An Afternoon With The Family That Runs Mumbai’s Favourite Music Store

An Afternoon With The Family That Runs Mumbai’s Favourite Music Store

It was only after I began attending college that I found the oh so scholarly phrase “zero-sum nature of capitalism” to describe what I saw happen to my father.

The men on the paternal side of my family are raised with subliminal signals guiding them towards whatever the family business was. My father was no exception. The sense of unflinching familial loyalty that my grandparents instilled in him lead him astray from dreams of aviation training and landed him in a stuffy office cubicle with his older brother.

Side by side, my father and his brother worked together like comrades, toiling for hours in a profession chosen for them. Despite the lack of interest in commerce, my busy-bee father managed to bring home flooded pots of honey surprising everyone, including his own brother who thought, “More for him means less for me.” It was only after the death of my grandfather, decades later, that the toxic competitiveness between my father and his brother subsided. Their feud was long-standing enough to put me off working with family members.

So, when Anthony Gomes, who is about the same age as my father and works with his four siblings, told me of his immensely positive experience with the overlapping of family and business, I treated him with a degree of suspicion. I wondered if he was simply a good storyteller, if he regularly won poker games. But, after my hour-long introduction to the Gomes family, I was proved wrong, and loved it.

A young Nonobel, Christopher, Joseph, and Anthony Gomes

“Quite ironically, my father had no background in music. He would joke that the only thing he played was the gramophone,” recalled Anthony who told me that although his father came from modest origins, he was a hardworking visionary. “Dad grew up in a time when opportunities were limited, but when they were presented, he took advantage of them,” Anthony said reverently while telling me about how his father acquired a trading license at the age of 14.

With this license, John Gomes, an ambitious 26-year-old Goan Christian, began trading and won Furtados and Sons, a company specialising in the sale of Christian religious goods, in an auction. Then, in 1959, John discovered that Furtados and Company, a different entity dealing in musical instruments and religious goods, was being sold, possibly to Barghava’s Musik that wanted to discontinue its religious goods division. “The staff was losing jobs because the buyers wanted to close the department. But, my father met with [the sellers] and won the sale in 30 minutes,” Anthony beamed proudly.

Anthony, who now heads Strategy and Planning for Furtados, readily offered anecdotes about his father’s commercial prowess. But, I wanted insight on who John Gomes was at home, away from the pressures of business. Hearing this, Anthony crossed his arms and furrowed his brow. I imagined if his father, John Gomes, looked like this when he was reluctant to answer a question. “He was strict because he was self-made. So he expected us to work hard,” Anthony said gravely. How strict was he, I wondered audibly and was indulged with the information that the four Gomes children were expected to maintain a daily diary to earn their 10 rupee pocket money. “Oh, we spent that in the canteen... On samosa for 55 paise,” Anthony admitted with a smile for the first time since we started talking.

Anthony fed me nuggets of vague nostalgia about his father being a loving and caring family cum businessman. But, I wasn’t satisfied. Finally, he said, “On Saturdays, he would take us for music lessons at 7 AM to Mahim and Dadar, sit with us while we played and take us home at 11 AM.” I asked if he would stay with them during the entire lesson. “Yes, of course,” Anthony answered promptly like I was asking if the Earth was round or if the sun rose in the East.

John’s silent love also enveloped his then 24-year-old wife, Antoinette Ghaleb, who he first met in India and then Lebanon. The Gomes matriarch, Antoinette, is Lebanese and, an impressed Anthony says that her adjusting to an Indian lifestyle while raising four children was a herculean task well done. “Nonobel, my sister’s name, is Lebanon spelt backwards,” said Anthony, randomly but excitedly offering me a clue into his mother’s playful charm and the duality of her Indian-Lebanese identity.

Although John and Antoinette had an age difference of 18 years, their marriage stood strong like a banyan tree and wove roots of love and affection that pierced through the next generations of Gomes. “It was the way my mother cared for him that he lived as long as he did, till the age of 76,” Anthony said. I even spoke with Tanuja Gomes, CEO of Furtados School of Music and Joseph Gomes’ wife, who said that her mother-in-law, Antoinette, has knitted the Gomes family close together. “She calls all her kids twice a day. Her lifeline revolves around the kids, like any mother. But, she’s beautifully cemented the family. It’s... special,” Tanuja smiled, in a way I’ve never seen a daughter-in-law do when talking about her mother-in-law.

