The harmonium isn’t an Indian instrument?

Sajid Mirajkar tuning a sitar

‘The players must not make and the makers must not play’ is a saying that Sajid Mirajkar diligently follows while handling the 85-year-old tradition of manufacturing and selling Indian classical instruments that was started by his great-grandfather, Umar Saheb Mirajkar in 1931.

Hailing from Miraj in southern Maharashtra, Umar Saheb Mirajkar came to Pune as part of Prabhat Studios, which was earlier located in Kohlapur. Mirajkar and his brother used to take care of the musical instruments and maintain them for the studio. “The business of making Indian instruments started way back in 1850 in Miraj. Once they came to Pune, they decided to start a shop. It was actually well-known film-maker V Shantaram who asked him to stay in Pune and look after the instruments regularly. That’s what prompted them to start the shop,” explains Sajid Mirajkar, who is the seventh generation in the family involved in the art of making instruments.

Mirajkar training his worker to tune a sitar
Mirajkar training his worker to tune a sitar

 

Tucked in a cosy corner on Laxmi Road, the shop is now called Yusuf Mirajkar’s Musical, named after Sajid’s father, who died in a tragic accident five years back. Speaking about focussing just on Indian classical instruments, Mirajkar says, “Until 2006, we used to sell western classical instruments as well. We don’t manufacture them either. I wasn’t able to focus on Indian classical instruments. Now, the store is entirely dedicated to it.”

The store is home to Hindustani classical instruments like the Tanpura, Sarangi, Tabla, Rudra Veena and Bansuri. “The highest selling instrument is the harmonium. It’s funny because the harmonium isn’t an Indian instrument as it originated in France,” laughs Mirajkar.

He also talks about the journey of a sitar which takes a month to make. It is carved from a dried out pumpkin gourd that is poisonous and has no other use. It is shaped and chiselled in specific ways to produce some melodious tunes.  “The sitars we get here come to us for the fixing of strings and the rosewood knobs. They come from Miraj. Each household in the city has a different task to do when it comes to the making of a sitar. The first household will carve out the shape from the gourd and attach the neck to it. The next household will then design various motifs on the wood and later will pass it on to the next house to varnish it. After the process is complete, the sitar comes to us for the string fittings.”

But how did this become a common occupation for people in Miraj?

It all started when Farid Saheb Sitarmaker, who is also known as the father of string instruments, came to Miraj from Bijapur. “His earlier occupation was to make weapons and swords in Bijapur. He was called to Miraj by the Nizam to make the arch stone of the daargah.  He eventually got some land to live on. Farid Saheb was very fond of music and used to regularly attend musical evenings. In those days, all the instruments used to go to Calcutta to be repaired and it was a very long process. The ruler of the Sangli’s Patwardhan dynasty noticed Farid Saheb’s love for music and encouraged him to learn how to repair the instruments,” narrates Mirajkar.

Musical maestros like the Late Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan, Ustad Siraj Khan, Ustad Rais Khan and Pandita Kishori Amonkar have all paid a visit to the store and have all sought help from the Mirajkars for their instruments.

However, Mirajkar feels that the interest from the younger generation to learn how to make instruments is decreasing, “Unfortunately, we’re not seeing new workers to make instruments. Everybody wants to play instruments but no one is interested in learning how to make them. The number of skilled artisans is reducing.”

He is currently preparing his children to continue the tradition and join the business. “They are learning how to play the sitar from Ustad Siraj Khan in Mumbai. They need to understand the instrument first. If they understand the music, then only they’ll understand how to tune the instrument. All makers must know the basic tune of every instrument.”

 

Vijayta Lalwani

Vijayta Lalwani

The young lady from Lagos has always been keen on a career in journalism. Pune365 was hence the right stop. We agree. vijayta@pune365.com
Vijayta Lalwani

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