Roots of KK Delhi University before it rose to fame

In the 1980s, music was not a strong point in Delhi University’s bouquet of extracurricular activities. Only a few colleges had a fledgling music society. Aspiring singers and musicians from Kirori Mal College (KMC), singer KK’s alma mater, wanted to create one of their own and take their music outside the confines of the college.

Sumangala Damodaran, a third-year economics student at KMC, was one such enthusiast. In 1985, together with her friends and a member of the physics faculty, Sumitra Mohanty Chakrabarti, she founded the college music society – MUSOC. A year later, they started auditioning students for the society under the Extracurricular Activities Quota (ECA) which allows accomplished students from different artistic fields to gain admission into Delhi University. Krishnakumar Kunnath – KK’s pre-Bollywood name – was one such student.

KK (standing far right) was the drummer and vocalist of KMC’s band, Horizon. They represented India at the World Youth Festival in Pyongyang, North Korea in 1989. (Express Photo)

“A tiny young man wearing dark glasses walked in and we were completely blown away by the power and feeling of his voice,” says Damodaran, now an economics professor at Ambedkar University. “It was obvious he would be top of the list for ECA admissions, but it was also his personality that was striking.”

KK tops the ECA list. He was inducted into the university society, taking admission as part of the business course. Everyone loved him instantly. From Damodaran (“We became very good friends and sang so many duets together”) to Professor Chakrabarti, who recently retired from KMC (“He was a very expensive student, he often came home with me “) to his college bandmates, all are shaken by the singer’s death after a performance in Kolkata last night.

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The popular playback singer who lent his voice to hits like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’s ‘Tadap Tadap’ (1999) and Om Shanti Om’s ‘Aankhon Mein Teri’ (2007) was considered one of the most respected hindi music. industry. But at first he was only interested in Western music.

“He used to say to me, ‘Madam, I only listen to Western music’,” says Chakrabarti. “I told him to play Hindi music too. Years later, he thanked me for it.

Drummer and vocalist of KMC’s band at the time, Horizon, KK dove into the college circuit and won awards at several competitions. Gautam Chikermane, Horizon’s keyboardist and now vice president of the Observer Research Foundation, a policy research institute, recalls that he used to take a DTC bus every morning and reach KMC at 8:15 a.m. for band rehearsals in the Green Room. There, the six members, including KK, practiced daily to conquer the western college music scene.

The six members of Horizon, including KK, practiced daily to conquer the western college music scene. (PhotoExpress)

“Once we were playing Walk of Life by Dire Straits at Maulana Azad Medical College, and I missed the piano intro. I started it at a very slow pace. KK kept looking at me from the drums and to suggest speeding up, but it’s not that easy,” laughs Chikermane. “He put his own life into every song and made it his own. He tackled various moods with every song he sung.

“When we went to play at IIT Kanpur, he had a sore throat and got really discouraged,” says Horizon bassist Sandeep Madan. “But we convinced him to treat him and when we finally played it was 4am. It was as if nothing had happened. He was amazing.

But music was not his only love. A girl he had known since eighth grade, Jyoti, was his other obsession – they dated in school and college and eventually got married. According to singer and Horizon frontman Julius Packiam, now a renowned music producer in Mumbai, KK split all his time between music and Jyoti.

KK often returned to KMC and fondly remembered his days at MUSOC. (PhotoExpress)

“After a while every day he was either with me in the studio recording jingles or with Jyoti,” Packiam laughs. “That’s all he did.”

After finishing college, KK was very serious about marrying Jyoti, says Tom Joseph, Horizon’s guitarist and KK’s classmate at Mount St Mary’s School, Delhi Cantonment. The couple’s parents were unsure of KK’s musical aspirations and advised him to find a more stable job. So he approached Joseph, who worked at a company selling electronic typewriters – it became the next six (financially stable) months of his life.

“Then he married Jyoti, went to Bombay and, of course, had his big chance,” Joseph says, “but he remained a very close and dear friend. I remember a very filmed meeting in Pune when I spotted him in a car with his family, I called, and he stopped the car and came to meet me. It was pretty crazy. He came over for dinner that night.

KK with his KMC teacher, Dr. Sumitra Mohanty Chakrabarti. (PhotoExpress)

“When we were invited to our annual college meet in 2004, KK called me and the other guys and said he wanted us to play with him at the event,” Madan explains. “He could have played with any musician he wanted, but he said, ‘No, I want to play with you guys’.”

“KK was loyal, humble and a great musician,” Packiam says. “He never even touched cigarettes or beer or even cold drinks because he wanted to preserve his throat. He stuck in hot water. I don’t know how to handle his death.

He often returned to KMC and fondly remembered his days at MUSOC. Chakrabarti says he stayed in touch with the company and used to visit him in the staff room whenever he came to college. She recalls the night he was performing at the college festival in 2013 and she had to get up from the front row in the middle of the song and leave the venue – it was getting late and she had to drive to Gurgaon. “I learned the next day that he had noticed me leaving. Apparently he said to someone, ‘Why did Mrs. Sumitra leave? Kya main itna bura gaa raha tha (Did I sing so badly)? ” she says.

Chikarmane recounts that one evening, when the days of selling typewriters and concerts in hotels where no one cared about his voice were far behind KK, he came to visit him in Mumbai. They walked for a long time on Marine Drive and remembered their lives, their failures and their successes, and how divergent their paths had become.

“He turned to me and said, ‘You know, I came here and I stood right here in this place and I looked at these lights and I wondered if Bombay would give me some light. ‘space’,” says Chikarmane. “It happened – Bombay became Mumbai and our KK became the KK of India.”