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Meerut brass bands yet to hit right note since note ban

Members of a band practising in Meerut.

Members of a band practising in Meerut.  

It’s been a week since Mohammad Irfan and his brass band at Jali Kothi in Meerut have received any bookings. The brass band is one among hundreds that the western Uttar Pradesh city is famous for.

Old Meerut’s Jali Kothi, the go to place for any bandsman, comes alive ahead of wedding seasons. It is here that the snazzy red-silver uniforms of one band compete with the shine of blue-gold uniforms worn by another. The measuring tape-wearing industrious darzis, with a stubby pencil tucked behind their ear, are determined to make their bandsmen sparkle. The musical whirr of treadle sewing machines churning out glittery band uniforms fills the void left by percussions in the daily rehearsal duels between the trumpets and harmoniums from across the road. The musical Jali Kothi only stops to take a breath at the end of the wedding season.

Out of tune

However, this finely-tuned instrument went out of tune on November 8, 2016, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the demonetisation announcement in the middle of the wedding season. Over three-and-a-half months later, business at Bharat Chaman Band and Company is yet to hit the right note.

Generally, Mr. Irfan’s work is dependent on mahurats. The auspicious period started from January 15 to March 4. The first wedding season of the year usually sees Mr. Irfan's band flooded by over 25 bookings.However, demonetisation and the subsequent cash crunch set the tone for brass bands such as his.

“Our bad luck did not stop there,” said Mr. Irfan, who is in his early 30s, sitting in his square office at Jali Kothi.

“We were hoping that the year will start on a good note, but demonetisation has affected business with bleak prospect. There was barely any work due to cash crunch. We’re hoping the situation will improve in the next season,” said the father of two school-going girls. The next wedding season will start from April 15 and end on July 2. So far, he said, his brass band has received 12 orders against the usual 25. Moreover, elections hit the brass band business adversely.

‘Waiting for poll results’

“Meerut is a politically-charged city. Almost everyone is part of one political party or another. Then, there are people associated with those who are contesting elections. As a result, they don’t schedule weddings in the election season. We’re waiting for the election results,” he added, while rehearsing with his troupe.

Located a few steps from Mr. Irfan’s brass band office is the workshop of Ahmad Kareem, where he and his workers make instruments for brass brands.

Since Independence, said Mr. Kareem, almost 80% of the country's brass bands instruments have been made in manufacturing units located in the dingy alleys of Jali Kothi, which is part of the old city.

Sitting on the floor next to four workers, Mr. Kareem described demonetisation as the “gravest setback” the industry has encountered since Independence.

“Music is for happy times. People play or listen to music when they are happy or celebrating. The demonetisation announcement brought with it tension, crisis and long queues. When people spent all their time and energy standing in lines outside banks or ATMs, why would they call brass bands? In fact, bookings for brass bands and for instruments went down after November 8.”

Glorious history

Walking down the lanes of Jali Kothi, Mr. Kareem rattles off the glorious musical history of Jali Kothi. In 1900s, Nadir Ali, a musician in the British army, started importing brass instruments from Europe. In 1920s, he started the business of manufacturing brass instruments here itself. Though guitars, pianos and violins also come out of manufacturing units at Jali Kothi, the area is famous for its signature brass instruments.

“Just look around the Jali Kothi market and you will find everything a bandsman needs. This thriving industry, which is worth over hundred crore annually, is yet to land on its feet since the demonetisation announcement. We’re waiting for election results so that things become normal. The elections interrupted our work,” added a bespectacled Mr. Kareem.

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2020 12:08:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/meerut-brass-bands-yet-to-hit-right-note-since-note-ban/article17370719.ece

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