At the initiative of the Northern Association of Indian Music

Remembering Dr Iswarduth Nundlall: Pioneer in Introducing Indian Classical Music in Mauritius

By Sarita Boodhoo

« Mauritius hey desh hamara Jan se apni hamko pyara… »

Who does not remember with nostalgia this patriotic song in Hindi sung by generations of children with such fervour and gusto of national pride and unity at the time of Independence Day Celebrations or other «Varshik Utsavs».

It was composed and set to music by no other than Dr Iswarduth Nundlall veteran and pioneer in introducing Indian Classical music in Mauritius more than fifty years ago.

On Saturday 7th July last, the Northern Association of Indian Music under the committed leadership of Mr Mohurlall Chummun of 9th Mile Triolet, paid a glorious and charming tribute to his guru Dr Iswarduth Nundlall on his 28th death anniversary at the IGCIC, Phoenix.

I was amazed to see the beautiful morceaux put together on stage by Mohurlall Chummun and friends. Music lovers no doubt appreciated the performances of both versatile artists like Smt Surabhi Shukla (IGCIC Dance Teacher) and her students and Chota Khyal vocal recital by Dr Mrs Premilla Hungsraz and especially the Jugal-bandi violin recital by Shri Sunil Deerpaul and his young daughter Gwunshi in Raag Hansdwani. Little kids also marvelled the audience in their renderings, under the prudent guidance of their guru Mohurlallji.

The Northern Association of Indian Music is a well-established socio-cultural organization set up in 1981. One hears a lot of criticism raging these days against socio-cultural organizations. But Mohurlall Chummun has distinguished himself for three decades in dedicated artistic pursuit. He himself was drawn to his guru Dr Iswarduth Nundlall in the 60s. His devotion, output, perseverance and hard work in teaching and promoting Indian classical music is itself a befitting homage to such a pioneering icon as Dr Nundlall. Indeed he has left the sounds of music echoing for generations to come.

I remember myself, as a teenager, for the centenary celebrations of Rabindranath Tagore at the Plaza Theatre, Rose Hill in 1961, rendering the Rabindra song in Bengali “Tumi kaimon kore, gan koro he guni” and a Hindi version of Rabindra Sangeet composed by Nundlall ji – “Kalpana Ka Swarg aaj Bhumi par utarle” under the magical baton of the maestro. He had so beautifully choreographed the show and painstakingly trained the participants. It was a rare feat in those days; a voluntary work of love and devotion to artistic creation. It was the first time I was exposed to the Bengali songs of Tagore. I had read and remembered several of his poems from Geetanjali, available in English at the Nalanda Bookshop, then and now! And this would definitely inspire me to go for my tertiary studies to Calcutta University. Much water, nay, much music has flown under the bridge since then – but as Shakespeare said. “If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it…” Well, excess of sweet and harmonious music would indeed help fine-tune our modern ears, turned deaf to the inner musings and tunings. We should indeed tune our ears to the music of the spheres instead of the jarring, harsh sounds emitted these days in the name of music.

Dr Iswarduth Nundlall was born on 25th April 1926 at La Caverne, Vacoas and he was greatly influenced by his father Pandit Jugnandun Nundlall a Vedic priest and accomplished bhajnick. This deep love for music would take him on an Indian Scholarship to study music at the prestigious Bhat Khande Sangit Vidhyapit in Lucknow from October 1950 to December 1957. He was given a rousing welcome on his return to Mauritius, armed as he was with Diplomas in vocal, violin and sitar (1952) and B. Music (1954) and M. Music in vocal in 1957. Later on he earned a PhD, based on research in World Music. It is a remarkable achievement that for his Master in Music, he chose a theme original in all strains. He wrote his thesis on the Music of Mauritius, which was a research on Western and Eastern Music with prevalent folk songs in Creole and Bhojpuri popular in the 1950s. He collected materials from such personalities as Max Moutia, Auguste Toussaint, Philippe Ohsan, Jacques Cantin, Pandit Geerjanan and Pandit Jugnandun (his father). I have yet to see somebody of his distinction in Mauritius who could combine both Eastern and Western Music with such brilliance. He had a multi-faceted musical dimension, encompassing both the subtleties of Indian Ragas and the rigour of Western notation!

And yet Dr Nundlall did not get much visibility in the mainstream media of the time. Will Mr Mohurlall Chummun and his students or colleagues get this visibility in today’s mainstream media? Had it not been for the MBC Radio and later on the Television as from mid-60s, his contributions would have been but a side dish or side light to Mauritian music.

His popular programme “Sargam” on the radio was much appreciated. He has also performed at International level: at the BBC, All India Radio, and at SABC in South Africa ,in Kenya as well as in Reunion. Against all odds, he toured the country and gave enchanting musical concerts. He opened his residence to music lovers where flocked students avid in learning from all over Mauritius. He also taught music at the Royal College Curepipe and Port Louis as well as at the Queen Elizabeth College and the Teachers’ Training College. He organised and popularized mehphils. It is good to remember that he was a co-founder of the School of Indian Music and Dance along with Mr and Mrs Nand Kishore at Vandermeersch Street, Beau Bassin in 1964. Coming to think of it, Dr Nundlall was for that matter, an Institution all by himself. Later on, with the setting up of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute in 1976, the School of Music and Dance was integrated therein.

Many are the students of Dr Nundlall – such as Mrs Brinda Gopaul, Mrs Thara Hazareesingh who accompanied him on tanpura and Mr Rajman Bharuth on tabla. Others include the famous latente singer Sachidanand of Bambous. We may also remember musicians such as Chinayah Uchiah, Satyawan Perthy, Indraduth Deerpaul, Ashutosh Gangah, Ashok Coomar Jorai and Mohurlall Chummun himself as his students.

Dr Nundlall was not only a distinguished musician and musicologist, but he was also a versatile composer and choreographer. He was also fluent in not only English and French but also in Bengali, Hindi and Sanskrit and a brilliant orator as well. He was the President of Hindi Parishad founded by Somdath Buckhory and he contributed regularly to its literary magazine Anurag. He has also written several books, which include Dialogues on Music, an authoritative initiation to musical notation, Music in Mauritius and Bharat ki Sangeet Kala.

As his niece Geeta Nundlall so aptly said, “He belonged to that kind of people – those who make things happen.”

It is rewarding that the Northern Association of Indian Music conferred the tittle of Sangeet Samrath upon four Mauritians namely Messrs I. Deerpaul, C. Uchiah, S. Peerthy and Dr Mrs Sangeeta Manohur Hungsraz for their selfless contribution towards the promotion and propagation of Indian music in Mauritius.

Such socio-cultural organizations as the Northern Association of Indian Music are doing an immense service to the country and they need to be encouraged. It is sad that some politicians and journalists lash out venoms on them instead of acknowledging their good work.

* Published in print edition on 13 July 2012

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