Hilla Poncha: Meet Zubin’s Jabra Fan for the last 80 years

There were still 20 minutes to go for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to commence, and the city’s nattily dressed, high profile audience – Shireen Gandy, Adi Jehangir, Smita Chrishna, Pheroza Godrej – were still making their way to Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA. But Hilla Pocha was there well before time, waiting for Zubin Mehta to take centre stage on Monday evening.

Article by Reema Gehi | Mumbai Mirror

Seated on the first seat of the first row (A-11) – “it offers the best view,” she says – the 97-year-old is arguably the maestro’s biggest fan. “I have held Zubin when he was two months old,” says Pocha, a musician herself, who played with the Bombay Symphony Orchestra since its inception nearly eight decades ago.

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97-year-old Hilla Pocha hasn’t missed a single Zubin Mehta concert in Mumbai.

“I would play with his father Mehli Mehta (violinist). We used to have sectional rehearsals. And Zubin’s mother once requested me to look after the baby for five minutes. Mehli came up to me and asked, ‘have you come here to play the violin or to look after Zubin?'”.

Pocha rushed back to her rehearsal but the day remained etched in her memory. “When I was 80 years old, I met Zubin at the Cricket Club of India and told him, ‘I held you in my arms when you were two months old’, but he wouldn’t believe me. He thought I was younger than him,” she says.

“And I can’t believe he’s turning 80 on April 29.”

Pocha, whose love for music was encouraged by her father, first learnt the violin with an Italian professor and then a German professor. “And because I was at the Cathedral School, the organist from the St Thomas Cathedral was our music teacher,” she explains. “He encouraged me to join the Bombay Symphony Orchestra. I was only 15 or 16 years old then.”

“Mehli,” she says, “was the leader of our group. And without him nothing would have happened. He would get everyone together.”

The fondness she has for the legendary violinist indeed extends to his son. Pocha hasn’t missed a single Zubin Mehta Concert in Mumbai. As soon as the ticket sales are announced, Pocha is the first to get her front row seat, and doesn’t have a count of how many of Mehta’s concerts she has attended so far. “My only regret is that when people get up to give Zubin a standing ovation. I can’t join them. I suffer from arthritis. It gets awkward,” she smiles.