Harmonium has been part and parcel of Kozhikode’s rich ghazal tradition; the very instrument using which legendary musician M S Baburaj mesmerised his audience. Though technology has transformed everything in the world of music, leaving this nostalgic pump organ to oblivion, Babu’s ‘Calicut Harmonium Works’ remains a living record of that glorious era.
Babu, 57, is busy at his small harmonium repairing shop near the Stadium. Having a vast experience, close to 40 years, Babu is proficient in perfecting harmonium without using electronic keyboards to set its basic tuning.
A native of Poolakadavu, Kozhikode, Babu had a close relationship with M S Baburaj and the latter’s harmonium was maintained by Babu. “The shop was inaugurated by Baburaj himself. That was a special relationship. Sometimes I feel that his soul is still with his harmonium,” says Babu, while checking the bellows of an instrument.
Till the invasion of electricity-powered musical instruments, Babu’s main work was to make harmoniums. He has made the instrument for veteran musicians S M Khader, V M Kutty, Kozhikode Abdul Khader, Manjeri Sha and Sathyajith. “That was a golden age of Kozhikode’s music, art and literature. Teakwood was mostly preferred to make its body. And harmonium reeds came from Mumbai. Before a few years ago, these harmoniums were famous in Gulf countries too. NRIs who came here on vacation from the Gulf often returned with a harmonium,” he recollects.
Now, the main business for Babu is repairing and perfecting harmoniums, particularly during the ‘Navarathri’ festival period. “There is hardly any demand for new harmoniums. In the festival season, there is a heavy rush for repair works,” he says.
Babu started his profession at the age of 13 as an assistant to Sathyamithran, a harmonium-maker based in Kozhikode. “Musicians from each part of Kerala were permanent visitors to the shop. Their opinions and suggestions helped me to improve my work and get basic lessons of music,” he adds.
Babu even declined job offers in the Gulf for his love for music. “I will never quit from this field. Of course, it is not a profitable job. But, there is self-satisfaction. I can’t live without the smell of harmonium,” he says.
- Ramin Raveendran