In today's net savvy world, as we surf the net in search of harmonica players of the world, we come across thousands of names. They are the most accomplished harmonica players that the world has ever seen and we find only one name from the Indian sub continent. This name is none other than that of the legendary Milon Gupta.
Milon Gupta was born on 22nd November 1933 in Calcutta. His mother was a very accomplished singer in Calcutta having sung in the All India Radio. As a child he used to play the ordinary mouth organs till one marine engineer person from Dover Road / Deodar Street of Calcutta (where Milon Gupta used to live) got him two Hohner Chromatic Harmonicas. And there began the journey of the great Milon Gupta.
A self taught musician with absolutely no formal training, he single handedly took the mouth organ to levels never attained in India. He showed that how a pure Western Instrument with such complications and limitations can be adapted to play Indian melodies and songs with all the perfect nuances. This was evident in his early days itself when he was mesmerising audiences with his skillful playing of songs like ''palkir gaan'', ''gayer bodhu'', ''Ayega anewala'', ''jago mohan pyaare'' and many more, which till then was unheard of being played on a mouh organ.
Such was his repertoire and mastery over that instrument that he soon got noticed by the great composer Salil Chowdhury, whilst he was performing at a local concert. This was way back in 1950-51. Soon came ''Pasher Badi'', a very successful movie in Bengal in those days (which later got remade as Padosan in Hindi), and that movie marked the begining of Milon Gupta's mouth organ being used in films. Soon he set for Bombay and played in innumerable movies like Naukri, CID, Dost, Dosti, Roti, Kashmir ki Kali, Patita, to name a few. He played under the distinguished composers like Salil Chowdhury, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, SD Burman, Kalyanji Anandji, Shankar Jaikishen, OP Nayyar, Mukul Roy, Sudhin Dasgupta, Manna De, Shyamal Mitra, Hemant Kumar and many more. He spent a number of years assisting OP Nayyar and in one of his sittings with OP Nayyar and Majrooh Sultanpuri, the famous Yeh Hain Bombay meri jaan was created. The story goes how OP Nayyar asked him to play that particular western number and Majrooh saab wrote the lyrics on the spot. This was later narrated by Milon Gupta in an interview on Television a few years before his death.
His command over Western music on the instrument was unparalalled. He had a school of sudents who would only learn Latin and Western music from him. Even though he had no formal training, he was equally fluent with both the Indian notation as well as the Western Stave notation. People who have his private recordings of western playing have often compared him to the great Larry Adler who once met Milon Gupta when he came to India for the only time. Almost unbelievable as it may sound, but he adapted this instrument to play kirtans and rabindrasangeet with as much finesse as he used to play Western.
It was because of Milon Gupta that this instrument reach the height of its popularity in India. The old timers in Deodar street still recollect how SD Burman used to drive to his house regularly to drop our very own RD Burman to take lessons from Milon Gupta.
A fact unknown to many, he was one of the only person in India who knew how to repair and retune the mouth organ. He used to spend every Monday to repar mouth organs for hundreds of his students all across the country. Again unbelievable as it may sound in today's world, he never charged a penny for that.
Milon Gupta has innumerable 78 rpms, LPs, EPs, cassettes and CDs to his credit, most of them being smashing hits across the country. Songs played by him like ''o sajna barkha bahar ayi'', ''Ajeeb dastan hain'', ''Aj koi nahin apni'', ''Zindagi kaisi hain paheli'' and many others sound as if the songs were composed keeping him and his instrument in mind.
The mouth organ, as he always used to call it, became a household instrument because of him and after his death on 18th February, 1995, the instrument has almost faded into oblivion from the Indian film and music industry. A perfect gentleman, who was lovingly referred to as Milonda by all and sundry last played some mesmerising interludes in Nachiketa's (one of Calcutta's most popular singers) a few months before his death, giving the audience a taste of the Larry Adler influence on him. A great cook, a perfect gentleman, our very own Milonda is still referred to as one of the finest soloist this country has ever seen. His music still rings in our years and even the current mobile phone generation has seen his numbers being used as caller tunes, such was his spread. As we mark his 75th birthday, the sweet sound of his mouth organ still plays at the back of every music lover.
(Founder member of Harmonica Club of Hyderabad, Ramakrishna Sabnavees wrote this article based on inputs provided by Arijit Mukherjee, the nephew of Milon Gupta)