Saturday, November 22, 2008

A tribute to Milon Gupta: Indian Mouth Organ Maestro

In today's net savvy world, as we surf the net in search of harmonica players of the world, we come across thousands of names. They are the most accomplished harmonica players that the world has ever seen and we find only one name from the Indian sub continent. This name is none other than that of the legendary Milon Gupta.

Milon Gupta was born on 22nd November 1933 in Calcutta. His mother was a very accomplished singer in Calcutta having sung in the All India Radio. As a child he used to play the ordinary mouth organs till one marine engineer person from Dover Road / Deodar Street of Calcutta (where Milon Gupta used to live) got him two Hohner Chromatic Harmonicas. And there began the journey of the great Milon Gupta.

A self taught musician with absolutely no formal training, he single handedly took the mouth organ to levels never attained in India. He showed that how a pure Western Instrument with such complications and limitations can be adapted to play Indian melodies and songs with all the perfect nuances. This was evident in his early days itself when he was mesmerising audiences with his skillful playing of songs like ''palkir gaan'', ''gayer bodhu'', ''Ayega anewala'', ''jago mohan pyaare'' and many more, which till then was unheard of being played on a mouh organ.

Such was his repertoire and mastery over that instrument that he soon got noticed by the great composer Salil Chowdhury, whilst he was performing at a local concert. This was way back in 1950-51. Soon came ''Pasher Badi'', a very successful movie in Bengal in those days (which later got remade as Padosan in Hindi), and that movie marked the begining of Milon Gupta's mouth organ being used in films. Soon he set for Bombay and played in innumerable movies like Naukri, CID, Dost, Dosti, Roti, Kashmir ki Kali, Patita, to name a few. He played under the distinguished composers like Salil Chowdhury, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, SD Burman, Kalyanji Anandji, Shankar Jaikishen, OP Nayyar, Mukul Roy, Sudhin Dasgupta, Manna De, Shyamal Mitra, Hemant Kumar and many more. He spent a number of years assisting OP Nayyar and in one of his sittings with OP Nayyar and Majrooh Sultanpuri, the famous Yeh Hain Bombay meri jaan was created. The story goes how OP Nayyar asked him to play that particular western number and Majrooh saab wrote the lyrics on the spot. This was later narrated by Milon Gupta in an interview on Television a few years before his death.

His command over Western music on the instrument was unparalalled. He had a school of sudents who would only learn Latin and Western music from him. Even though he had no formal training, he was equally fluent with both the Indian notation as well as the Western Stave notation. People who have his private recordings of western playing have often compared him to the great Larry Adler who once met Milon Gupta when he came to India for the only time. Almost unbelievable as it may sound, but he adapted this instrument to play kirtans and rabindrasangeet with as much finesse as he used to play Western.

It was because of Milon Gupta that this instrument reach the height of its popularity in India. The old timers in Deodar street still recollect how SD Burman used to drive to his house regularly to drop our very own RD Burman to take lessons from Milon Gupta.

A fact unknown to many, he was one of the only person in India who knew how to repair and retune the mouth organ. He used to spend every Monday to repar mouth organs for hundreds of his students all across the country. Again unbelievable as it may sound in today's world, he never charged a penny for that.

Milon Gupta has innumerable 78 rpms, LPs, EPs, cassettes and CDs to his credit, most of them being smashing hits across the country. Songs played by him like ''o sajna barkha bahar ayi'', ''Ajeeb dastan hain'', ''Aj koi nahin apni'', ''Zindagi kaisi hain paheli'' and many others sound as if the songs were composed keeping him and his instrument in mind.

The mouth organ, as he always used to call it, became a household instrument because of him and after his death on 18th February, 1995, the instrument has almost faded into oblivion from the Indian film and music industry. A perfect gentleman, who was lovingly referred to as Milonda by all and sundry last played some mesmerising interludes in Nachiketa's (one of Calcutta's most popular singers) a few months before his death, giving the audience a taste of the Larry Adler influence on him. A great cook, a perfect gentleman, our very own Milonda is still referred to as one of the finest soloist this country has ever seen. His music still rings in our years and even the current mobile phone generation has seen his numbers being used as caller tunes, such was his spread. As we mark his 75th birthday, the sweet sound of his mouth organ still plays at the back of every music lover.

