Passion for percussion-mender of shoes, maker of music

Kalimpong, April 22: Talk about music and his eyes shine. Mention the tabla and there is such a manic flow of words that one almost needs a traffic cop to control the rush.
For 66-year-old Kesu Das, who earns his living as a cobbler, there is nothing in life more exciting than playing the tabla.

His small cobbler’s shop at Bagdhara houses various musical instruments along with an assortment of tools required for shoe-mending. Repairing shoes, he explains with a tinge of delight in his tone, was just a way of funding his dream — to be a tabla player. Tabla, however, is not the only instrument he plays.

“I also play other percussion instruments. I feel I am in heaven when I play them,” says the man, who originally hails from Bihar.

“I started playing when I was 13 but did not have money to join musical classes. But my interest in the tabla drove me to places like Calcutta and Varanasi where I was fortunate to find teachers who gave me lessons in return for my services,” said Das, who has been in Kalimpong for more than 40 years now.

“I have even played at various musical programmes,” he says with a certain pride. “But now I restrict myself to the making of the instrument. I also teach children who are interested in learning the form of art,” he added. Currently, Das has seven students who learn to extricate a beat out of the tabla for an hour every morning.

“I take money only from the children who can afford it. Children who cannot afford it but are interested do not have to pay,” he says, reminiscing about the times when he had struggled to get a proper training.

The cobbler is also a master at making percussion instruments, including indigenous instruments like the dholak, nal, madal and the damphu played by different tribal communities here. His ability to make different types of drums, especially played by various Nepali communities, has attracted appreciative buyers from far-off places like Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kurseong.

So why stick to mending shoes?

“The tabla is the one way I feel at peace and closer to God. It is great experience. But I also have to earn money. In way, I can indulge in my dreaming because of the shoes,” he smiled, his hands suddenly a whirr as they tap out a classical scale on a tabla nearby.


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