Musician, Nagaland

Nise Meruno | Salil Bera

THERE IS A LEGEND in the Meruno family—about the time when the senior Mrs Meruno was playing the hymn, “Saviour, like a shepherd lead us....” during a family gathering. She then joined the family for dinner, but the music still wafted out of the piano room. The family was baffled—here was the lady in their midst, so who was playing? They went to the piano room and saw her little grandson, Nise, all of five, on the keys. “I guess my parents realised I had this gift from God, so for my sixth birthday, I got a music teacher. That is the best gift I have ever got,” says the now 36-year-old pianist, singer and composer from Dimapur. He moved to Delhi around 13 years ago, teaching music and vocals at the Delhi School of Music and The American School; in his off hours, he was the rehearsal pianist for the famous choir group, Capital City Minstrels. Today, he is their full-time pianist.

Meruno soon turned professional, and had a packed calendar. It did not take long for him to become that exotic element in Delhi’s Page 3 circuit. It was a heady life—the glamour, the parties. Then, during a performance in Nagaland during 2007, his mother, who had come to watch him perform, collapsed. As the family rushed her to the hospital, she asked them not to disturb Meruno. “She slipped away from this world watching me perform,” says Meruno. “And something inside me said, ‘come back to Nagaland.’ So I packed up and returned, becoming a local music teacher.”

By then, something else had happened. “This remote corner of the world had opened up,” he says. Meruno was approached by Yamaha to endorse their musical products. “Maybe because I look a little Japanese,” he says, grinning. Opportunities by then were not shackled by distance. He travels the country, and the world, performing. He is one of the most sought after musicians at parties hosted in various embassies in Delhi.

Not the type to be tied down with routine, he is always experimenting. He started a male choir, Zowe Madrigal (Beautiful Songs), because all-male choirs are not the routine thing. He has tried pop and rock music with the piano instead of the band. He has also worked with Voices of Hope, a female choir that has toured Myanmar and China extensively.

He is now training trainers. “There is so much music talent, they need good teachers,” he says. And, he wants to start a community choir where families can come and spend the day tinkering with music. “I do not always sing the Gospels, but I am careful about what I sing. I write school anthems, even the Hornbill theme song is my composition,” he says.

Living in Nagaland, there is also the need to negotiate around separatist groups. “Once an underground group asked me to perform at their foundation day. I refused, but if they had asked me to perform for Easter or Christmas, I would have,” he says. He prefers not to look at the ugliness around. If people consider him “different”, he simply uses the attention he attracts to draw them to issues close to him—his people, his land. As he sat down at his piano to perform for us, it was not surprising that he chose to play “What a wonderful world....”