| An early photograph of Juthika Roy
Like, I am sure, many of us do, I, too, used to think that Juthika Roy existed only in 78 rpms, like some other great and departed singers of the order of “Kana Kesto”, Pankaj Mallik and Uma Dasgupta. I knew that the songstress Anuradha Paudwal and even Lata Mangeshkar have acknowledged that Juthika Roy is the last word in bhajans. But they periodically pay tributes to forgotten legends, rehash their hits, and laugh all the way to the top of the charts.
It took a friend in London to tell me that Juthika Roy lives in Shyampukur. My friend related some fascinating stories about the singer. She had all the makings of a feminist heroine.
Going by a newspaper review, I realised she still sings in public. Then, I got to know that Subarnarekha has published her autobiography, Ajo Mane pare, Sangeet jibaner smritikatha.
Roy’s room on the second floor of a picturesque ruin was neat, all the covers freshly laundered if faded.
At 82, Roy, a maiden lady like her three other sisters (two others were married), was the epitome of respectability. Her carefully brushed hair was discreetly tinted. She was dressed in a spotless white sari with a severe black border.
Interview over, she sweetly played the only existing cassette of her famous Meera and Kabir bhajans on a tiny tape recorder. That high moral tone existed even in her melodious and youthful voice, and it is easy to detect it in her still today. But instead of being a forbidding quality, in Juthika Roy it is an endearing trait. It is typical of a person who never compromised her art for personal gain. A quality few will appreciate in this greedy age.
In spite of many offers from filmmakers she rarely sang for the silver screen. Inspired by Vivekananda’s teachings she felt it would cast a shadow on the spiritual quality of her voice.
Without being self-conscious she spoke about her remarkable upbringing. She came from a musical family and her family, and her father, a school inspector, would encourage her, saying her records would be heard in every home. Her mother wanted all her six daughters (plus two brothers) to be properly educated and if they wanted to marry it was to be their decision. She even wanted them to be trained in the martial arts.
Juthika first sang for the radio at seven and joined the Gramophone Company in 1933 under Nazrul. But practically for the rest of her singing career, music composer Kamal Dasgupta guided her through 300 recorded bhajans, Atulprasadi, Rajanikanta, seasonal songs, ghazals, qawalis and even one Tamil number.
She became a Padmashree in 1972, but now hardly any of her songs are available in music stores. Though the central government has granted her Rs 2000 a month, all her other sources of income, like royalty, have dried up. The Gramophone Company has steadfastly rejected her requests to market her recordings once again. She has carefully preserved all the discs.
The state government will organise a tribute to her. But without any money to speak of, tributes alone are not enough for an artiste to survive.