Antoinette Ghaleb with her four children

Tanuja is an alien to the Gomes’ world of music, in her own self-deprecating words. She fondly recalled her first few dates with Joseph when he would take her to western classical concerts. “It was like wine, an acquired taste... but honestly, it just went over my head,” she laughed shyly, like the two of us now had a secret together.

With warmth akin to guitar strums on a rainy morning, Tanuja told me about her first meeting with Joseph’s family, how in awe she was of John’s nurturing of his business and how deeply she admired Antoinette’s principles. The manner in which she narrated tales about Joseph, Anthony, Nonobel, and Christopher, listing their qualities – all overwhelmingly positive – reminded me of how Anthony talked about his parents, with identical pride and veneration.

Tanuja shared more secrets with me. She told me that Anthony and Joseph are like their father, John, in that they are both futuristic and ambitious. Christopher adjusts the pitch by splashing in a dose of pragmatism and keeping a realistic check on operations, she said. Nonobel is an adventurous spirit, a bindaas woman after her own heart, according to her. Anthony admitted that Nonobel could definitely hold her own with three brothers in any fight or argument. Tanuja concurs and said, “A dentist I know told me, ‘Oh I know Nonobel, I got beaten up by her once!’”

Amidst giggles and animated facial expressions, Tanuja lovingly said that Sharon, Anthony’s wife, is the next Antoinette – the second generation matriarch, the pillar of the Gomes family. She told me about Belinda, Christopher’s wife and a hardworking homemaker, and Ajoy, Nonobel’s husband and a leading psychiatrist, both loving and supportive partners and parents. But, her description of Anthony is what struck me the hardest.

Tanuja told me that Anthony reschedules his business appointments when his nieces and nephews are in town, that he takes them out for swimming sessions and lunches at JW Mariott, and that he has often worked as late as 3 AM to make time for the littlest Gomeses – something Anthony never told me himself, no matter how much I asked about his family dynamics.

The Gomes Family

Tanuja’s detailed anecdotes about the Gomeses made me wonder why Anthony was not as forthcoming about the same. Then, Tanuja told me that the family prefers to keep its accomplishments and achievements private because John and Antoinette taught them humility and modesty. I will never have the honour to interact with John Gomes, but my gut tells me that it is painfully obvious that Anthony is his son, his spitting image.

The Gomes family lives by the philosophy that a kind act needn’t be flaunted because it is one’s responsibility, simply because it the right thing to do. Anthony said, “Principles and values are very important to us. It’s been a crucial aspect to the business and the family, it’s something we’re very proud of. We’re constantly reminded by dealerships and customers that they trust us.” A former banker at HSBC, Tanuja said that the Gomeses have been able to marry ambition and old-world values beautifully and that “They are extremely ethical. I’ve been a private banker for 16 years and have dealt with all types of businessmen. But, I can vouch for their integrity,” she adds.

Today, for the Furtados brand, Anthony manages Strategy and Planning, Christopher heads Finance, Nonabel overlooks Administration and HR, Joseph manages IT and Marketing, and Tanuja is the CEO of Furtado School of Music. The Furtados empire is not only expanding at a substantial rate with stores all over the county but also creating a shift in India’s lax attitude toward the fine arts by implementing educational programmes and music lessons at various price points.

“To build a business with the right integrity and value system is difficult. But the Gomes family would rather have a peaceful night’s sleep than earn lots of money... The knowledge that music is powerful is spreading and we bridge the economic gap with affordability,” Tanuja said.

But, maybe the Furtados-Gomes legacy isn’t a successful business model, profit margins or company goodwill. No, there is an ethereal dimension to the Gomeses, like their blood is saturated with compassion and trustworthiness as if those virtues are like drinkable potions each generation prepares for the next.

Maybe the magic of the Gomes family is just that, that it is a family, in the truest sense of the word.

All photographs courtesy of the Gomes family.

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