Whenever a non-resident Bengali like me managed to visit Kolkata for a few days, high on the agenda was to attend a good, live concert of Rabindra Sangeet. But that’s easier said than done!
‘You mean visiting Ranga Mashi after so many years is less important to you than attending some obscure music show?’ Guardians were aghast at my total lack of warmth or concern for my greater family. ‘No’, they swung their heads in dismay, ‘This is not OUR FAMILY speaking. Living away from home has affected you very badly indeed!’
It was futile to explain to hardline Kolkatans my longing for any kind of Rabindra Sangeet, good, not-so-good or even outright childish.
We all have most of the good disks on Rabindra Sangeet in our collection. But listening to a live performance from an unknown singer was quite another experience. Whenever a familiar song was rendered just that much differently, perhaps in the same sur but conveying a different expression of ecstasy, my heart rejoiced in resonance. How could those living in the swamp of Rabindra Sangeet ever share my yearning?
On one such occasion, overcoming all odds, I managed to get into a hall where a club was celebrating their annual Rabindra Sangeet festival. A relatively better known singer Tanya was the chief attraction, so the announcement said.
It was already dark by the time I could reach the auditorium. The Club Secretary welcomed all and tried in vain to recall how great Tagore was etc. A roar of catcalls greeted him as he hastily beat a retreat and called upon the first singer. Things settled down after that. The hall was only a quarter full. A mild round of applause followed each song.
I was thoroughly enjoying the melodies and swaying my head in the dark when an elderly gentleman pushed his way through to take his seat next to mine.
‘Has Madhumita sung already?’ he asked. As far as I could remember no such singer had yet taken the stage and I said so. ‘Good, that means I am in time. She is my granddaughter, you see.’
‘Has she been training for long?’ I asked.
‘Well, ever since she was a child. But this will be her first performance on stage’, he proudly announced.
Just then, a big round of applause greeted the next singer, Tanya. Whistles, catcalls and thumping chairs filled the Auditorium.
‘It is all fake, you know’, Grandpa whispered. ‘Tanya has paid all these boys to clap for her. She is no match for my granddaughter. Of course you yourself will hear her.’
I could see that the doting grandfather was feeling threatened by all the applause a rival singer got. I kept my silence and waited for Tanya to begin.
Tanya was a stylish woman. Hair puffed up and dressed in a crisp cotton sari, she looked gorgeous. A few minutes were spent in establishing harmony among the instruments. And finally she nodded at the Esraj player and smiled at the audience, seeking permission to begin.
The Esraj player first struck the notes Sa Ga Re Ga …. It was clear that Tanya would sing “Shedin dujone dulechinu bone …”
‘Oh! Why did you play the complete notes?’ interrupted Tanya, ‘Now everyone knows that I am going to begin “Shedin dujone”. There is no longer any mystery about my first song.’
The grandpa on my right stood up straight and shouted in a loud voice, ‘Are you here to sing a song or to write a mystery story? Just get along with your song.’
The silence that followed this statement was broken by a fresh round of whistles and feline whining. Tanya looked for grandpa in the dark and went on with her song.
‘I’ve put her in her place’, said grandpa, ‘She can’t get away with paid applause.’
At once I realised why my Kolkata relations were so skeptical about my attending just any programme on Rabindra Sangeet. Even a hundred years of singing … “Praner majhe aye”, which roughly translates to: “Come closer to my heart”, has not changed our habit of picking holes in others’ achievements.
I sat through the rest of the evening and joined my neighbor in trying to find fault with every singer thereafter, except of course his grandchild.
[Santanu Dasgupta, who has retired as a senior scientist from the Indian Space Research Organisation, teaches engineering in Thiruvananthapuram. Highly respected in professional circles, he is a person with diverse interests. An accomplished singer, he is seriously interested in literature and writes songs and dramas. Thank you to Santanuda, for sharing this story with my readers.]