concert in a school.

Kids in their maroon tartan checks trooped on to a makeshift stage on the basketball court to sing versions of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Majaw, wearing faded denim shorts, a white vest and red and yellow soccer socks, beamed proudly from the side, then led an enthusiastic sing-along of “Everybody must get stoned,” thrusting the microphone at the whooping, bouncing kids.

“There hasn’t been anyone like him - not the Beatles, not the Rolling Stones. No one,” said Majaw, pausing to ask for kids’ names as he signed autographs and posing for pictures.

“This is my way of bringing his music, his poetry to more people,” he said.

According to media reports, Majaw became a Dylan addict while listening to rock and roll on a friend’s radio as he was growing up in an impoverished family.

There are many fans of Dylan and other rock stars in Shillong and India’s north-east, where the locals like to say music runs through their veins. All day on Monday, FM radio stations played Dylan back-to-back and quizzed listeners on Dylan factoids.

Has Dylan heard of the birthday party for him in Shillong? Will he deign to grace a celebration some day?

“I don’t know. Doing just this is a blessing,” said Majaw.

“He’s a busy man, I’m sure.”

Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Miral Fahmy

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