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City Lights
Tuned to his music & memory

I remember becoming an addict of Salil Chowdhury songs from the age of nine. Surprisingly, I owe it to my grandmother who would hum Amaye Prashno Kore Neel Dhrubotara that would mesmerise me and make me wonder who the creator of the song was. Almost two decades later, when I became his assistant, the mesmerising effect was still there. I carried the same feeling throughout my association with him, despite having known him from such close quarters.

Salilda would have turned 77 next Tuesday. Incidentally, we share the same birthday… Salilda was a genius. What Satyajit Ray was for cinema, Salil Chowdhury was for the music industry. It is sad that the two never got a chance to work together.

I had been playing the violin with a group called Pratidhwani that used to sing Salilda’s songs on stage. Sometime in the 70s, the group had invited him for a function where we first met. When he praised my performance and asked me to join him, I turned numb. I even forgot to thank him or seek his blessings. But the bond was sealed.

Thereon, the days and nights spent at Akashdeep (Salilda’s apartment off Lansdowne Road) were like lovely musical notes. I also owe a lot to his wife (Sabita Chowdhury) who suggested that I be his main assistant when his earlier assistant — Alok Nath De — got busy elsewhere. Salilda and I would create compositions, dump them and redo them as I saw one gem after another being created in front of me. The albums — from Lata Mangeshkar to Chitra’s — and the films — from Jibon to Debika — we did were like fascinating new chapters in my life.

Singers from every state used to clamour to sing just a single composition of his. This, I feel, is the greatest honour for a composer. Personally, I feel Hemanta Mukherjee and Sabitadi were the best singers of Salilda’s kind of songs.

Scoring music was just a part of Salilda’s life. He was a wonderful conversationalist, who could discuss anything from politics to the importance of sound in the same breath. Sometimes, he would display a childlike humour. On other occasions, I saw him cry when he was hurt.

Salilda would often lament how his “songs just remained songs” and could not convey the pain and the pathos behind their creations. In tender moments, he would wonder whether he had actually composed Kono Ek Gayer Bodhu. Today, I see singers by the hundreds giving auditions or voice tests, besides recording and remixing his numbers and stretching his songs to bizarre lengths… That’s the everlasting tribute to a man who was a revolutionary in the true sense of the term.

— As told to Samarjit Guha


Roof-top revival

October 31, 2000. At the stroke of dawn, a small group of people went up to the roof-top of a house on Lansdowne Road. As the first rays of the sun painted a streak of glowing orange across the horizon, shlokas from the Upanishads were chanted to the strain of tanpuras. A solemn oath was taken “to worship creativity and stay close to Nature”. In the evening, the baptism was solemnised through an invocation to Ma Saraswati by Ulhas Kashalkar. Thus was born Srijan.

Two years down the line, the roof-top has become an integral landmark on the city’s culturescape. “The first evening, Kashalkar had a handful as audience. Today, we have a tough time accommodating our 300-plus members into the small space,” says Basant Rungta, Srijan’s founding father. The growth in participation of the youth, in particular, has been phenomenal, he feels.

The only criterion for participation in the roof-top sessions is an interest in creativity. Poetry, music, dance, drama, or even undiluted adda over tea and samosa under the moonlit sky — the Srijan calendar has it all.

“It is a forum for both established and upcoming artistes to perform and interact with enthusiats in a homely ambience,” says Rungta.

The pull of the place has drawn in big names from home and abroad — Joy Goswami to Amit Chaudhuri, Ulrike Draesner to Ron Price. Tributes are also paid to past masters, be it through writing, rock or raga. The variety of activities helps in honing unknown skills, cultivating taste and developing new interests. “I, for one, never had a ear for Indian classical music. But being present at the recitals has reaped benefits,” confesses Amitava Roy, professor of English at Rabindra Bharati University and an ardent Srijanite. So when Subhra Guha, a doyen of the Agra gharana, sang thumris at Srijan’s second anniversary bash, Roy found himself “enjoying immensely”.

Srijan’s greatest contribution has been in reviving the roof-top culture of Calcutta. “The roof-top used to be such a vibrant part of family and social life. Gunter Grass, during his visit here, had commented on the lack of it in south Calcutta, in contrast to the north. Srijan has given the city roof-top a fresh lease of cultural life,” Roy sums up.

Sudeshna Banerjee


Remembering George


Abstraction on canvas


Tell-tale times

The magic of storytelling and the joy of reading is their message. Storytellers is ready to lure kids away from “the terrible TV and the cunning computer” by reviving their interest in the age-old practice. Be it Grimm Brothers or Tuntunir Boi, Jataka Tales or Thakurmar Jhuli, the members want to bring younsters back to the “empty bookshelves”.

“There is a gap in the lives of today’s children because of the lack of reading. It is not just entertainment, but is necessary for their early development,” says educationist Kajal Sengupta, one of the four core members of Storytellers.

Props and sound effects, put together by volunteer helpers, are used to make the tales come alive. The aim is to take their ideas to schools, homes and even slums, “to catch them as young as possible”. Says writer Mira Kakkar: “The way the young faces light up on listening to stories is so rewarding. Their enthusiasm, once the bug has bitten, is boundless.”

The groups first ‘performance’ is at Space Circle on November 17, with Roald Dahl and Vikram Seth on the list. Their plans include a Storytellers Club and regular readings. “But it all depends on the response we get,” smiles actor and film-maker Daleep Kakkar.

At the moment, they are looking for invitations “from anywhere and anyone” to help them get started. Membership is open to all.

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