SINDHI MUSIC MAESTROS – Gope Chander and Chander Family
By Dr. Baldev Matlani
'Hey Matlani! How come? You, in Toronto!'
Gope Chander asked me, while entering the spacious hall of Marriot Airport Hotel, Toronto on July 02, 2006. I informed him that I was specifically invited by SANA (Sindhi Association of North America) to give a lecture at their XXII Annual Convention. It was the last day of the said convention and the organization had arranged for a musical nite at the central hall of Hotel Marriot Airport, Toronto.
To provide unforgettable pure Sindhi music to the patrons of the convention, the organizers had invited Gope Chander and his party to come from New York. The hall was filled up to the brim and luckily I was sitting near the stage. It was indeed nice on the part of Gope Chander to shower love on me and that too in the far lands of America. I felt as if he was my blood brother. He was accompanied by his sons Anil, Haresh and daughter Aarti Raj. Till the organizers could call Gope Chander on stage, we continued with our conversations.
The program began with an item by Azhar Usman and when it was felt that everybody was comfortably seated, Gope Chander was called up to the stage. His voice echoed in the hall like renditions from musical instruments. There was pin drop silence in the hall and the audience was all ears to devour pure Sindhi music from the heir of 'Taansen' of Sindhi music. Though the hall was largely filled up with younger generation, they too were savouring Gope Chander's music with rapt attention due to their inherent love for their mother-tongue, Sindhi and the inimitable singing of late Master Chander. Gope carried on with his lovely songs and the people kept on asking for more. His songs transported me to Tharu Shah, a nondescript village of Sindh.
It was Master Chander's musical personality, supreme skill and deep passion that was responsible for bringing Tharu Shah, from being an obscure village, to the centre stage of world. Master Chander has left an indelible mark on Sindhi music. He has played an inimitable role and when science enabled the world to record voices for posterity, Master Chander and Bhagat Kanwanram were the first choice of HMV, the sole music company of yesteryears to record their melodious songs in the early 20th century.
People in Sindh, at that time were literally crazy about Master Chander's music. He gave voice to the travails of lovers and they used to dance under the spell of his songs. Every road, every street and every home echoed with the voices of Master Chander's songs. His songs voiced the sentiments of every young lover and amidst such a musical environment. Master Chander was blessed with the birth of Gope Chander on December 31, 1932. Later on, he was joined by his two brothers, Hari Chander and Mahesh Chander. The three brothers have carried on the legacy of their revered father, Master Chander and proven themselves true inheritors of the inimitable music of their late father. Hari Chander has proven his mettle in instrumental music by playing the accordion and has recorded many melodies in the company of guitarist Hazara Singh with HMV. Mahesh Chander has been one of his kind and proven beyond any doubt that he is the best in Sindhi and Urdu ghazals. He has been blessed with a treasure of melodious tunes and songs and whoever has come in his contact has benefited immensely from this talented singer. Every connoisseur of music has acknowledged it in unequivocal terms and given him the title of 'Master of all masters'.
Gope Chander has been witness to many ups and downs in his life time. When he was an infant of just three years, he had to face a host of health problems. Losing faith in traditional doctors, his parents decided to approach Saint Baba Saroopdas Maharaj of Halani Darbar. Gope Chander lived for one whole year at the darbar and with the blessings of revered saint he became hale and hearty and was allowed to join his family, once again.
In the year 1939, when Gope Chander was studying in III Std., he actively participated in the school's annual drama and music competition. Despite being a kid, he excelled not only in his school's competitions but proved his mettle in Kandiaro's competitions too and was acknowledged as No. 1. He has been blessed with deep knowledge of music and seeing his keen interest, Master Chander took him along, whenever he went for a performance in the fourth decade of 20th century. His father used to make him stand on a chair and Gope in turn would enthrall the audience with his mellifluous voice. He used to sing Bahadur Shah Zafar's ghazal 'Lagta Nahin Hai Dil Mera, Ujre Dayar Mein'.
