“Come on in,” Udyan Sagar calls out from the balcony of a two-storeyed Goan villa.
A spiral stairwell melts into a terrace garden. Adjoining this lush green patch is a porch where Udyan—best known by his stage name Nucleya—stands barefoot, dressed casually in a pair of jeans and T-shirt. Of the two antique wooden chairs, one quarter the size of the other, he goes for the smaller one. “That’s my son, Guri’s,” he says, smiling. “He turned four yesterday.”
The 37-year-old musician’s reservation about being interviewed is well known. Here’s why: “I make music and tour for six months. The other six months are for my family. Where I go or what I eat and wear… why should that make news? Also, I don’t want to know how big or not I am.”
Goa offers him the privacy he pines for. This Sunday afternoon, for instance, it’s at its susegad best—empty roads, shuttered storefronts and barely a tourist in sight. No hippies on bullets, no yuppies in Mahindras. Even locals seem to have retreated into the snugness of a post-lunch leisurely nap. The nothingness of a typical Goan Sunday, combined with the thrill of having celebrated Guri’s birth-day the previous day, seems to be thawing his reservations, one question at a time.
Having gigged for 15 years, both at home and abroad, and after a clutch of personal holidays, travel for Udyan is now a practised routine. “I’m an ace packer,” he says before listing his suitcase’s contents. “From eight jackets, a hefty toiletry kit, and multiple pairs of shoes and colognes, I have now downsized my packing to two colognes, two pairs of shoes, gadgets and headphones. Jeans, I repeat.”
Probe him for travel-related anecdotes and the man behind the smashing Koocha Monster, Bass Rani and Raja Baja albums scratches his head. “Relating specifics is very difficult for me,” he says, almost apologetically. “Dates, years, names of places, what they look like… all that I can never remember.”
With this disclaimer, he sets the course of the conversation. What this then means is—what stays with him after a holiday is the sum total of the experiences, not the parts that render them memorable. Also, when one’s involvement in drawing up itineraries is negligible, chances of remembering details are slim.
“Smriti plans all our family holidays,” he says of his wife. An artist and graphic designer, she is also the brain behind the psychedelic pop of colours that mark most Nucleya merchandise, from the mischievously winking, bindi-sporting woman, the face of his album Bass Rani, to the moustachioed macho king on the cover of Raja Baja.
Concert travel, too, is not his headache.
“That way I’m spoilt,” he says, laughing. “Between my booking agent and touring manager, all organisation is taken care of. I just go, play my music and buzz off.”
From sets at Glastonbury in the U.K. and Electric Daisy Carnival in Mexico and the U.S.A. to opening for David Guetta at Goa’s Sunburn and headlining NH7 Weekender in Pune, the co-founder of the now-defunct electronica ensemble, Bandish Projekt, has cracked the code and toured the world. Then, of course, there are gigs across Indian metros and cities such as Ahmedabad and Jaipur.
Takers are everywhere. Some have even initiated Quora threads to demystify Nucleya. His music, for the uninitiated, is characterised by bass-heavy beats infused with copious amounts of Indian folk and street music and glitches from news recordings and radio announcements. What really sets it apart though is that it cuts through the classism of venues. It is played and received with equal fervour inside upscale clubs and packed stadiums, and on Mumbai’s streets during festive processions. Bass Rani, in fact, was launched during a 2015 Ganesh Visarjan.
By December, he would have cumulatively clocked 150 shows this year alone.
Prick through the bubble-wrapped jet-setting life, however, and the trappings surface. “There’s zero time to rest,” he rues. “The only thing you explore on tours are hotel rooms! As for the jets, they are to reach venues in time and to not keep people waiting. You can’t book an entire Indigo after all.”
The real unplugging takes place on “real holidays” with Smriti and Guri, and the last such holiday was this June. The three took off to Canada and stayed in a riverside century-old mansion in North Vancouver. “Such a superb trip it was. Just the three of us… no agenda other than doing what we felt like doing,” he says. “We played by the riverbank, walked to the supermarket to replenish our daily supplies, and cooked and bonded over lovely meals.”
