Story By Janu Narayan
An electric ‘veena’ with a base made from an old jar of a mixer grinder, an electric guitar made from wooden waste, a ‘tampuru’ that has got an earthen pot as its lower base - the list is exhaustive. They are not just showpieces. They could be played just like the original instruments. The creator behind these innovations is an 82 year old musician Gangadharan Nair, who resides in Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala.
Nair is a popular figure among the ‘Bhajan’circles and music teachers group in the city. He can be found at major temple festivals or Bhajan sessions, switching between vocal music and his dilapidated harmonium. The musician could not even remember when he took to creating musical instruments. He plays nearly seven instruments including harmonium, flute and percussion instruments like mridangam and gottu vadyam. Mr.Nair’s long association with music must have have evoked and inspired the creative genius in him. He hires a carpenter and sits down with him to cut the materials into pieces and shape it up. The notes of all the instruments are made and fine tuned by him.
There are many interesting pieces in his collection. A polished coconut shell attached to a piece of wood with a long nail makes a smaller percussion instrument. He has made a ‘sarod’ with fragments joined together which were once the damaged parts of some old home appliance. He even posses a self-made version of ‘Bulbul Thara’ (classical music instrument with both keys on a board and strings like a guitar). The musician says that the instruments made by him could be used in musical concerts, without any obstruction. But one has to use an amplifier here, connected to the instruments. This is because the sound is not that loud as produced by the original instruments.
The musical instruments he makes are from cheaper objects, in fact from discarded materials. This makes it light on the pocket. Thus, Gangadharan Nair’s passion has a green side to it as well. Since the original instruments are made from wood and animal skin, such recycled replacements are worth considering. But the musician makes it clear that he does not want to commercialize his instrument making skills.
This music academy drop-out (Swathy Thirunal Music academy, Trivandrum) is interestingly the first Guru to many of the musical prodigies in the city. Gangadharan is always engaged in experimenting with something or the other in music and making new musical instruments. He still gives music lessons to the children nearby.
This man of few words does not complain about or makes a self-introspection on why he failed to convert his talent into quick bucks. In the twilight years of his life, finally he received an honour. The Kerala State Sangeetha Nataka Academy honored him with the prestigious ‘Guruvandanam’ (tribute to Guru).