When he learned more about the nuances of music, he graduated to singing K. L. Sehgal's ghazals. With the passage of time, his love and longing for music reached a crescendo. He used to forget taking even his meals at the stipulated times. He began composing fresh tunes on his harmonium. Music became his religion and songs, a food for the spirit. His father played a decisive role in devising his upbringing as music maestro. Master Chander used to teach him fresh tunes and musical notes, and worked hard to inculcate deep knowledge of music in Gope Chander.
It was middle of twentieth century, when voices of partition of India grew louder. Sindhi Hindus in Sindh were a harassed lot. With the independence of India and formation of Pakistan, Sindhi Hindus had to abandon their ancestral homes and head towards unknown territories of India. After Partition, a film 'Abana' was made on the agony of Sindhi refugees in India and in one of its songs, Master Chandra had beautifully described the situation of Sindhi Hindus:
Pakhi Bagh Panhinjo Pateenda Vanjan Tha
Ladeenda Vanjan Tha Hai! Hai! Pakha Purana!
(Birds abandon their garden – they migrate from their old nests)
Another such song of Mahesh Chander was
Malik Toon Dard Kateenden, Keen Chadeeden,
Har Handh, Har Hall Mein, Ranval Rahbar Theeden!
(O'Lord! Lessen my sorrows, leave me not,
Everywhere, in every situation, Be my Guide!)
Master Chander's every musical meet would normally begin with classical songs, like: Raag Darbari, Malkauns, Tarana, Raag Maru and then proceed to Sufiana renditions interspersed with the couplets from different poets. His company helped his children, Gope and Mahesh a lot. They became adept at various facets of singing, like Sindhi ghazal, Sindhi kalam, folk songs, mystic songs, Sindhi notes, Kaafi, Qawali and the art of couplet renditions. They also learned subtle differences of various musical notes and their different modes of singing. Sensing the mood of the times, both brothers opted for ghazal singing, Mahesh Chander composed many new tunes for various Urdu ghazals while Gope Chander bagged the title of our own Talat Mehmood, as the latter was considered the ultimate in ghazal singing, at that time. He even recorded sixteen popular ghazals of Talat Mehmood in his own voice. Gope Chander and Mahesh Chander's permanent presence alongside their famous father earned them a new title of modern day Baba Guru Nanak with Bala and Mardana.
In 1955, the government of Sindh in collaboration with Master Club, Larkana invited Master Chander to visit Sindh and present few musical concerts. Master Chander was accompanied by his son Gope Chander, his student Lachhman and tabla nawaz Nihchaldas. Their tour began with first ever program at the shrine of Sai Qutub Ali Shah at Hyderabad. People were simply ecstatic on seeing them and listening to Master Chander's legendary music. The railway station of Tharu Shah presented a never seen before sight, when thousands of people converged there to have a 'dekho' at Master Chander. They were accompanied by Dhol, Sharnai and various Sindhi musical instruments. Master Chander presented a program at the school ground of Tharu Shah. Then a program at Nawabshah, then Sukkur, Rohri, Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Ratodero and after that this melodious caravan reached Larkana.
The Larkana program was held at Jinnah Bagh and some twenty thousand people gathered to see Master Chander, perform live. The spectacle should have been seen to be believed. People had come from various nooks and corners of the district on different modes of transport, like horses, tongas, cars and some of them had even come on foot from far flung areas. The famous recording company of those days, HMV, wasted no time and recorded some fourteen songs of Master Chander and one of Gope Chander, too; which rafted in the air like this:
'Rusu Na, Rusan Mein Chhahe Rana!'
(Sulk not, what is there in sulking, Darling!)
In 1968, Master Chander was invited by Seth Moolchand of Singapore, where he was accompanied by Gope Chander, Mahesh Chander and their mother, too. Gope Chander emphasizes the point that their mother, at that time had played the part of a director. The tour began with a show in Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) arranged by Colombia Sindhi Association. Later on, they performed in Singapore, Jakarta (Indonesia), Manila (Philippines), Hong Kong and Kobe, Tokyo and Yokohama, the cities of Japan. Wherever a Sindhi association existed, they would insist that the famous trio, perform for them. The tour lasted for five months. Master Chander would sing Sindhi songs, Mahesh Chander, Urdu ghazals and Gope Chander would sing Sindhi marriage songs with movie songs and liven up the musical meets.
