KOCHI: When kids her age were busy playing outside, she chose to remain inside. Perhaps the world outside did not hold a candle to what kept her indoors. Ever since her grandfather dusted off a ‘bulbul tarang’ from the attic three months ago, she was intrigued. Seven-year-old Angelin Maria Able is probably the youngest musician to play the instrument in the state.
A Kothamangalam native, Angelin was introduced to the world of music when she saw her grandfather C K Alexander, a retired art teacher of Mar Basil Higher Secondary School, cleaning and oiling the old bulbul tarang, and playing a few tunes on it. “Immediately fascinated by the instrument that is rare now, she attempted to copy my father without success,” says Able C Alex, Angelin’s father. Not one to give up, she made several attempts to master the tune Alexander played.
Noticing her genuine interest in mastering the instrument, Alexander took it upon himself to teach the basic 101 of the bulbul tarang, which was once famously known as Indian Banjo. “Playing the keys on bulbul tarang is difficult because it requires flexibility in fingers. But Angelin kept practising. In no time, she was at ease with the instrument and could easily play popular songs on it,” says Able. The first song she learnt was the National Anthem.
Bulbul tarang, a string instrument, is said to have evolved from the Japanese taishogoto. It has two strings and keys that resemble those of a typewriter. While it is comparatively easy to master, the instrument itself is a rarity as hardly anyone manufactures it anymore.Angelin now plays with a bulbul tarang which is over 40 years old. “My father had bought it from Kolkatta during an all-India tour some 40 years ago. It was a rarity in south India because it was prominent in the north,” says Able. Alexander had already mastered the instrument under the tutelage of a north Indian who was in Kerala for job-related reasons. However, due to other commitments, the instrument was soon forgotten. During this time, the bulbul tarang also lost its prominence from the music scene.
The Class II student of St Stephen’s Bes-Ania School is now on a journey to revive the instrument back to its glory. “None of the kids studying with Angelin had ever heard of the instrument until she began learning it. Her teachers were also intrigued after my wife, who is also a teacher at the school, showed them videos of her performances,” says Able. Angelin is now getting ready to perform at the Children’s Day celebrations at her school.