I’ve been thinking how to put into words the feelings that I have towards this particular piece of music. I have been struggling to. It seems inane, inappropriate, and counter-intuitive, when everything you need to know is so brilliantly encapsulated in the music; in the piano that rolls over you gently like the surf of the sea, the rhythm shining down on you like some forever sun, the voice that follows you into the secret places of your heart and helps you to see what you have hidden there from yourself.
This is a song about heartbreak. I will not speak to the singer’s heartbreak; he has said all you will ever need to know through his music. Instead, I will tell you about mine, and what went into the creation of this single’s artwork, of which I am the creator.
I’ve been lucky enough to know Sarthak for a good four years now (though it feels much less – such is the rapid passing of time, when you spend it in company truly worth having). We met at the University of York, where we both studied English Literature, and I felt instantly that I had met a brother-in-arms, a comrade, who saw the world in the same way that I did. Someone who looked for kindness everywhere, who always saw the inherent value in people and never took anyone for granted. I was always blown away by his generosity and faith.
It was a time where I was questioning those things. I came to York, thinking, “I will only be here for a year. There is no point in making close friends. We’re all going to leave anyway, and then I’ll never see any of them again.” I tried to harden myself against the people I was meeting, so that I would not have to suffer the eventual pain of their loss. Sarthak never let that happen, and despite my shortcomings as a human being, and the thousands of miles between us, he has never left my side since. I am very lucky to call him a friend, and the blessings he delivers into my life are tenfold the blessings I have brought to his.
After studying at York, I lived there for another year and met someone; the details of that are private, as these things must be. Let it only be known that we loved each other deeply. And when that relationship ended, and I found myself having to leave York because of it, I felt like there was this black hole that had opened up inside of me, crushing all of the good things that I knew were in there. The event felt cataclysmic, apocalyptic in it’s destructiveness. I felt turned inside out, unable to charter a course to where I would go next. I knew, in many ways, where I had to go – Dundee, to study a course that would train me in the tools I would need to pursue a successful career as a comic artist – but my heart felt lost. I didn’t know how to talk about the sense of existential loss I felt, I didn’t know how to put it into words. It took my mother to tell me I had a broken heart. Suddenly things clicked into place. I understood my feelings, and the pain that I carried with me that stabbed into me every waking second of my day.
The separation had made me feel like everything was the opposite of what I had been told; love had been turned inside out, a hollow sham, a lie that we tell ourselves so that we aren’t scared of the dark. It made me start to believe in things that were so antithetical to my sense of self, my way of seeing the world. I relished the pain, the punishment that it delivered on me, for the betrayal of the things I had believed in.
Through it all, I had my eternal friend, Sarthak. Our many hours of conversations helped me to navigate this horrible shipwreck, and I came out of it because of friendships like ours. People showing me that love does exist, and that there are always people who stand by us. Sarthak was one of those people.
During this time we started what I’m sure will be a lengthy collaboration. Music has always been important to me; for lack of a better saying, I have it in my soul. I listen to music for hours every day when I’m drawing my comics. And yet, I am absolutely not musical, and cannot fathom the way that someone can write music and sound that speaks to the heart. That’s Sarthak’s job. Ironic, perhaps, because he has said to me so many times how he can’t fathom the creation of image into a sequential narrative. We are different, yet linked, in this very essential way. Two sides of the same coin, if you will.
I created the artwork for a single for Sarthak’s fantastic rock band, Unohu. That single is called Upside Down, and was a particular high point in my career for me as I was nominated for an award in India for Best Artwork. I’m still really happy with that piece, and it was wonderful collaborating in a professional manner with Sarthak and his brother-in-arms Yohann and Shashwat. We agreed to collaborate in the future.
That moment came with Sarthak’s new solo project, Maqta. Importantly, the aim of the project was to create music in the Hindi language; as Sarthak has written so eloquently, “I smile and cry in English, but I laugh and weep in Hindi. And poetry tastes good in Hindi.” The importance of language here cannot be underestimated; by embracing his own cultural and linguistic heritage, Sarthak is navigating his own heartbreak and pushing his artwork forward into new artistic directions. When we feel so lost, our heritage becomes a source of strength and pride. A new method of expression opens up to us. I have experienced this in a different capacity, as some of you may know, by embracing my Hungarian heritage. I was happy to see Sarthak experience a similar sense of comfort, and a new sense of purpose perhaps, in embracing his. Power lies in heritage. The links of family, culture, food, love. No person is an island, because we stretch back into the past, into the memories that are no longer written because all people have forgot. In that sense of deep time, we can embrace our origins, and move forward into new futures. Heritage, and in this case, language, can give us those gifts, that keeps us going when all is nought about us.
When Sarthak sent me the first demo for what would become “Dor,” I was beside myself. Not only because Sarthak has created perhaps his most brilliant piece of music to date, but because he had expressed with such vulnerability and emotion and strength the emotions that had plagued me for a year. The sounds took me back to that time in my life; to the endless hours roaming the river front of the Tay at night, watching the light sparkle in the homes of Fife on the opposite shore. Roaming the streets of St. Andrews, surrounding myself with the history of Scotland, across the West Sands beach. The hours spent at the docks, looking out at the cold sea, the wind whipping around me. A resilience growing inside of me, knowing I would not feel this awful pain forever, that it must die as all things must die. That I would grow into something new, something I wouldn’t understand just yet. “Dor” captured those moments for me, the resilience of hope in the bleakest and harshest of winters. In the quiet midnight of the soul, when all we are left with is the shattered hopes and dreams of a life we’ve left behind, but against our wishes, new hope grows ever still.
Sarthak asked me to create the artwork, and truth be told, I was nervous at the idea; we share different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and part of me wondered if someone who shared the same background as Sarthak should be the person to create the artwork for a project that is so steeped in the importance of cultural and linguistic memory. But Sarthak reassured me that such distance didn’t matter; we knew the same truths, we had felt the same pain, and this is where the music was born. This was how I could access it. I did my best to transmute the themes of Sarthak’s song-writing, the emotions of comfort, resilience, and the recognition of a pain that won’t leave just yet, into oranges and yellows, and a red thread that binds us all. This was a particularly important piece of artwork for me; not only is it my first professional work in colour (I am colourblind), but it was also something that required me to navigate an emotional space that I had left behind. To bring the authenticity to the forefront, to make an image that would encapsulate the heartbreak that Sarthak sings of.
For it is his voice wherein the truth of these things lie. As I listened to my dear friend open his heart to the world, the bravery and vulnerability of his performance shook me. I became addicted to this piece of music. It has provided a comforting soundtrack for the cataclysm that has befallen all of us at this very moment. I have lost count of the times I have listened to “Dor” as I’ve walked the empty streets and canals of Manchester; terror is in the air, the spectre of death above all of us, as we fight an infection that knows no politics, or tribe, or belief, and knows neither remorse, hatred, or compassion. In this nightmare of an ideological shift that the world is going through, “Dor” has brought me comfort where none existed before; the knowledge that things are awful now, but resilience stirs within me, a resilience that tells me that I must not accept things the way they are, that a future will come when this is but a memory we will tell our children for their history reports.
I’ve rambled long enough. Just know that “Dor” captures something very essential about what it is to be human, what it is to hurt, what it is to stand, and what it is to move forward. I am so proud to not only be involved in this project, but to have had some part in helping Sarthak to express himself in a new, important way. I could not be prouder of my friend. His bravery shows us all what it is to live. Joan Didion once said that we all tell ourselves stories in order to live. “Dor” is that story; that moment in time that provides us with a path, a hope, and a promise of a future that we will see one day, if only we hold on long enough to get there.