Play it again, Sam
Tony Braganza of Kolkata’s iconic music store, Braganza and Co., on his life and his time at IIT Kharagpur
Anthony Braganza is a much admired figure, both among his friends at IIT Kharagpur and in the music milieu in Kolkata and farther beyond. Tony, as he is best known, and his family are the proprietors of Braganza and Co., the iconic music shop on Marquis Street, Kolkata. The Braganzas have been an indispensable part of the music scene of Kolkata for decades now, supplying, repairing and lending the finest of musical instruments, and even creating trends in the market for musical instruments with their own brand of electric guitars. A BTech chemical engineering student of the 1976 batch, Tony was somewhat of a cult figure in college as well. He was one of the prime members of what gained repute as the Patel Hall band, a band that was the source of great pride for KGPians, given its invincibility during many a Spring Fest. The fame of the Patel band spread far beyond the campus, as Tony’s account proves. The band was the result of the uninhibited creative zeal of its students that IIT KGP has nurtured for aeons. Today, the Technology Music Societies of the Institute celebrate the same spirit and carry on the legacy of music that Tony and his friends left behind.
Coming to IIT Kharagpur, and coming of age
“I belong to a time when students directly took admission to college after their Class XI. In 1970, I finished schooling in St. Xaviers’ and, with a stroke of luck, got into IIT KGP. The entrance exam was a toughie. My elders were not able to tell me which discipline I should choose. Someone I respected said chemical engineering, entirely because of my score in the exam. But then, I had done well in maths too. I hated chemistry but got into chemical engineering. Trust me.
IIT Kharagpur gave me a lifetime of experience. Despite the ragging, and there was some those days, the seniors became the closest of friends. Given that it was a time during the Naxal era in West Bengal, this unity helped us keep the campus peaceful.
Most of the time, we were doing music. We spent our time making amps, keyboards etc. We had a club for everything, something that is fantastic about IIT KGP. I was in Patel Hall. We could do what we wanted to do. The facilities were fabulous and that made life exciting. What I found is that we came out as rounded people from IIT KGP.”
Stepping out of IIT Kharagpur
“When I was in my final year at IIT Kharagpur, I found that there is a subject called process control I excelled in. Most of my classmates went to the US for their MS. I went to XLRI where I did a combination of marketing and finance. I joined a company that sold boilers and thermic fluid equipment. We used to design process systems and push the sale of our products.
I worked for 12 years and did pretty well. And then, my father asked me to come and learn the family business. Our business, Braganza and Co, had started in 1939. My father’s suggestion was that I spend 2-3 hours every day. I said no. Either I come full time into the business or none at all as I wouldn’t be doing justice to either firm. I quit my job around the 1990s.”
Learning the score at Braganza and Co.
“The change [of going into the family business] came as a shock to me. In my previous job I had engineers working for me, a separate chamber and secretary. Now I had to even post my own letters.
We were good at what we were doing -repairs of pianos, making guitars in a small way and selling musical instruments. My father and uncle were top class musicians and what we were making was top class. They were never interested in high profitability, so numbers were not important to them.
I took about a year to take in all that. Skilled Bengali artisans worked at our shop. My uncle made it clear that I had to sit with them so that I learned. So I cleaned, scraped and made instruments with them. My first love was music. Even in KGP, music was my be-all and end-all.
We went in for electric guitars. My father taught me everything I know about wood. The electric bit, given my exposure in college, I knew.
There were other companies who were making guitars, but they were not doing good products. We knew what the problems were as we were using these products in college.
We started slowly. I set up a couple of rooms where we started manufacturing guitars, some 100-150 in a month. We have kept it at that to keep control on the quality.
When the government lifted the barriers on imports, we imported the best pianos, guitars and so on. That became our mainstay. But we also kept Indian customers in mind. We used to hire violins and pianos. People learnt to play on these hired instruments before buying the real ones.
I slowly expanded the business and brought it to where it is now.”
A life in music…at IIT Kharagpur, and after
“Throughout my life, music has held me together.
I learnt to play the piano from the age of 5. Those days, we had exams conducted by the Trinity College of Music. When I joined IIT Kharagpur, I came back home on the weekends to practice for my diploma exam. I somehow managed to pass the exam.
When I started college, I disliked any form of music except the classical. When I was asked as a fresher what instrument I played, I said piano and thought that would save me from trouble as there were no pianos at IIT Kharagpur. But no. I was told that someone had played Deep Purple on the harmonium. I had to play it as well.
I wrote down the chords and asked one of the guys to play the chords, which he did. I also played chromatic grunge, which was nothing but technical flourishes on the piano but it floored my audience.
My Dad had a peddle organ which was collapsible, five octave instrument which was portable. I used that in IIT Kharagpur and we had a fabulous Patel Hall band. I became the Governor of Music and won at every Spring Fest.
Those were wonderful days. Whenever and wherever we were needed, we would go and perform. We had an IIT band as well, where people from other Halls and departments used to play in.
The pinnacle of glory was playing at the air base at Kalaikunda. The people at Kalaikunda had apparently heard of the Patel Hall band and asked us to come over. We were offered rum when we went there, something none of us had tasted. Only four of us managed to play that night.”
Memories that will never fade
“We had a fantastic band in Patel Hall. The inter-Hall competitions were great. We made good music. There were visual effects too. There was a guy in Architecture who used to handle the lights. We pasted red, blue, orange, green papers on the lights and wired them to a switch board that had eight switches. This guy used to sit there at the back and punch the switches. So besides the music being hard hitting, the lights played up.
We used to play rock. We also did a show to collect funds for Mother Teresa. My father used his connections to get Pam Craine. We recorded that and for the next five years, we kept playing the numbers which were top of the charts. We also had another festival at the Open Air Theatre where we got the then Number One rock band called Atomic Forest to perform during Spring Fest.
In those days, there was little or no money in music. We did all that we did for the sheer joy of it… even when we went to Kalaikunda.”