Finally, a photo of Mena Silas, the man who wrote 'Taj Mahal – A Foxtrot'

In December 2020, just over nine years after I first wrote about my attempt to dig out information about Mena Silas, the Bombay musician who had composed Taj Mahal: A Foxtrot in 1936, I received an email message from Jean Samuel in England.

"I have just come across something you wrote about my grandfather Mena Silas," she wrote. "I am the daughter  of one of Mena's two children you mention in your article. I'd love to make contact and find out anything else you know about him.  Utterly fascinating. I recently gave a box of my grandfather's  sheet music to my daughter!"

Taj Mahal: A Foxtrot, composed by Mena Silas

Scanning the archives of Bombay newspapers had already given me a sense of Silas's musical life in the city, as a composer of musicals such as Isle of Dreams in 1932 for the Bombay Amateur Dramatic Society, and as a frequent performer on the radio.

In a subsequent message, Jean Samuel told me a little about Silas's personal life:

"My grandfather died 50 years ago," she wrote. "He was already 44 when he married my grandmother in 1929. He had a daughter, Marjorie,  from his first marriage.  I was close to her. She was shipped off to be brought up by her aunts, my grandfather's sisters who lived in Guernsey. I believe she was sent to boarding school at four. She lived most of her adult life in Paris with her husband. She died of cancer  in 1995 and had no children.

"My mother,  Elizabeth, left Bombay after the war with my grandmother.  Mena stayed there. They later divorced. My brother and I were born in South Africa. I have a picture of Mena with us in 1955 on a visit to the UK. He must have come to England between 1948 and then. He lived in England for the rest of his life.

"I have memories of him playing the piano for hours every Sunday when we returned to the UK when I was 11 in 1961. He was an amazing performer. He played the classics by ear. Chopin and Listz were favourites. And of course his own compositions.  He continued to write all his life and was always hoping for success and fame but alas it didn't come.  

Mena Silas with his daughter Elizabeth. Courtesy Jean Samuel

"I knew a bit about him from my Mum who I believe worked with him entertaining the troops  in Bombay during the war . She used to sing, though she was very young.

"Mena was was always obsessed with his music and cared for little else.  Although I saw him a lot in my teens, he never talked about anything but his music. He truly lived for it!"

In addition to Taj Mahal: A Foxtrot, I have been able to track down only one other tune composed by Silas that has actually been recorded. It's was issued during World War II and is called Don't Be a Talkie.

It's a reminder in those times when everyone was fearful that "loose lips sink ships" and cause other unimaginable disasters.

Don't Be a Talkie, composed by Mena Silas.

Post script

A few hours after I posted this piece, the wonderful Anuradha Kumar dived into the archives to pull up two pieces of information.

She found the record of his second marriage, in 1929. It also gives us his birth date.

There's also this snippet that appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on January 5, 1922, reporting that he and his wife had arrived in the US aboard a ship named the Korea Maru.

By all accounts, he was quite the life of the party.

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