(Founder member of Harmonica Club of Hyderabad, Ramakrishna Sabnavees wrote this article based on inputs provided by Arijit Mukherjee, the nephew of Milon Gupta)


Sanath Kumar said...

Dear Ramakrishna Sabneevasji,

Thank your for your very interesting & informative article about Late Milon Gupta. It was extremely inspiring to read about such a genius who was single-handedly responsible for generating so much interest in this pocket-sized instrument in India. Considering the fact that in those days there were absolutely no high tech communication like the internet, telephones, mobiles etc, recording & track facilities that we enjoy today, we realize how much of his devotion and talent must have got him the heights that he reached. We must all salute him for this. I am sure he will continue to inspire millions of Indians for generations to come...

In fact, during my college days, when I was studying in IIT Kharagpur, I bought a cassette of Milon Gupta's Harmonica to help my practice. I still keep it with me and play occasionally.

Sandeep said...

Dear Sabnaveesji,

Thanks for the informative article on Late Milon Gupta. During my child hood in 70s i use to hear his songs ininstrumental music program. In fact I read his interview in a hindi weekly Dhramyug where he gave information about different styles of playiong and brands of Harmonica. Even though I was playing a ordinary HERO instrument I was not aware of Honner brand till I read the article and cromatica model with scale changer. Can u give some info on Shaukat Mukherjee who is also a accomplished player of harmonica.

with warm Regards

Sandeep Patankar


Dear sandeep ji,

Thx for your message. Milon da was a peer harmonica player. We are all proud of him. As you know bengal is a state where there are maximum harmonica players in india.

You have asked for saikat Mukherjee. Few months ago he released an MP3 CD covering around 50 songs. I talked to him a number of times. He is a good harmonica player. I am giving below his telephone numbers. He is a very busy person but just try.
033-25531009 & cell - 09433386864
Other than saikat Mukherjee there is another exponent in harmonica. He is Mr gautam chowdhury now lives in Netherlands. He is a desciple of the great salil da . You can listen to his numbers particulary our National anthem which he played by a chord harmonica. He is superb. You can find his recordings in esnips at the identification fmajor7
His e mail address
He is a very good guide. You can clarify any of your doubts regarding harmonica.

Arunabha said...

Dear Ramkrishnaji,

Thanks for such a detail article on my beloved teacher. I shall never forget those days of my life I used to learn every sweet notes of tune from him. I was always a lucky student as a last student of the day, where I used to enjoy many tunes/special effects played by him. Today at Germany when I see Hohner Chromatica, I feel proud of my teacher , perhaps who did the real justice to this instrument after Larry Adler.One request, can any body collect all the tunes played by Sir and publish in mp3 format. With best Regards to all of my guru bhai in India.

Rajesh Sinha said...

Thanks for such a fantastic article.Keep posting such informations.Somewhere I had read that Mr.Milan Banergee is the guru of R.D. Burman.
With regards
RP Sinha Virar(Mumbai)

Rajesh Sinha said...

Thanks for such a fantastic article.Keep posting such informations.Somewhere I had read that Mr.Milan Banergee is the guru of R.D. Burman.
With regards
RP Sinha Virar(Mumbai)

kuldeep said...

i am fan and admirar of Sri Milon and always taken him as my guru when i started learning mouthorgan.his mastry over this instrument cannot be written in words .
I have sri milon around 6 -7 audio casettes which i changed to MP3 and still i am lisening to them.. practicing and that is the best way i can show my respect for him..

Sir i will miss you always...


romadigital.lab said...

Request all members to listen to Milon Gupta unpublished Bhatiali & Tagore songs on digitalworld08 channel of Youtube. we would bring you more of his live recording at our studio during the 70'5.

