9th August 2022
Abdul Khader Vakil and the world around him
Mattancherry, Kochi, Ernakulam, Kerala, IND
Abdul Khader Vakil due to his aversion for alchohol tried to persuade musician Mangeshkar Rao Golwalkar to give up his dependence on arrack, the local variety of alcohol once prevalent in Kerala. But then gave up after realising that the intoxication had become an ingrained part of the artist’s talent and the process of performance. Still the handsome and charismatic leader of a group of like-minded men of various generations from a horde of communities in Mattancherry, he tried his very best to keep the feeble looking maestro in good health.
Mangeshkar Rao who hailed from a renowned musical family in Goa first landed up in Kerala after being brought to Calicut by the late businessman and music lover Vasantha Rao. The wanderer multi-talented man subsequently arrived in Mattancherry and remained in the coastal town for a substantial period of time while evolving into a pivotal figure in the vivacious unfolding musical scene. Mangeshkar Rao enchanted the music followers in Cochin with his marvelous dexterity in playing jal tarang, tabla and also with his seamless voice while singing in the Hindustani style of classical music.
In the early 1960s everyone who was part of the music scene in West Cochin harbored the opinion that Abdul Khader Vakil was the man who possessed the ability to lead the newly envisaged eastern music promotional and concert organizing collective named Musical Meet. The young charming man who was also adept in playing Tabla had immense leadership qualities with an undiluted passion for art and was talked about earnestly with great respect. The musical genres from the North of India were fanatically followed in three regions in Kerala with a feverish gusto making these locales the centers of activity keeping alive the music expressed in Hindi and Urdu. In the state, Allepey, Calicut and Mattancherry were the three towns forming the main circuit of traffic among the musicians and the admirers. A multitude of incredible musicians and a thriving ecosystem of sincerely devoted patrons and hundreds of keen listeners resulted in an exciting musical scene in Mattancherry to bloom and this resulted in the town being bestowed with a reputation as the most formidable center for the Hindi classical and semi-classical music genres in Kerala.
The region of West Cochin first witnessed the talent of Mangeshkar Rao in the early 1960s with a performance of Jal Tarang organised at the Aliya School building in Kochangadi at Mattancherry. For a period of time the Hindustani artist who is remembered as being looking so emancipated that one would imagine that a strong wind can throw him down, became the most discussed and looked-upon visiting musician. From mehfils conducted as part of the wedding celebration to randomly organised celebrations in houses or trading spaces converted after working hours into musical gathering arenas to late night impromptu jamming sessions bound to happen anywhere, Mangeshkar Rao who stayed at the Victoria Lodge which was situated near to the Mattancherry Synagogue embraced the overwhelming musical atmosphere with passion.
A long beedi bought from a shop at the Palace Road burned and dangled sometimes between his lips as he performed. The immense craving for arrack was a constant companion, and being gripped by the hard-hitting country alcohol, Mangeshkar Rao performed for the whole night. The copious quantity of liquor consumed never could surpass and tame his singular concentration. Abdul Khader Vakil even while known to have acute aversions for musicians who had insatiable dependency for intoxication to perform seamlessly still convinced himself to support Mangeshkar Rao due to this quality of never getting pounded by the arrack.
Abdul Khader Vakil’s abodes, first at Kochangadi and later at Kapalandimuku were spaces that hosted endless hours of mehfils featuring both West Cochin-based, visiting musicians and a multitude of music fanatics who gathered up there every evening. It was not uncommon for the proceedings to traverse into the hours following midnight and going on until the early morning hours. Whenever a renowned musician came visiting Kochi, he definitely met Abdul Khader Vakil. For a large number of Vakil’s accomplices, that day became a cherished phase of time when they could observe and interact closely with the artist and also experience a highly exciting mehfil. These conferences created at Vakil’s home and the transpired energies were pivotal in the creation of the feeling of belonging to a thriving musical scene.
One such mehfil in the 1970s featured a late singer named Thuruthy Hamza Koya. Torrential rain was pouring in and someone in the middle of a discussion mentioned about a promising singer who lived in the locale named Thuruthy in Mattancherry. Vakil sends his ambassador car to fetch him. Hearing that it was Vakil who had called, Hamza Koya enthusiastically came. The rain became even stronger by the time he arrived. That whole night accompanied by a tabla and harmonium player, Thuruthy Hamza Koya sang.
Many felt that the vivacious period of time was a beginning, a prelude to more glorifying times waiting to be evoked in. For his closest confidants, sometimes it was a bit petrifying to witness the spirit of Abdul Khader Vakil. He had the habit of making decisions related with organizing concerts with a determination which at first felt intimidating. But this attitude of Vakil in plunging into the abyss of uncertainty and then finding the paths to fulfill the aspirations paved way for the numerous revered masters of Hindustani music to come and perform in West Cochin. By the time of the advent of the collective-Musical Meet, the notion that the organically flowered music scene had to be lifted to the next level was being felt as the logical step in paving the way to enter a higher and evolved state of existence.
