The passing away of Jimpets Mohan, has brought back memories of Kumar. This mandolin player from Mysore, was among those who made the 70s and 80s rich with diverse musical experiences for the listening public of Karnataka
In south, Mysore is the home for mandolins, and rightly so, Mandolin Kumar, came from this region. Intelligent, witty, and a near perfect musician, highly regarded in the orchestra circles, passed away recently.
Kumar who had learnt the basic of Carnatic music and was good at reading and writing musical notations. he was always a step ahead and above the rest of his team mates. Joining hands in the 70’s with keyboardist Mohan of Mysore, ‘Mysore Mohan-Kumar Orchestra’ was formed with totally a different approach to orchestral music. He was instrumental in making the group grow with a mentionable speed and popularity.
In those days, when musicians used to listen to a song and try to perform as they had conceived it, Kumar was one musician who could write down or dictate the whole musical score of a song to be rehearsed and played; the entire group was dependent on him for this. He used to teach even the singers, the nuances of the song, grammatical intricacies of the phrases to be rendered, etc. Ably led by Kumar, the group grew to such heights, that it caught the attention of the thespian Rajkumar, who was on the look out for a good orchestra to accompany him for his musical shows. Mysore Mohan-Kumar Orchestra was the first to accompany Dr. Rajkumar throughout Karnataka for several years. At their peak Mohan-Kumar became music directors for ‘Kilaadi Kittu’ a Vishnuvardhan-starrer. “Hoovanthe Hennu Naguthirabeku…” rendered by Yesudas, became a huge hit. In an orchestra team led by Kumar, there was the singer Veena, Eswar the tablist from Mysore, NGEF Rajkumar on the keyboards, Cleetus and Ravi Shenoy on the guitars, Babu on the drums, I was on the congas and dholak and a few other musicians, all from Bangalore, were part of this newborn group. Apart from independent shows, Mysore Kumar party was also accompanying Dr. P B Sreenivos and B.K. Sumitra for their concerts, travelling extensively even to the interiors of Karnataka.
Kumar’s elder brother Vittobha, at that time, was actor Vishnuvardhan’s secretary. Vishnuvardhan’s interest to sing and have musical performances periodically around the state also helped and Mysore Kumar party became his orchestra. Kumar playing a vital role with ‘The Magic Wand’ in his hands – he was the first to be known as ‘Mandolin Manthrika’ or ‘Mandolin Wizard’ in Karnataka.
Kumar was a disciplined and systematic person, always doing a thorough home work. The big team of musicians from Bangalore used to take the 7 a.m. train to Mysore, on reaching Mysore we would head to Cauvery Lodge, in Cheluvamba Agrahara, Mysore. Rehearsals from 11.30 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a short lunch break. The show would start at 7 p.m. and pick up vehicles came by 6. Kumar was very meticulous as an organiser.
Though the stage used to be filled with bright and well-known musicians, Kumar never used to take chances of entirely depending on them. Always alert, Kumar was many times found playing the full background and backing for a song when others were found wanting. He used to keep playing the mandolin, even though it was a bit played by other instruments. Irksome to co-musicians sometimes, it is undeniable, his alertness had definitely saved the face of the troupe many a time.
The ever-enthusiastic Kumar shifted to Chennai in pursuit of learning the violin in the Western Style and was moderately successful too. Coming back to Bangalore in the final leg, he was the most sought-after accompanying artiste. Be it for devotional, folk or film music performances, he always made a difference by his presence on the stage. The last time that Jimpets Mohan and I shared the dais with Mysore Kumar was in Bijapur, a programme presented by Rajkumar in 2004.
He was very passionate about music, and was constantly at it. He didn’t care much about his health and it did take a toll. He was less available even to his own close circle of friends. He was ever polite, unassuming and courteous. Always patient and dignified in his approach, he was indeed a true artiste.