Deepti said...

I am a fan of Milon Gupta. I have been playing Chromatic Harmonicas since last 55 years but,I never took it as a profession.I rate Mr. Milon as the best professional Harmonica player in India.Wanted to meet him personally but never got a chsnce.
I also play like any other profssional player and am well versed in all brands of chromatic harmonicas from Hohner,Suzuki and Hearing brands.
I will remember Mr. Milon Gupta forever.

Mr.Madhur Bhatia
Agra Enclave (Sikandra)
AGRA Tel: 9897333059

Dr Tapan said...

pls give sone links to play his music online

anupam said...

It is very encouraging to see much about Milonda. I am one of his students in kolkata.only noe thing I would like to add- apart from being the best harmonica player he was a man of rare humane qualities and should be remembered for this also anupam pal

yatharth said...

Dear Kuldeep sir, I have read your comment that you have converted his 7-8 casettes into MP3s. Sir I just want to say please send me those songs by Milon sir. I don't have his cd's but me and my father are his huge fans so please help me to get those songs.

H.Madhusudhan Bhandarkar said...

I still possess an audio cassette of the legendary mouth-organist Late Milon Gupta. He was a born musician and a genius. If only he had learnt to play other instruments, I am sure he would have excelled in them and become a famous Music Director like his student R.D.Burman. I would like to listen to Milonji's live programmes on youtube. Can anyone give me the details of the site? My email I.D. is

Kolabang said...

Did anyone ever try making a complete list of his collections and post the mp3's somewhere? I cannot seem to find much except online listening to some of his tunes. Looks like have to try finding his cassettes and have to get it converted by myself once I visit kolkata.

Abhijeet said...

The other evening I was listening to his rendition of 'Jago Mohan Pyare' and the hit bengali song 'Ude jare pakhi', I have heard them so many times from my maternal uncle, Mr. Asim Banerjee who was one of his students.

We all miss Milonda.

RAJ said...

Does anyone have a mp3 collection of Milon Gupta Mouth-Organ Disco? My father and I were both fans together and we would listen to this cassette often. My father was a master at the Harmonica and he bequeathed his Hohner Harmonicas to me. When we moved from the US to India we lost the cassettes in the move. I am not back in the US and even in my time in India I was not able to find any cassettes or CDs of Milon Gupta. Can somebody please help me?

Shiv Panday said...

I had the rare honour of being Milon da's student between 1986-1989. Milon da was an inspiration to me and greatness of this man was in his simplicity.

Milon da, i miss you a lot.

Best Regards,
Shiv S Pandey

Ashish said...

when i was a kid i remember listening to my dads records 33.3 LPs. One of those LPs was a Milon Gupta mouth organ instrumental, i liked it very much (actually it was my second fav record) . My dad had a huge record collection but all our turntables were broken, finally I got my first turntable, cleaned dads old records . . . . and am listening to Milon Guptas LP as i type away . . bliss

Siddhartha Mondal said...

(a)I love playing mouthorgan. I do have a mouth organ(Chromatic Octave - "The 64 Chromonica")and a Chromonica-260, which has gone out of tune. Can anyone suggest how to get it tuned within India.
(b)How to get MP3 collections of Milan Gupta?
(c)Any site where I can download Milan Guptas collection.
Warm Regards,

Group Captain Siddhartha Mondal
( )

Siddhartha Mondal said...

(a)I love playing mouthorgan. I do have a mouth organ(Chromatic Octave - "The 64 Chromonica")and a Chromonica-260, which has gone out of tune. Can anyone suggest how to get it tuned within India.
(b)How to get MP3 collections of Milan Gupta?
(c)Any site where I can download Milan Guptas collection.
Warm Regards,

Group Captain Siddhartha Mondal
( )

jogi said...

I live in Amritsar(PB) India.I want to learn playing harmonica.I have only simple hero harmonica.I tried to buy one chromatic harmonica in Amritsar but could not find one.Can someone tell me where i can get it from and what should be the reasonable price.Thanks.