By Nachiketa Desai
For the fourth successive year, the Harmonica Club of Gujarat (HCG) formed by amateur harmonica players was invited by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation to perform at the Kankaria carnival before thousands of spectators today.
Most of the harmonica club members are busy professionals and senior citizens. 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, a urology surgeon, a judge of the sessions court, a professor of microbiology 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 Sunday morning in a public garden in central Ahmedabad. Besides following their passion for music, 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,” says HCG president Bansi Gajjar, an industrialist.
"Unfortunately, mouth organ 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," says Manohar Vaidya, who has been playing mouth organ for over 50 years. HCG had a humble beginning with just six harmonica players coming together on a Sunday morning in 2008. These six amateur harmonica players had never met before, but found each other through the social media Orkut, the predecessor of Facebook.
"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 Bhatt, a plastic engineer, one of the founders of HCG, who is now working with a multinational company in Dubai.
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.
Encouraged by the public response, the harmonica enthusiasts decided to perform at different public gardens of the city every Sunday morning.
The club soon started getting invitation from several public institutions to perform at their cultural gatherings. What started with just six members, HCG’s strength increased to 26, with both senior citizens and school kids joining it."The Harmonica Club of Gujarat is a not-for-profit organisation 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," said Bansi Gajjar.
What gave HCG a massive exposure not only in the country but also all over the world was the decision to make a blog exclusively devoted to promoting the tiny musical instrument, which is harmonica, also known as mouth organ and harp.
The blog, harmonicaclubofgujarat.blogspot.com, profiled amateur players, their videos and photographs, which helped in forming their network. The blog attracted over 86,000 page views and 51,000 unique visits and 11,000 returning visits.
In fact, it was this blog which attracted the notice of the organizers of ‘India’s Got Talent’ reality show, who suo motu invited HCG to participate in the contest. A dozen members of the club, all in their 60s, participated in the contest and got standing ovation from the jury and the spectators.
The success of HCG inspired harmonica players of Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai to form similar clubs in their cities. The latest such club was formed by amateur players in Surat, which is headed by a Urologist.
Since last two years, an all-India meet of harmonica club is held annually. The first one was held in Delhi, followed by one in Indore. There are regional meets too, held in different places.