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Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Tambura man

Chander Tamburewala is a name which an older generation of classical heavyweights will identify with. After all, he was a fixture in all of their concerts .

Delhi |
January 20, 2014 2:55:38 am
Chander Tamburewala at work. Chander Tamburewala at work.

There is an air of eerie silence around the sixth floor apartment located at Mumbai’s Warden Road, which is palpable even amid the routine pandemonium of jostling crowds, rumble of buses and the cacophony of traffic on the main road. The building gawks at the Sea Face Park, a heritage monument, done up in an art-deco look — a quiet reminder of the old-Bombay days when life was simpler.

The nameplate says “Annapurna Devi”. There is no sign of song in that crisp air (It’s only been a few months since Rooshi Kumar Pandya, Devi’s present husband, passed away), except the ring of the doorbell that almost immediately stirs the stillness around the apartment.

Upon entering, we are greeted by an 81-year-old man in a cotton kurta-pyjama named Chander Tamburewala, who is paying a visit to his beloved Maji. “I have been coming to this house for over 50 years now. I would sit in this very room and play the taanpura while Panditji (Ravi Shankar) and Ma (Annapurna) would do their riyaaz,” says Tamburewala, as we settle in the living room of the house.

His credentials make sense, as entering Devi’s house, who is an extremely private person, is the hardest thing anyone has to do. Tamburewala seems quite comfortable in her living room.
Devi is bedridden these days, and refuses to meet, but sends out a message that tea be served. And amid sips of that day’s caffeine fix, we are hurled back 50 years ago to Shanmukhananda hall by Tamburewala, where the resplendent strains of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s sitar resonated with Ustad Allah Rakha’s magical thaap on the tabla, followed by a standing ovation from the audience.
Tamburewala was there too, in the capacity of the taanpura player, and was personally summoned by Shankar. “He sent a message to the owner of RS Mayekar (a popular instrument shop in Mumbai) and asked for me. Panditji had clear instructions when it came to the taanpura — the drone had to go on even after his sitar stopped as he wanted his performances to have a certain effect. He would say: ‘Chander, tum toh sur ke sabse pukke ho.’

It was my association with Ravi ji that had others asking for me,” says Tamburewala, also a fixture in concerts by Kathak exponent Sitara Devi, tabla maestro Ustad Allah Rakha, ghazal singer Zareena Rehman, noted flautist Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, veena maestro S Balachander, the Dagar brothers, Ustad Zakir Hussain and Praveen Sultana, among others.
A taanpura player in the context of a concert is required to provide harmonic resonance. The instrument’s significance lies in the fact that a raga acquires its basic personality and colour from it. Mostly artistes get their students to accompany them. Tamburewala’s case is unique as he is known to have made a basic, simple instrument resonate so perfectly that musicians wanted him to be a part of their concerts. Tamburewala was 16 when he ran away from home in Hyderabad and came to Mumbai and soon began working at RS Mayekar in Girgaon. The shop manufactured every kind of musical instrument and specialised in making taanpuras. Since Tamburewala was trained in music as a child, his work was instantly appreciated, in turn making him one of the best kaarigars in the shop to create the long-necked lute.
“I would sit in a small room full of dried pumpkins and wood, and spend hours carving out that perfect taanpura. In the evenings, I would go and play with legends. The importance of a taanpura player has always been undermined. Par baith ke aasan lagaakar bajaana sabke bas ka kaam nahi,” says Tamburewala, who became so popular among musicians that Tamburewala became his last name. “I don’t even remember my real name,” he says with a toothless smile.
“He is definitely one of the finest when it comes to taanpura kaarigars. He is too old to carve out taanpuras now. So now we mostly give him repair works at the shop,” says Vineet Vishwanath, the current owner of Haribhau Vishwanath Music Shop.
After spending 50 years at RS Mayekar, playing with a host of musicians and travelling with them, Tamburewala has now moved to Haribhau Vishwanath Music Shop located at Girgaon and says he would like to keep working till his last breath. “Kaarigar ko kaam karna chahiye; I can’t sit free,” he says.

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