I was fascinated by harmonica since I was a little boy. My mother's uncles, P K Sen and K P Sen were great musicians who played piano, flute, guitar and harmonica. Their children - Patu Mama, Ishu Mama, Sumanta and Sumitra Mamas too played harmonica. However, none of them allowed me to touch their harmonicas then. I can now understand why they kept me away from their mouth organs. I would have spoiled the reeds of this delicate musical instrument by blowing recklessly.
So when my father went abroad for the first time, the only thing I asked him to bring for me was a mouth organ. My first harmonica was a 'Comet' from M HOHNER, Germany. I freaked out on the instrument, blowing and inhaling as I liked, at random. My parents said I made nice melodious sound. And, I believed them.
We didnt have a radio or a gramaphone those days. The only music I heard was when during family reunion all my uncles, aunts, cousins would break into Rabindra Sangeet, which never seemed to end. My maternal grandma too was a musician. She played Veena and was featured on the cover of 'The Illustrated Weekly of India'.
Unlike the present generation kids, who get over exposed to 'sound bytes' from TV, IPods, and a plethora of gadgets, I had the peace and tranquility to try out my own music. I dont remember which was the first song that I played on the harmonica. In all likelihood, it must have been a song composed by the great Poet Laureate Tagore.
We got our first radio - a gramophone-cum-radio - sometime around 1965-66. It was a small portable gadget from Grundig, Germany. Father was an ardent fan of K L Sehgal, Punkaj Mullick, Juthika Ray and the likes. Being a peace activist, he was a friend Paul Robson, Pete Seager and Joan Baez too. He would bring back long playing records of these spiritual singers. He also brought some records of the Beatles and the Ventures.
The radio brought Vividh Bharati and Radio Ceylone into our home. For the first time, I got exposed to popular Hindi film songs. In the meantime, I had learned by trial and error how to play mouth organ to bring out the desired notes. My friends would tell me to try play a particular Hindi film song and I would make a serious attempt. Today, I can say that I could not play these songs anywhere near their original tune.
It was in 1968 that Patu Mama visited us and he taught me vamping (using the tongue to produce a rhythmic sound). He also taught me how to play a few Hindi songs. I was so thrilled that I would spend hours playing the harmonica. Then came my cousin, Kabir, who was keen on playing guitar. I had a banjo which was converted into a guitar for him to practice.
Both of us would practice playing several popular Hindi film songs. And, the elders encouraged us. Soon, both started playing about a dozen songs fairly well. Kabir, elder to me by four years, was a student of the Banaras Engineering College of the Banaras Hindu University. The BHU and the BENCO had some good players of guitar, mouth organ, piano accordion and bongos. Because of Kabir, I was allowed to practice with the members of the BENCO band.
Since then, I have been learning and improving.
However, my marriage and taking up a career as a journalist did not give me much time to pursue my hobby. It was only in 2006, after a gap of more than 30 years, that I again picked up harmonica. My job had taken me to Bangalore where I lived alone and did not have any social circle. So, I began playing harmonica once again.
The forming of Harmonica Club of Gujarat has given me the reason and scope to take up harmonica on a more serious note. The excitement is similar to the one I had felt when I had got my first harmonica in 1958.
(All harmonica players are requested to share on this blog their personal tryst with this melodious instrument .)