From a separate trip to the U.S.A., he is particularly reminiscent about the time spent exploring Universal Studios. Between gaping at life-size replicas of towering castles and chasing costumed performers, the family had a blast hopping from one ride to another, “from a 3D Transformers ride to the one where you hover over Hogwarts.”
“But to be honest,” he sheepishly adds, “I chickened out of the Harry Potter ride. The thought of my feet dangling mid-air with nothing to rest them on made me damn anxious.” Smriti and Guri went ahead nevertheless, dodging artificially simulated magical creatures as they soared, fell, and soared again over replicas of Dumbledore’s office and Gryffindor’s common room.
Sometime in early 2000, during the Bandish days, Udyan relocated to Dubai with his then music partner, Mayur. They performed a few gigs there, didn’t quite like the scene and soon started touring elsewhere. Somehow they landed a gig in London. “It was a good enough bait for us 20-something indie artists at a time when the indie music scene in India wasn’t half as ripe as it is today.”
“Little work came our way, though,” he says, recalling his pre-Nucleya days. “The pounds were soon exhausted and credits cards maxed out.” Somewhere along the way, the two fell apart. Mayur returned to India. Udyan stayed back.
To score an upcoming gig in London, he naively sent his passport with an Indian friend back home for a visa extension. “Those days you couldn’t send passports out of India, which I didn’t know,” he recalls, “and when I did know, it was too late. By then I was stranded in London with no passport and very little money.”
Luckily his Gujarati booking agent’s parents welcomed him. Stuck in a foreign land at a time when his “English was strictly okay”, it was the familiarity of a language he knew—raised in Ahmedabad, he speaks fluent Gujarati—and the comforting aromas of food he grew up eating that kept him going. “They really looked after me,” he says. “From cleaning to cooking, I spent a lot of time at their Leicester home.”
Right now his villa is being built on some Goan plot (the one he currently stays in is rented), and he has recently bought a Mercedes SUV, but back then in London, unwilling to seek funds from home, he mainly survived on loans from friends and friends of friends. “Every single penny has been repaid, though. A Lannister always pays his debts,” he says, cracking up.
Born in Agra, raised in Ahmedabad, and having played across Dubai, the States and the U.K., Udyan decided to settle in Delhi. Then sometime in 2015 he moved to Goa, lock, stock and barrel.
“I love Delhi. I didn’t want to leave that city but the pollution got to us. Guri was only two, and he kept falling sick,” he says on why the family chose the calmness of the coastal town over the cacophony of the capital. “I contracted sinus. Smriti and I didn’t want to depend on
air-purifiers all our life, so Goa it was.”
The only thing he misses about both Ahmedabad and Delhi is the street food tucked away inside nondescript eateries. In Ride to the Roots, a documentary chronicling his meteoric success, for instance, he can be seen chomping on bun-maska, gleefully dunking it into chai at a streetside stall in Ahmedabad. In another shot, he swoops an entire bowl of aamras clean, twice.
“Delhi’s dahibhalla, pani puri and chaat… I miss them all greatly. I have grown up on street food. It’s part of my DNA,” he says. “And which is why a trip to Chandni Chowk is still sneaked in, for a quick grub and the vibe.”
But Goa’s air trumped scrumptious street food. There are other add-ons too.
“Half my day isn’t spent commuting. Goa gives me the time and pace to delve deep into a project,” he says. “Till I don’t fall in love with it, I can’t make a song. Goa helps me make my songs.” There’s nothing about Goa he doesn’t like. “People are really warm. I don’t speak Konkani, they don’t expect me to. I have had zero fights here, unlike in Delhi.”
Spare time is spent strolling down Panjim’s promenades, admiring Portuguese-era buildings, vintage lampposts playfully carving out shadows on their bright yellow and deep blue facades. Then of course there are beaches to be driven to and sandcastles to be built. “I don’t want to be a multi-millionaire,” he laments. “I just want to make enough money and have enough time to keep creating small happy memories.”
Humaira Ansari is a certified nihari-lover who travels with an open mind and lots of earbuds. She invests a lot of time and Wi-Fi in planning her itineraries. She loves neighbourhood walks, meals at a local’s home, and discovering a city's nightlife. She is former Senior Associate Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.