The overwhelming desire to put West Cochin firmly in the Hindustani musical map of the country was first ignited by Abdul Khader Vakil. Vakil’s determination and selfless passion led to the music scene undergoing a drastic change of perceptions. Abdul Khader Vakil knew that if it has to happen in the envisaged manner, spirited decisions had to be made and the whole group of confidants inspired and propelled into undergoing the pandemonium of pulling it through.
Abdul Majeed, Mustaika and Hamid were some of the persons who strongly stood around Vakil during the formation of Musical Meet and they were also his closest confidants. The idea of a formation of a platform with an intention of organising big concerts was first conceived in a loose grouping of similar nature and which also had the above-mentioned men as members. This first group organised a few concerts in a smaller setting. One such musical evening featured the revered Begum Akthar who performed in the auditorium at Tirumala Devasom School. At the house of an ardent music follower in Kochangadi in Mattancherry, the first mehfil of Musical Meet and featuring the acclaimed singer and composer Mehboob was organised. Musical Meet came into being in the year 1963 with the affluent Gujarathi businessman Jhaverilal Anandji as the president, Abdul Khader Vakil as the secretary, and Dr. Thahir as the treasurer.
The passion for North Indian music forms in Mattancherry sprouted out of the traditions which the prevalent cultures of various communities had followed for centuries. When the idea of having a collective of musicians and music followers floated around in West Cochin, Mattancherry already possessed a rich legacy in the following of Hindustani, Ghazals and Hindi Film classic songs. For generations, the coastal town had evolved a practice of cultivating social groupings centred on the common yearning for experiencing live music. In the Muslim homes, having mehfils also known in the regional language as Paatu Kacheri as part of the celebrations connected with a marriage was like an age-old custom followed with zeal. There was a considerable following for Hindustani and other northern genres among a sizable number of people from the Konkani, Gujarathi among other communities too.
During the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the coastal town was experiencing a reputation as a special place for music lovers to be. The pilgrims of the Hindi, Urdu and the unique Arabic verse centred music style known as Baith considered Mattancherry as a melting pot of musical activities and initiatives. In the popular imagination, the town was endowed with an exalted status. The settlement was where a host of the most celebrated musicians sourced their creative vibrations from. The devotion to these non-regional music styles connected many diverse communities into a single space in which they were primarily fanatic music followers and then part of the assorted communities in which they individually belonged to. The musical scene evolved and thrived with a collective passion of individuals who were driven to initiate and facilitate various live performances by renowned artists from across the country.
It was during this era that the legendary singer Mohammed Rafi was invited twice to perform in Cochin. The first concert was organised in Ernakulam city and was conducted as part of marriage celebrations of a north Indian businessman’s daughter. The second concert was organised in Mattancherry and the Hindi Film singer was brought to the town by the organisation named M.A.S. S which stands for Muslim Ananda Samrakshana Sangam. Some of the other renowned artists who had come to Mattancherry and performed at this time period are Sitar exponents Balram Pathak from Kolkata, David and Hare Krishna Pahua from Bangalore, and Bale Khan from Mangalore who was also a disciple of Mangeshkar Rao. Bale Khan later came back and remained in Mattancherry for a long time.
Personalities like the late Dr. S. B. Rao who ran the Navarathna Pharmaceutical Company, an ardent Veena artist, and All India Radio Audition board member was instrumental in bringing the renowned Hindustani vocalist Kumar Ghandarv. He is also remembered to have organised a performance by Dr. N. Rajan, another Hindustani singer who performed at the Bank House in Palace Road during the late 1970s. An affluent businessman from the Konkani community named N. P. Naik was instrumental in bringing Pandit Bhimsen Joshi to Mattancherry in 1954, and Madhav Gudd and Ramdas Kamath in the mid-1970s. The harmonious coexistence and the respect for creations irrespective of its nature and place of origin among the communities were further emboldened with the liberal attitudes of such organisations like Goshree Gana Sabha stated in the year 1967 and devoted to the cause of promoting Carnatic classical music. The sabha in its 10th anniversary had invited Hindustani artists such as Parveen Sulthana, Ghulaam Musthafa Khan and Lakshmi Shankar for a special performance.
In the days when Abdul Khader Vakil and his confidants were on the brink of envisioning their imaginations through Musical Meet, the town was passing through the best days of its musical sojourns. It was this very crucial crux of time which inspired and lay the first leanings for Hindustani music in the psyche of the young and ambitious musician named P.A. Ibrahim, popularly known as Umbayee. In his formative years, Umbayee spent a considerable period of time in Abdul Khader Vakil’s welcoming residence at Kappalandimukku. The house became a refuge allowing him to keep up his spirits high by imbibing the music-seeped atmosphere and listening to the conversations of the visiting musicians and their followers. Umbayee who used to call his style of music as having evolved out of the Mattancherry Gharana, slithered into the first stage of his musical life by playing tabla for the legendary singer H. Mehboob.
Further down the years, a mesmerising performance by Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Allah Rakha Khan organised by Musical Meet at Mattancherry changed Umbayee’s perspectives forever and gave him a clear direction to proceed. The effect of the performance led Umbayee to make the pivotal decision to stop playing tabla and concentrate on singing.
