Abbas Biviji (77) is a trim, grey-haired man, a former manager with an insurance company who lives in Mazagaon. Biviji’s world revolves around the island city where he has lived all his life. But every first Saturday of the month, Biviji trudges to Chembur — a good 50 minutes away — for a date at 6 pm that he would not miss for anything.
In the library of Bhavna Trust Junior College in Chembur, Biviji and a motley group of 80-odd men and women of Sunhere Pal rewind to an era when Hindi film music was melodious and the lyrics lingered with the listener for a long time.
For two-and-a-half hours, these lovers of old Hindi film songs forget everything — their homes, financial worries, the many demands that a busy city life places on their time. They sit like students in a classroom immersed in melodies from a bygone era as Balan Iyer, who started the group, selects and plays songs on a music system.
When Iyer started Sunehre Pal, he was certain he would strike a cord with music lovers. “But I didn’t anticipate that there would sometimes be as many as a hundred people converging from different parts of the city to listen to these timeless numbers,” he says.
Vishnu Punjabi (70), a businessman from Peddar Road takes close to two hours to reach Chembur. But the traffic cannot keep him from his monthly fix of listening to old songs.
But why would one travel such a long distance only to listen to film songs, which, if one tried, one could source from some of the old music shops in the city? Punjabi lets out an indulgent laugh and explains, “The fun is in listening to them together with other music lovers.”
Biviji quotes an Urdu couplet. Translates it is: These are people who are driven by a passion. Just leave them alone; they are obsessed with their love (of music). But the most practical explanation comes from Vanaja Vasudev (58), an ex-banker, who along with her husband is a regular at the gathering of listeners. Says Vasudev, “Although we have CDs of many of these songs at home, the listening experience at Sunehre Pal is different. There are no interruptions here — like the doorbell, telephone and other domestic preoccupations.”
They don’t just listen to songs: there is a lot of information sharing too — of who the lyricist was or the singer or music director and often it is peppered with some related snippet that someone narrates.
Often the members test each other’s knowledge and memory on the songs being played. “Vishnu (Punjabi) is good at recalling the names of the music directors and the lyricists, and I remember the actors and the picturisation of the song,” says Biviji.
It is the history behind the songs and the singers and the shared camaraderie that drives people like Manoj Daftary (59), a resident of Dadar, to Sunehre Pal gathering every month. Daftary says, “All my first Saturdays of the month are now booked for these musical evenings.”
Finding a place to host such a gathering is not easy in Mumbai but as the president of Bhavna Trust Junior College, Jayant Bhavsar (62), ensured that the library hall was available for the music lovers. He even got the hall air-conditioned so that the sound of the fan did not intrude on the listening pleasure of the aficionados. Bhavsar, a builder and a sitar player, has a huge collection of old songs, which he plays at the gathering. He says that the group is keeping alive interest in a very rich era of Indian music.
“We complain about the music that the younger generation listens to. But if we do not expose them to these melodious songs how will they learn about it?” he asks. Though they are few in number, these under-30s have also started coming for these sessions.
That is music to Sunehre Pal organisers’ ears.