There are three entrepreneurs whose manufacturing units, away from the city, require them to commute at least 100 km every day.
There is an orthopedic surgeon whose patients have to wait in queue to get his appointment. There is an honorable judge of the session court, a professor of microbiology and a teacher of physics and a couple of journalists. There are also a few who are leading a retired life.
All of them, however, have time for one common activity – to play harmonica every evening at a shopping mall in Ahmedabad. These amateur music aficionados are trying to revive interest among the younger generation in harmonica.
This handy, pocket-sized musical instrument, called harmonica or mouth organ, once ruled the hearts of millions of youth during the 1950s, 60s and even till the late 70s, with legendary Hindi film music directors such as S D Burman, his son R D Burman, O P Nayyar and Shankar Jaikishan making use of it to compose ever-green melodies.
“Unfortunately, like many musical instruments, mouth organ too is getting out of circulation due to the widespread use of electronic synthesizers which are capable of producing sound resembling almost any musical instrument. However, what these electronic gadgets cannot imitate is the human touch that is required to produce melodies on any of the wind or string instruments such as flute, saxophone, mouth organ, violin, guitar and sitar,” says Manohar Vaidya, who has been playing mouth organ for over 50 years, taking out time from his busy schedule as an official of an insurance company.
“Mouth organ was so popular those days that we used to have regular classes every Tuesday in our school in Mumbai where Mr. Firoze Damri used to teach us the instrument. This was in 1956-57 when I was studying at Queen Mary’s High School. There were 40 girls in our mouth organ class. Mr. Damri used to teach mouth organ in both boys and girls school in Mumbai, Pune and Panchgani,” recalls Mrs. Rohini Jhala nee Ruby Narotam.
“Today, many boys don’t even know how a harmonica looks like. The present craze is for electronic gadgets which can be operated with a keyboard producing sound of both percussion instrument and other melodious instruments. I always carry a harmonica in my purse and play it whenever I feel like playing. One day, I hope to teach my grandchildren how to play harmonica, which does not require any accompaniment to produce melodious numbers,” she says.
“I was lucky to have an encouraging father and a supportive husband who liked me playing mouth organ at social gatherings. During my school days, we used to take part in youth festivals and perform for the special youth programme of the All India Radio. After marriage, I used to play at the parties of the officers’ mess of the Indian Air Force in which my husband Wing Commander Ajitsinh Jhala was a fighter pilot,” she says with a glint in her eyes.
It was his desire to perform at his alma mater’s reunion function that made 44-year-old entrepreneur Tapan Bhatt, who undertakes major post construction projects across Gujarat, take up learning harmonica last year. So determined was he to realize his dream that Tapan attended classes in Ahmedabad and Vadodara and learned how to play harmonica in six months, just in time to perform at his college reunion in Puttaparti, Andhra Pradesh.
An engineer, Tapan was aided in his endeavour by Information Technology which he put to good use by downloading all necessary information about harmonica from the Internet. “It was through a discussion forum on a search engine and a social networking website that I came in contact with other harmonica players in Ahmedabad and we decided to meet,” recalls Tapan.
It was decided to meet on a Sunday at Parimal Garden, in the heart of the city, which is a popular public garden among morning walkers and joggers. Shedding all inhibitions, about a dozen amateur harmonica players performed at the garden, drawing big round of applause from the onlookers. Encouraged by the public response, the harmonica enthusiasts decided to perform at different public gardens of the city every Sunday morning.
These amateur players from diverse background have formed the Harmonica Club of Gujarat, with Tapan Bhatt as its coordinator. “The Harmonica Club of Gujarat is a not-for-profit organization with the objective of promoting this once-popular musical instrument. We plan to do charity shows for hospitals and orphanages. We have already received invitation from several social groups to perform at their gatherings,” says Tapan.
“I was glad to have come in contact with the Harmonica Club, about which I came to know from local newspapers. The Club has given me the opportunity to play my favourite musical instrument which I had picked up when I was a small kid,” says Devraj Hansdah, a 29-year-old petroleum engineer working with the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation. “I wish many more young people start playing this instrument which produces great melodious music,” he adds.