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The Melody shop that still repairs Uttam Kumar’s harmonium

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Doyen of Bengali cinema, he was a matinee idol, a living legend, the ‘Mahanayak’ who dominated the world of Bengali movies for decades during those ‘golden days of yore.’ Film actor, director, producer, singer par excellence, a perfect gentleman, a charmer and heartthrob of millions, Uttam Kumar is still adored and worshipped by his fans, 39 years after his death. He is regarded as one of the most popular and beloved actors ever in India. His birthday (September 3) is still celebrated with a lot of gusto. In fact, every year, myriad programmes are held across the state and beyond, to pay homage to the celebrated actor.

But did you know he sang too? And he had two favourite harmoniums. The beautifully polished Burma teak exterior of his favourite instruments would emanate melodious strains with the touch of his fingers. Uttam Kumar’s fingers would move effortlessly across the keys of the harmonium and he would sing mellifluously, spontaneously, one song after another. The iconic harmonium is still safely ensconced in the ancestral house of Uttam Kumar at Girish Mukherjee Road in Bhowanipore. And taking care of the ageing instrument diligently is Rohit Hayit, the sexagenarian musical instrument repair man from Gomakpota in Midnapore district. This unassuming man has been repairing harmoniums for the past three decades. He has been working in The Melody, the 83-year-old iconic music shop on Rashbehari Avenue.  

The table model changer harmonium is made of Burma teak with the name ‘Uttam Kumar’ inscribed on it. Technicians at Melody perfected the tuning, the bellows, keys, reeds and polish the plywood at intervals. They have already done it twice this year. Uttam Kumar had two harmoniums, one was at his ancestral home in Bhowanipore and the other was kept at his Moira Street flat where Supriya Devi lived. 

Times have changed and so have tastes. There was a time when ‘The Melody’ was a bustling shop with singers, musicians and connoisseurs of music frequenting the hotspot with urgent orders for repair work of musical instruments or place orders for personalized instruments. From Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Shyamal Mitra to Manna De many dropped at Melody to buy or repair their personal musical instruments. 14-15 repairmen worked tirelessly to perfect the tuning or other nitty-gritty of instruments. Other than the harmonium, the shop also repaired tanpura and guitar. But now the workload has dwindled due to lack of expert repairmen. As a result, only about five repairmen work in the shop, tinkering with harmoniums. The shop is crammed, but stalwarts like Manna De never thought twice before entering its interiors even on days there was a power cut. For he knew this is the right place to get his job done.

 

Even Manabendra Mukhopadhyay would drop in with his harmonium for repair work but he never left his harmonium in the shop. Instead, he would sit in the shop, pick up another harmonium while repairmen worked on his instrument and sing in his full-throated mellifluous voice, belting out one song after another. The repairmen would be his only audience, admiring the gifted singer’s renditions. 

Other musicians like Subinoy Roy, Gouriprasanna Majumdar, Pulak Bandopadhyay, Pratima Bandopadhyay would also be part of the Melody circle. But these tales from a bygone era cannot erase the darkness and insecurity that engulfs the present times. Immense patience is required to perfect the musical instruments and today’s young workers do not have patience and lacks the perseverance required in this field. Besides, demand for traditional musical instruments are also on the decline. Will the musical shop The Melody survive?