Monday, December 23, 2013

The Harmonica

1979- Schooldays

I could hear him playing Ik din Bik jayega Mati ke mol. Madhav had received a New Hero Harmonica from his tutor. The metallic red instrument in cardboard box with Chinese letters caught my attention. Madhav would have an extra tuition class for me and tell me the new stuff he learned. In a month I learned to play the same song.

I wanted a harmonica of my own. Few school friends asked me about gift for my forthcoming Birthday.

“I wish I could buy a harmonica. It costs a lot of Rupees.”

My friends handed me the cash on my 15 year birthday. A friend and I cycled to M G Road and checked out almost all shops.

“No! We do not have a Hero. We have cheap stuff for kids.”

I was frustrated. Next weekend I started a thorough search around Pune. After 4 hrs, I finally came across a shop that sold toys.

“Chinese Harmonica hai?”, I asked. (I was now ok with ANY foreign harmonica.)

The shopkeeper pulled out a box that had lot of Indian Harmonicas. Then he gave me a Metallic Blue Harmonica that was wrapped in a butter paper.
It read Butterfly. I blew into it. It was almost as effortless as Hero and sounded good. I paid Rs 50 which was Rs 10 over my budget and it did not even have the cardboard box.

I must have been a pain at home, as I kept harping and practicing at study time or Dinnertime.

1981- Apprenticeship

The Butterfly accompanied me to the apprentices hostel. I earned reputation of a good player as I could play almost any song. I escaped the ragging sessions as the seniors were ok if I played them a tune. During my In-plant training as a Draftsman, I came across another harmonica player. I did not listen to him play but he gave me the bigger picture of the world of Harmonica. He talked about Brands that I never heard about. I remembered Hohner, which was manufactured in Germany.

I was to play at the Hostel Get together and the Chief Technical Director of Tata Motors, Mr Jakatdar was the chief guest. My friends wanted me to play a new song and I had been practicing with our Music band in TATA motors Hostel. It was my first stage performance and I had the shivers.

As soon as I started playing, the shivers vanished and I escaped to my world of melody. I received a huge applause from the crowd. It was one happy moment in my life.

Two weeks after this performance, I was summoned by the Divisional Manager of Training Division. I was terrified at the prospect of meeting a senior person and I hoped there was no bad news for me. (The same man had grilled me over a lost TATA motors trainee badge and I had received a caution letter for my negligence.)

Mr Mukhopadhyay was nice to me. “Do you play Harmonika really well, Parag?”
“Yes. I think I can play any song.” I was surprised at the purpose of the visit.
Then he said, “One of my friends is going to Germany. Which Harmonica is the best in the world? Suppose you were to buy one.”

I told him my wish. “It’s a Chromatic 64 key Harmonica called Hohner. I have never seen it but people tell me that it’s one of the best.”

Mr Mukhopadyay said, “Thanks for the advice. I will suggest it to him.”

One Month later I heard, that Mr Jakatdar had retired from his position as Chief Technical Director at Tata Motors, soon after his visit to Germany. It was only then that I realized, who the friend was.

I hoped he was happy with his Harmonica and I was glad to have been of service to a great personality.

Two months later, Mr Mukhopadyay summoned me to his office.
“Did you get the Harmonika, Parag? I gave it to the rector.”

I was shocked.

A 64 Chromatic for me? It was a very costly Harmonica. Was I good enough?

It was a rich man’s stuff. It was fine for a Director. Not me.

I fumbled for words to express my appreciation and gratitude, but I only answered him with silence.

I mumbled, “I will check with the Rector. Thank you so much.”

The man had bought an expensive harmonica. Judged me from single performance?

He had nothing to gain by giving me this costly toy! I was just a low level Apprentice.

My respect for the retired Director grew to a new height. This was the culture at TATA motors that bred great men and one of them had just blessed me.

I waited restlessly at the hostel for the rector. He appeared after his rounds.

“Mr Mukhopadyay asked me to collect the Harmonica.”


He looked at me. “You can take this instrument play it whenever you want. But it should be handed back to me. It will be kept with other Musical instruments as Hostel Property.”

This was a rude shock. Harmonica is a private instrument. How can it be shared?

The rector knew nothing about music. Or perhaps he did not want me to get it so easily.

However, I suppressed my feelings and carried it to the room. When I told the story to my friends they were shocked too. “Dude, this Harmonica will end up at the rector’s home for sure.”

I was sad as I felt the same. In 1984, I left the hostel without the harmonica.

1985-Earn a chromatic

My friends at the hostel shared the loss of the instrument with me. Venkatesh approached me one day and said, “There is a Hero Chromatic Harmonica for sale and there is only one piece.”

I thanked him for the splendid news. He gave me a ride on his bicycle. The seller was none other than my Old Harmonica friend. He was glad to see me. “It is not a 64 Chromonica, but it is not too bad either for Rs 125/.”

The Hero lasted for 14 years during my service at Tata Motors. It broke many-a-times and had been bound by Adhesive tape. Unfortunately, I could never flaunt my Chromatic on stage.

1999- New milleneum

I had joined a software company and had the opportunity to visit USA for 3 months. There was a stopover at the Frankfurt airport. Had Mr Jakatdar travel for the Frankfurt Motor show?

Frankfurt? Germany? It "tasted" of Harmonica again. Could I buy a 64?

The stopover at Frankfurt was around 3 hours. Mangesh and I caught an internal train to get us to the shopping area.

“Does this airport have a shop for Musical Instruments?

“Ja.”

“Danke Zehr!” I mumbled in appreciation.

The gentleman had no idea what this meant to me and the reason for the beam on my face.

It was a full fledged Hohner shop! I had walked into a dream.

There it was! A Silver 64 Chromatic Hohner glistened through the showcase at $26.

I looked at all options. There was a costlier harmonica at double the price.

"Can I touch it? Can I blow?"

"Nein!", warned she. Then the shopkeeper pulled out a blower. I pumped into the harp to test it.

I shelled out the advance money that my Company had handed me to cover any dire situation.

Mangesh said, “I will cover you as long as you keep playing tunes for me.”


The dream started in 1984 had yielded fruit in 1999. The expensive asset was earned and not gifted.

No one could take it away from me this time.


During my last performance on stage at my company, I wore Dark Black Sunglasses when playing the harp.

A colleague asked, "Why those glasses.?"
I answered, "I cant stand the glare of the lights.". 

I knew that perhaps I looked very funny with them on. But I expected no one would have understood the reason then.

The Hohner Harmonica that I held was purchased with my buddy, Late Mangesh Deshpande.
Mangesh was lost in the clouds and the goggles were a silent tribute to my companion.


Just like my lost friend, the Harmonica has one key missing.
I need to play the key by shifting the button.