Dum Dum's dream collection
Like a true Bengali, his passion was football. However, he ended up as a collector of invaluable records of musical legends. Meet Amit Guha, proud owner of over 58,000 records.
Amit Guha has come a long way, from being footballer to a music archivist.
HOW WAS a goalkeeper from a typical Bengal football club to know he would one day turn an archivist - and that too of music? That's precisely what happened to the man from that faraway airport suburb of Kolkata, Dum Dum. While Amit Guha was into football, his father-in-law, Surajlal Mukherjee, was into music - a fanatical collector, almost. This was so until suddenly Mr. Mukherjee breathed his last in March. And the footballer was to inherit what was and is a priceless legacy - rare records of Bengali music - destiny's hand really.
Not knowing then the value of this priceless collection, Mr. Guha, in any case, did not look upon them as mere property. He took time off from scissors kicks and sliding tackles and got down to some serious listening.
In time, the records cast a spell on him, so much so that he felt the need to create an archive - thus began his journey of collecting records to add to what was already a massive collection.
Mr. Guha has what could be the only collection of its kind: an archive of nearly 52,000 78 rpm, 48 rpm, and 33 rpm records dating back to the early 20th Century (1907 to be precise) and in languages ranging from Bengali, Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Punjabi, Assamese, Oriya to even Chinese, Korean, Japanese and English. "My archive is an addiction. If I don't enter the archive even for a day, I get restless," he says. Mr. Guha was in Bangalore recently for the Bengali festival organised at The Chancery. The hotel had invited him to play some records from his prized collection to help create a certain Bengali ambience. The occasion was perfect to find out more about the music and the man. Mr. Guha's archive, housed at Dum Dum in the lovingly christened Suraj Sruti Sadan, has rare recordings. For instance, it has the only existing record of the song "Tomar Shurer Dhara", sung by Rabindranath Tagore and Rama Devi. This song was never released because Tagore laughed as the recording was nearing completion and hence it was termed a "defective number". Tagore's Bengali and English poetry recitations are also part of this rare collection.
Great artistes of yesteryears find a place in the archive - S. D. Burman, Hemanth Mukherjee, Sandhya Mukherjee, Bhipal Sara, and Mina Chakraborty. The archive also has Ramesh Chandra Banerjee's test record, D.L. Roy's comic songs, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's speech at Tokyo, Mahatma Gandhi's speech in English, a cardboard record of Lal Chand Boral, and renditions by Qazi Nazrul Islam.
Qazi Nazrul Islam deserves special mention here, being our greatest poet after Tagore. He introduced an easy conversational, folk style into poetry and music.
He wrote Vaishnav poetry and composed kirtans, capturing the very soul of bhakti. Like Tagore, he set a number of his poems into music. Both he and Tagore were focal points during the Independence movement, and the Awami League took inspiration from Nazrul Geeti.
Mr. Guha's list is endless, each surpassing the other in sheer historical value.
The archive also has 212 sets of dance-drama (pala-natok) records, a collector's dream. Apart from records, Mr. Guha has catalogues of albums with lyrics dating back to 1913.
"Anyone who wants to conduct research into Bengali music and who would like to examine its variety has to approach the archive. Especially so as re-mixes are in. The originals are safe in the archive and `re-mixers' come here to listen to them," says Mr. Guha, who sure knows the value of the collection.
Suraj Sruti Sadan was built entirely out of Mr. Guha's savings. His dream is to bring people close to music.
"The archive is not meant to serve commercial interests. The idea is to make rare music accessible to people and even keep Bengali music alive," says Mr. Guha. We are told that Mr. Guha in fact refused HMV's offer to buy out the archive, but agreed only to play a few old favourites from his collection for HMV.
Mr. Guha believes commercial interest cannot be a priority.
"Not many talk about music today, but there is the yearning to listen to good music. We have to tap that. One is also not interested in royalty." At best, he would settle for a mention on the credits list - incredible, but true. The archive is open to the public every weekend between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and the best part of this archive is that it plays records on request.
Mr. Guha is now building a digital inventory of the archive to ensure that this chronicle of Bengal music is not lost. Suraj Sruti Sadan is a labour of love in memory of the generous soul that Surajlal Mukherjee was.
Anyone visiting the archive is transported back in time - but no fancy time machine this, just music - nostalgic and real. Mr. Guha can be contacted at ½, Samar Sarami, Kolkota-700 002 or at 5286189.
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