Gope Chander had also dabbled in business and one of his business trips took him to London, Paris and then to New York in 1974, where he had a chance to meet Nari Lakhani. A musical meet was arranged at the latter's residence in New York, where many Sindhis of New York had also come to listen to his captivating voice. Another meet was organized by Nari Pohani Sindhi Association. Gope Chander liked the environment of New York so much that he decided to stay there, permanently.
It has been thirty three years since then and he still organizes two programs a year, in New York. One is held on Cheti Chand and another on the occasion of Diwali. A monthly program at Satya Narayan Sindhi Mandir is also held regularly for the connoisseurs of Sindhi music. Later on, his children also joined him at New York.
Music is in their genes and the children of Gope Chander are also gifted with sangeet by goddess Saraswati. Now it has become 'Chander Family Sangeet Group', comprising of Aarti Raj, Haresh, Anil and Gope Chander himself. Normally, they are engaged in business, but they do perform at various music shows on regular basis. Actually his musical meets have been playing the role of a bridge between divided Sindhis of India and Pakistan in alien shores of America. Be it World Sindhi Institute of Washington or annual convention of SANA, they make it a point to invite Chander Family Sangeet Group. Sometimes, Mahesh Chander from India also joins them. It is nothing less than a celestial experience for New Yorkers.
Gope Chander and Mahesh Chander have also been to Spain and performed at Madrid, Barcelona, Malaga, Tenerife, Las Palmas and Eldora. Nowadays, they emphasize on promoting Sindhi music. I was informed about an interesting feature of Sindhis of Spain, by Gope Chander. He told me, that it is the sole prerogative of each and every Spanish Sindhi, to converse in Sindhi language in their homes. I doubt, whether any other city of world can boast of anything like that. Their conversation in Sindhi, also enables them to hide their business secrets from the local population. It is despite the fact, that there is no Sindhi school or Sindhi teacher in Spain. Mahesh Chander has tried his best to promote Sindhi music in Mumbai and for that he had prepared audio CDs and cassettes in his own voice and that of Gope Chander, Aarti Raj, Anil and Haresh Chander.
In order to promote Sindhi language and culture, Gope Chander had produced a TV show in New York, titled 'Ho Jamalo, I love 'Sindhi' for one and half years, non-stop. The show was presented by Aarti Raj, Anil Chander and Haresh Chander. The program's fame can be gauged from a simple fact that every Sindhi would simply rush to their homes, so that they did not miss a single episode of the show.
In India, Mahesh Chander has established 'Master Chander Sangeet Academy', to preserve and promote pure Sindhi music. Every year, he celebrates Master Chander's birthday, by performing live, on regular basis. He promotes new Sindhi singers, by training them and giving them chance to sing new songs, composed with his fresh tunes. Very often, Gope Chander would also come down to Mumbai along with his family, to participate in Master Chander's annual birthday celebrations.
Gope Chander is humility, personified. He always seeks blessings from his community, so that he could carry on with his services, even more. Ram Navani, the son-in-law of Master Chander had also proved his mettle in the field of music. May God enable Chander family to reach up to new heights of the zenith of music! History shall never forget the services of Master Chander, Gope Chander, Mahesh Chander, Aarti Raj, Anil Chander and Haresh Chander in the field of Sindhi music. Ayush, the son of Anil Chander has been a fresh entrant to this musical caravan. When that little kid of just one and half year old, dances on the tunes of his famed grandfather Gope Chander, we feel a fresh enthusiasm that Sindhi music will last forever.
The preparations for celebrating 75th birthday of Gope Chander at New York are underway and I, on behalf of the whole Sindhi community wish him prosperity and every success in life! Master Chander, the fountainhead of the musical family of Chanders, would have been 101 on January 05, 2008, had he stayed alive and to commemorate it, his able son Mahesh Chander will perform live in a grand concert, organized on that very day, at Mumbai.