Music resonates in every heart
“If you throw a stone at the crowd, it will land either on a writer or a singer” goes a famous saying in Kannada referring to places where music and...
“If you throw a stone at the crowd, it will land either on a writer or a singer” goes a famous saying in Kannada referring to places where music and literature thrive. This is indeed most relevant to the situation in the picturesque city of Dharwad in North Karnataka, a renowned educational and cultural hub and birthplace of innumerable intellectuals and musicians who made India proud.
Eminent musicians from the Mughal court at Agra and the seat of the Scindhias of Gwalior, who were invited by the Maharaja of Mysore to perform in their court halted at Dharwad, where music lovers arranged impromptu concerts for them. This led to the emergence of a new class of patrons of Hindustani classical music in a land that already had a Carnatic music presence, making it the only region in the country where both classical forms flourished.
Born in this cradle of Hindustani music, love for classical music and the all-important patronage that is inherent to the survival of arts were traits that Mohan Hemmadi carried with him all the way to the city of his destiny, Hyderabad. In this beautiful cosmopolitan centre and seat of Deccani culture, he has been one of the tallest figures (both literally and figuratively) in music circles with his name being inseparable from Hindustani classical music that he has been supporting, encouraging, and nurturing for nearly five decades now.
One of the pillars of the Konkani association that supports activities of the 800 odd Konkani families settled in Hyderabad, Mohan Hemmadi apart from building a lucrative career focused his energy on defining the cultural frontiers of a city known for its love for good food, poetry, music, and art.
The high school dropout, who lived in Bengaluru and Mumbai decided to settle down in Hyderabad in 1959 after he drove down along with his friend on his brand new Lambretta scooter to participate in the “Shishya Sweekar” ceremony of his guru Anandashram Swami.
The modest scooter workshop that he set up at the Public Gardens in Hyderabad soon paved the way for an agency of Canara springs and KLG spark plugs and there was no looking back as far as his career was concerned. The former swimming champion and avid photographer, who was also the official photographer of the Karnataka Cricket Association had earlier worked as a tracer, junior draughtsman and had even sold coffee powder.
His indomitable spirit and hard work helped him find success both at work and in his endeavour to make Hyderabad a favoured destination for all the famed musicians of the country. The fact that he always lived in the vicinity of celebrities is something that cannot be overlooked. The Mangeshkars, Pt Ravishankar and Chinnaswamy (after whom the famed Bengaluru Stadium is named) were all his neighbours in the various cities that he lived in before moving to Hyderabad.
Not surprisingly the brick coloured wall in the study of his Banjara Hills home reads like a “wall of fame” with pictures of celebrities from cricket, politics and music adorning it. You have pictures of famous West Indies cricketers Rohan Kanhai and Collie Smith photographed by him, along with that of Mother Theresa, the Mangeshkars, Pt Mallikarjun Mansur, Pt Bhimsen Joshi, Kishori Amonkar, Pt Ravishankar and Mehdi Hasan…to name a few.
With each picture is associated a beautiful anecdote, memories of concerts that captivated and those that were held surmounting innumerable difficulties. “Classical music endures. Other forms may come and go but the magic of the ragas are timeless. That’s why you have so many youngsters taking to classical music despite other influences,” says Mohan Hemmadi, whose own favourite ragas are Marwa and Asavari.
The first concert organised in Hyderabad was in 1962 at the request of Lata Mangeshkar, who planned to raise funds for soldiers affected by the Chinese aggression. The concert was delayed by a week as the entire Nizam College grounds where it was due to be held, was flooded in a heavy downpour. Recalls Mohan Hemmadi, “The postponement of the concert upset all my plans as I was due to get married three days later. I forgot to invite many close friends and could make it to the wedding on time after Lataji gave me her air ticket and decided to travel by train herself.”
The concert was well attended, his wedding went off without a hitch and his wife Jyoti has been a great support ever since, always by his side as a gracious and warm presence.
Before ‘Surmandal’ was born, Mohan Hemmadi and a motley group of 15-20 music lovers met on a Saturday evening every month to listen to all genres of classical music. The two-and-a-half hour meeting with a coffee break veered entirely around music and was an event eagerly looked forward to. His close association with the maestro Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who he often visited providing him with packs of cigarettes that he loved, led to the former visiting his house. The maestro suggested that he start a music circle. ‘Surmandal’ was thus born in 1969 becoming a great platform for artistes and providing moments to be cherished for countless music lovers.
The first concert of ‘Surmandal’ featured the legendary Pt Bhimsen Joshi and was a truly auspicious beginning. The second one in 1970 featured a young girl from Assam. Can you guess who she was? Asks Mohan Hemmadi and gives the answer himself with a twinkle in his eye “Parveen Sultana”. A concert featuring Pt Ravishankar three years later in an open ground in Bade Chowdi, which could accommodate about 3,000 people was a huge success.
A crowd of about 500 people queued up outside the grounds that had been filled to capacity listening to the maestro through loudspeakers. Pt Ravishankar performed either free or at a nominal charge for ‘Surmandal’ and always mentioned this in his concerts, we are told. Associated with the “Spirit of Freedom” concerts sponsored by the VST, the “Festival of India” concerts outside India organised, by the Union Government and “Music is Gold” concerts of Pt Ravishankar, Mohan Hemmadi have met, interacted, and developed a rapport with several eminent musicians and dancers of the country.
Many artists have performed especially for him and every milestone like the birth of his son, his daughter’s Arangetram, his son’s Upanayanam or important wedding anniversaries have been celebrated with rare performances that remain etched in his memory. “In the year 1974 when our son Siddharth was born the three greats of the music industry Pt Shiv Kumar Sharmaji, Hariprasad Chaurasiaji and Zakir Bhai came for his cradle ceremony and performed the whole night.
The great South Indian flautist N Ramani was also there. This remains an unforgettable experience and I can recall how Zakir Bhai played the tabla almost like mridangam,” he says. So are the concerts held to celebrate Pt Ravishankar’s 60th birthday and the 40th anniversary of Dinanath Mangeshkar. Ravi Shankar’s birthday was in fact celebrated by the famed director K Vishwanath known for his films based on classical music and he was received with a “Poorna Kumbham” amidst the recital of Vedic chants and showering of petals. Dinanath Mangeshkar’s anniversary concert held at Lal Bahadur Stadium had the Veena wizard Chitti Babu, Dr Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna, Padma Subramanyam, Girija Devi, Pt Jasraj and Birju Maharaj and it was a rare gathering of great stalwarts.
Kishori Amonkar, a fellow Konkani and a great musician has a special place in Mohan Hemmadi’s heart. “She was like an elder sister and I cannot forget the warmth and affection she showered on me. I still remember the melodious compositions she sang in our house. I think she was a beautiful person, who was largely misunderstood,” he states.
Apart from ensuring the construction of a railway station at Chitrapur in Karnataka in a record time of 25 days, Mohan Hemmadi is associated with several philanthropic activities including raising funds for a hospice called Sparsh for senior citizens. Dealing with different kinds of artistes brings with it a fair share of controversies and problems but he has taken them all in his stride. Asked to spell out his success mantra, he says, “Unlike the event managers of today we never worked with money as our goal. Our commitment was to music and all that we did and continue to do it for the love of music alone.” This surely is a note that can never go wrong and resonates in every music lover’s heart.