Another singer who is remembered having engrossed the music lovers in Mattancherry at this juncture of time is the classical singer Dileep Chand Yogi. The performance took place at a mehfil organised in the house of musician and teacher K. M. Mohammed Naina, the clarinet and harmonium player who was also the elder brother of Abdul Khader Vakil. This elderly musician who was from the preceding generation of most of the men who were contributing to the growth of Musical Meet was popularly known around as Peepli Naina or Naina Master. Gorey Maash belonging to the same generation was another senior member of Musical Meet. He was an affluent businessman and also an ardent harmonium player who used to occasionally perform as an accompanying artist to Mangeshkar Rao. The musical scene also was made more interesting by the peculiarities of followers like Pundik Naik who was the younger brother of the renowned tabla artist and teacher Naik Master and was known around the music circles as having a great sharpness to spot talent.
Pundik Naik also had the uncanny ability to get close to any musician he met. After having befriended Bismillah Khan during the maestro's visit to Mattancherry, Pundik Naik, in the early morning hours went to the hotel where the musician was staying and coaxed him to perform ragas connected with the morning time. Bismillah Khan was happy to have met a music fanatic like Pundik Naik and satisfied his yearning to hear the raga exuding out of his Shehnai. Pundik Naik represented the deep musical affiliation which the Konkani community in Mattancherry had for music forms such as Hindustani, Qawwali and Ghazals along with the deep affinity for Carnatic classical music. He came from a family of zealous music lovers and his wife played the instrument Dilruba.
Bismillah Khan never imagined that he had zealous followers in Mattancherry. At the entrance gate of the railway station, 10 cars waited to receive him and the accompanying musicians. The leading vehicle was an Impala hired from the Kumar Taxis. Upon seeing the sight of the large number of people and the cars awaiting him, he was astounded beyond belief. The Shehnai exponent was not used to grandeur and is remembered as being an extremely humble person who made a request to be provided a room in a Hotel which didn’t serve liquor. But due to some reason, the request could not be met with. Bismillah Khan was accommodated at the Hotel La Bella which existed at the building where the West Side Hospital situated at Kappalandimukku presently functions. Patel Talkies situated at Thoppumpady and once owned by the Kutchi businessman Patel Ibrahim resounded with the soulful renditions of the Shehnai maestro.
It was also during this era that the legendary vocalist Parveen Sulthana, all of 17 years and yet displaying profound talent mesmerised the packed Mattancherry Town Hall. The first event to be conducted at this newly built Town hall was a concert featuring sitar player Pandit Ravi Shankar in which Ustad Alla Rakha Khan accompanied him with the tabla. The massive hall also witnessed the legendary singer Ghulam Mustafa entertaining the extremely attentive audience. The singer hailing from Uttar Pradesh was invited and did two concerts in Mattancherry. He developed a special affiliation with the passion of the local population towards music and became a close friend of Abdul Khader Vakil.
The tapestry of the music scene in Mattancherry during that era was woven by the different groupings of men who were part of the legion of Hardcore Hindi music followers. Collectives like the Iqbal Music Club, Maestros Music Club and Raheem Music Club etc. were the spaces where notion exchanges so essential to the existence of a scene happened, and out of which initiatives took birth from. The Naseeb store like numerous other spaces in the locality having a different purpose during the daytime inadvertently contributed to the musical vibrancy of the region. For a good period, the apparel selling shop became a socialising space for the music followers of the region. Managed by the Musical Meet member Chittuparambil Abdul Majeed and owned by his uncle and former councillor K. M. Mohammed, the shop was situated at Puthiya Road in Mattancherry.
M. S. Baburaj, the legendary singer and composer from Calicut, was one among the visitors. Ayesha Radio, the renowned tabla player who also dabbled in Qawwali and belonging to Mattancherry, Khadju Ibrahim who was a singer with a penchant for the timeless Hindi film songs and even a local goon with a talent for singing named Kurunari Moideen were frequent visitors. There was also the occasional visitor like Imbichamu Ustad, an exceptional tabla artist from Ponani in Calicut. Mangeshkar Rao was almost a permanent fixture. Mehboob who did the occasional vanishing acts sometimes appeared out of nowhere. The music sessions during the time rode on till late towards the night.
The organisation Musical Meet existed in its first form and glory till the late 1970s and by the advent of 1980s, faced by the unexpected demise of Abdul Khader Vakil, lost the zeal to move on. In the year 2001, a group of musical lovers like ISCRA Hamid, P. S. Haneef, Mohammed Babu, R.Vijayakumar among others reformed Musical Meet and tried to continue the legacy of the organisation in revitalising the musical passions of West Cochin. From 2001 to the year 2012, under the label of Musical Meet, musicians such as Sarangi player and Hindustani vocalist Dilshad Khan, Sarangi player Fayaz Khan, Sitarist Rafeek Khan, singer Manjeri Gayathri, Tabla player Ravindra Khatotti, Hindustani singer and Ghazal singer Sreenivas were brought to Kochi.
In the year 2012, Musical Meet wound up for the second time.