One of Guyana’s leading singers of a variety of Indian songs, Mohan Nandu, passed away Thursday night at Mercy hospital. He was taken ill at his home on Thursday and transported to Mercy by staff from SVN high school. He was ailing for some time. He was 87. He was a national hero, at least for Indians in the field of music, and he received a national medal of services for his contributions in that area.
Mohan ji was from Anna Catherina and lived in the house he was born all his life. He was a very simple, humble, down to earth man. He was very popular as a singer especially in Demerara. Berbicians and Essequibians saw much less of him and had to be contented to hearing him on radio or listening to his cassettes. They all loved him. He had a golden voice, an exact replica of the great Mukesh of Mumbai.
Mohan came from a family of singers. His father was an accomplished and popular taan singer and musician and his mother a religious woman; he also had a sister. Nandu began singing at an early age, and he has been singing classical songs and playing the harmonium since the 1940s entertaining audiences throughout the country. He sang at weddings, baraats, pujas, satsangs, Mandirs, Bhagwat’s or jags and Ramayans, and at concerts and on radio. He sang at several fundraisers including for the PPP. He also partook in Indian singing competitions, winning many trophies in the Mukesh competition. He belted out unforgettable classical and religious hits, evergreen melodies. Everywhere, people yearned to hear him sing and crowded his performances. Mandirs and halls reverberated with applause. He was very close to another iconic singer Shri Gobin Ram. They made quite a team and entertained thousands in West Dem.
Mohan’s singing icon from Bollywood was the legendary Mukesh, the playback singer for thousands of films. Singing and music were his first love, and he learned Hindi songs from Bollywood.
Hindi films have always been an attraction and a mirror of almost every Indian Guyanese. They were embedded in the psyche of Indians. And they imitated the Hindi songs of the films. Nandu learned by seeing the films, imitating the songs especially of Mukesh who sang for dozens of actors, and practicing them for perfection. And was he perfect? According to Bollywood singers who performed at concerts in Guyana, on listening to Nandu, they said he sang exactly like Mukesh. One of the professional Bollywood performers offered to take Nandu to sing in Bollywood.
Hailing from the West Coast, he entertained crowds mostly in West Demerara restricting Berbicians and Essequibians access to enjoy his musical talent. They only saw him perform in person at concerts on the Corentyne, West Berbice, and Essequibo or when he accompanied popular Pandit Reepudaman Persaud at Ramayana discourses. He accompanied Pt Reepu to countless kathas all over the country. Mohan was very close to Pandit Reepu whose Dharmic Sabha honored him for lifelong contributions to Indian culture. It is noted that he was one of only a few artistes who did not migrate for opportunities to make a name overseas – quite a patriot. And for that, Guyanese are grateful. He was deserving of national honors
Nandu worked as a cane cutter. When we last met a few years back, he reminded me that Jagan promoted him to shovel man. Ain’t that something! An iconic local singer moved from cane cutting to shovel man duties. A man who contributed over sixty years in Indian arts moved up in his job from cutting cane to digging dirt in the cane field. A great promotion! He never accumulated wealth and other materialistic possessions and lived in humble surroundings in a very small house on stilts.
As he was ailing over the last few years, he received no financial resources or support from the state. And while he was ill, no one from the state, no Minister or official from the government or Ministry of Culture visited him. It was as if he didn’t exist. The state has been urban centric. How can we expect the Indian art form to continue if the state pays no attention to icons like Mohan Nandu who never declined to perform gratis at a PPP fundraiser? Who in the government will promote the Indian art forms in the country and the diaspora? Indian culture historically has been marginalized in Guyana and indeed throughout the Caribbean region.
Friends and Swami Aksharananda provided for Mohan Nandu’s medicine, meals, house cleaning, and general upkeep. Sometime ago, when legendary singer Bhaskar Sharma and I paid a visit to Nandu, he expressed gratitude to Swami-ji for assisting him and would not stop thanking us for the visit. Swami would visit him from time to time. Nandu showered praise on Bhaskar and me (Vishnu Bisram) for promoting Indian Guyanese culture in North America and our contributions to the media. He also expressed gratitude for my role in the long struggle for free and fair elections.
There were complaints that he was used for the benefit of others and then abandoned. He was a very strong PPPite. He expressed disappointment in the government and religious organizations he loyally served for decades for not providing assistance to him.
The inimitable king of melody from West Demerara is gone. Guyanese in the diaspora in America remember him with deep sorrow. Although he has departed, he still lives with us in his many songs that are now available on You Tube and elsewhere. His departure is a loss to Indian arts.