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Mandola Joy – Making An Indelible Mark

Mandola Joy – Making An Indelible Mark

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This is the story of Puronjoy Guha, also known as Mandola Joy, and his musical journey from playing various instruments to finding his passion for the mandola and creating his own instrument called the Shreetar. It highlights his training under renowned musicians and his dedication to Hindustani classical music.

His  affaire d’amour with Mandola, the Italian stringed musical instrument, dates back to the ‘90s, when he started strumming it as a young musician. The bonding was so strong that he thought of coupling it with part of his name. And thus born “Mandola Joy” aka Puronjoy Guha !

There was music in the family and as a ten-year-old young boy Joy used to be amused by musical instruments. Being an innate observer, he followed the tutorial sessions of his elder sister who was learning vocal music and playing harmonium. His fingers would move back and forth on the imaginary keyboard but his wish remained unfulfilled, as he was not allowed to play. “Perhaps my loving parents wanted another musician to flourish in the family and they put me under the mentorship of Manikmama, one of my uncle’s friends, who was a great tabla player”. But somehow it did not go well with Joy as he was thoroughly averse to learning the percussion instrument. He used to make a quick escape the moment his teacher walked in. “Look at the irony of fate!  Then I was fleeing from the music and now I am trying to reach closer and embrace it with all my might !!”, rues Joy.

Joy was born in a family of gold merchant and jewellers who had a prosperous business in Kolkata spanning over four generations. But somehow Joy never took a liking in the family business like his father who was working for Hindustan Motors Limited, the manufacturer of ubiquitous Ambassador car of yester year. There was expectation that Joy would join the family business but he had other thoughts; he was more interested to play his uncle’s harmonica which adored the glass cabinet. “Gradually I was drawn into the world of musical instruments – and I started playing whatever I could lay my hands on.”

After his Secondary examination Joy received the coveted gift from his grandfather – an India made saxophone ! “I was already playing the harmonica and now this saxophone with a brilliant sound – I was on cloud nine”! Beside playing these two blowing instruments, Joy made his fingers play on the harmonium reeds, a wish he so tenderly cherished for all these years !

But the music bug had bitten him hard. “I met someone who wanted to buy my saxophone in exchange of a stringed instrument – a mandolin and four hundred rupees. Readily I accepted the offer.” In no time, the new instrument was in Joy’s hand which he started twanging to set his fingers on the strings and fret board.

“Around this time, there was a noble advice from someone that instead of playing around with a number of instruments I should actually be focussing on one and achieve finesse and mastery. It struck me; and mandolin was my choice.” Mandolin (mandolino) is an Italian instrument from the Lute family which is played by plucking the strings.  It is also the soprano member of a family that includes mandola, octave mandolin, mandocello and mandobass., Joy also decided to play the Indian classical music on this western instrument.  Hours of practice followed. His parents, understandably impressed by his dedication, offered him the required flexibility. “I was not good in my studies though I never flunked an exam,” said Joy with a babyish smile, “and I also never mis utilise the flexibilities offered to me by my parents.”

Joy playing his Shreetar
Joy playing his Shreetar

With time Joy found playing Indian classical pieces on mandolin little difficult. “Mandolin is not very suitable for the complex nuances of Indian classical notes. Therefore, I started searching for something better and found Mandola, the “big brother” from the Lute family more suitable for my kind of music and I adopted it as my primary instrument. But since I play Hindustani classical music and mandola being a western instrument, I have always felt the need for modification. After years of experiment, I came up with the concept of the instrument, which I named Shreetar. Presently, this is my primary instrument.” Shreetar is basically an improvised mandola but with the capability to express the nuances of Hindustani classical music. It is a solid body, electrified instrument with metal plated fingerboard and sympathetic strings like that of a Sarod. It has five playing strings. Its playing technique involves those similar to Sarod and Sitar. Its tone is close to that of Sarod along with recognizable flavors of Veena and Sitar. I feel that on one hand this instrument is quite capable of expressing the minutest nuances of Hindustani classical music, and on the other hand it can be used for a lot of other genres when used with appropriate playing techniques.

Around 1995 /96 Joy started taking ‘taalim’ from the great violin maestro Lt. Pt. V. G. Jog and continued for about nine years. “It was a great learning process. Initially I was in a state of awe for this was the legendary man who I listened all these years  playing jugalbandi with Bismillah Khan and V Balsara on gramophone records! The very fact that I could sit in front of Panditji and could play my Shreetar following his musical notes was a great fillip to my musical endeavour. From that time onwards I changed from my “self taught” mode to gurushiksha.” Hours of riyaz continued. It was a challenge converting the bandish  of a bowing instrument ( read violin) to fit into the notation of  a plucking instrument. But Joy did it with elan and ease. After Panditji’s  demise, he took training from the sarod maestro Lt. Pt. Buddhadev Dasgupta, and at present a disciple of Pt. Partha Chatterjee, the renowned sitar player. “Every day is a new day…. and every day I learn something new” ! says Joy with sheer excitement in his voice.

“Since my childhood I have grown up with musical instruments as my playmates, I have a very soft spot for them.  Even though my main discipline is Hindustani classical, I do compositions, including back ground scores for short films like “Patang” ( directed by Milind Bokil) , “Naga”( directed by Anirudh Menon & Kiren Jadhav), where I extensively use instrumental music pieces from different instruments which are mostly ethnic and used as a folk accompaniment in different regions of the country.” In fact in two recent films he himself played all the instruments which have been mixed to create the final audio track.

Joy, over the years , built up an enviable collection of these instruments  – string, woodwind and percussion and gained mastery over them. Such was the devotion and urge to own up these instruments, some rear, others on the verge of extinction – that he did not mind staking his fortune to buy them or get them fabricated! Today Joy’s music room looks rich with every piece of musical ware having an unique sound and astounding history. In addition to the  common instruments like sarod, esraj, mandolin, mandola, violin, shehnai, sarengi  endless list of folk instruments like Kamaicha, Bhawaiya Dotara, Bhatiali Dotara, Ravanhatta, Nepali Sarangi, Madol, Sarinda, Hookka Banam, Chawar Banam, Kashmiri Rabab, Tibetan Horn, Tuila, Morchang, Khamak, Ektara, country Flutes, Dhol, Dholok etc find a place. “I want to bring these marvellous pieces in front of the music aficionados and create a new sound. Some of them  are facing the threat of extinction. Therefore preservation and archiving of them is equally important. To this direction, I have founded an organization named Save Artists Save Art foundation which pro-actively works towards this goal.”

Joy with his musical instruments
Joy with his collection of musical instruments

Sreeparna, Joy’s life partner, a Doctorate in Bengali Vocal Music from Rabindra Bharati University, whole heartedly supports him and turns out to be his critic too. “Whenever we chat over a cup of tea, we talk music and nothing but music“!

Joy is a firm believer of Swami Vivekananda’s famous quote “when you have come to this world, leave a mark behind” – “with all my humility and dedication to music I am just trying to do that …. “

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Shahana Shome


Postscript : To know more about Mandola Joy, visit


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