Friday, December 25, 2009

A date with living legend Madan Kumar

The last time I had visited mouth organ maestro Madan Kumar at his home in Pune, I had extracted a promise that he would let me spend a day with him. So when I reminded him of that promise a few days ago, he graciously said, "Nachiketa, you are always welcome to come home."

Taking advantage of the year-ending holidays, I visited Madan Kumar on Christmas. I wanted to take him and his wife out for lunch in a restaurant where we could enliven our 'spirits' by imbibing a few glasses of beer. "The lunch is with us at home. Hope you won't mind having typical Sindhi cuisine," he said flashing his inimitable smile. "I have given up alcoholic beverages for quite sometime now," he added to my dismay.

"Sir, this time I want to learn a few techniques from you which I can pass down to the rest of the members of the Harmonica Club of Gujarat," I told him at the outset. "Sure, I will tell you whatever you want to know. I was glad to see so many young boys and girls taking up mouth organ in Gujarat. The generation next must keep this dying instrument alive."

Madan Kumar is a self-taught harmonica player. He had started playing since he was 7-8 year old. He had started his band in Pune in the early 1960s. He got his break in 1968 when the HMV cut his first record. "I had no formal training in music and used to play by my ears," he told me.

Because of his musical band, Madan Kumar came in contact with the great piano accordion player Enoch Daniels and guitarist Van Shipley, both based in Pune. It was Enoch Daniels who introduced Madan Kumar to music director duo Laxmikant Pyarelal. "Only great musicians had access to such established music directors of Bollywood. I felt like a dwarf when I met some of the musicians who played different instruments like piano, saxophone and guitar for great music directors," he recalls.

Laxmikant wanted to test the young lad and gave Madan Kumar a small composition written on a sheet of staff notations. "Tears started rolling down my cheeks because I could not make any sense out of the staff notations. I picked up courage and told Laxmikantji that I don't know how to read music notes and that I can try playing the tune only if someone played it on piano or any other instrument. Laxmikant ji asked his pianist to play the tune. I could somehow manage to save my face by playing the tune on the mouth organ," he said.

"I decided to learn reading and writing music notations and joined a piano class. For three years, I learned piano from a music teacher. I could now read notations and write them as well by listening to music," he says.

Though he had his own band and was being invited to perform at various public functions, the money he was getting was not enough to support his family. "My elder brother told me to come over to Spain to join his business there. I reluctantly agreed to go to Spain. That was perhaps a grave mistake as I could not maintain contacts with those who mattered in the film industry," he says.

Madan Kumar returned to India after a five year stint in Spain and took up harmonica playing and arranging sound systems for various musical shows, including those of established singers. He also set up his own recording studio, having mastered, through practice, sound engineering.

While narrating his 50-year-long musical journey, Madan Kumar allowed me to click photographs of his album. "Sir, as a dashing and handsome youngman you could have been a film actor," I said. "When I was introduced to Rajkumar Barjatya, the producer of the film Dosti, he regretted for not having met me before he made the film. Barjatyaji told me that I could have easily played the role of the physically challenged hero who plays harmonica in the film," he says.

1 comment:

Tapan Bhatt said...

Nice work N D !!
Congrats to both of you.
Madanji, aap great ho.