The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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I’ve always wanted to hear the charismatic Somnath Chatterjee sparring with a senior journalist in an open forum; I’ve always wanted to sit in the front row and allow the voice of Shubha Mudgal to take me through India, both rustic and real; I’ve always wanted to hear a corporate professional praise a minister behind his back.

All three wishes were fulfilled at Infocom 2003 last week in Calcutta. The respected Parliamentarian and WBIDC Chairman didn’t take The Telegraph editor Aveek Sarkar’s comment, ‘What India thinks today, Bengal may think tomorrow’, too kindly. Shubha Mudgal set The Oberoi Grand Ballroom alight on the second night; and a dynamic IT professional, an old friend who prefers to be anonymous, filled me in on facts about Manabendra Mukherjee, the State’s IT minister, who spends hours sipping coffee at Coffee Pai, discussing projects with his crack team till late into the night.

Judging by the tremendous response, Infocom is well on its way to becoming the country’s most talked-about IT conference and exhibition. Organised by Nasscom and BusinessWorld, it showcased 100 stalls and the viewpoints of a galaxy of politicians, journalists, IT professionals and corporate gurus. If the movement gathers momentum and Bengal stays focussed, here’s a prediction that may blow your minds: five years down the line, the cyber capital of the country could move from Hyderabad and Bangalore to Calcutta. Stranger things have happened in the IT world.

Thank you for the music

Reliable sources and an occasional night out at Dublin — Calcutta’s newest chill-out zone for young grown-ups and grown-ups who feel young — tell me that ITC Sonar Bangla only goes to bed when the cock crows on the Bypass. Then things get quiet. Silence, service and sophistication fill the air. Evening comes and it’s time to rock once again. So the cycle continues and gains momentum by the night.

Ten days ago, the cycle remained the same, only the time zone went awry. It was at nine o’clock on a weekday morning that Pritika Malhotra’s nimble fingers on the piano sprung the banquet hall to life 12 hours ahead of schedule. She was in concert and the silent, sophisticated crowd applauded — a gentle, genuine applause it was.

Pritika isn’t an experienced classical pianist on a world tour. She’s a nine-year old Calcuttan whose passion is Western classical music. A student of Akshar, Pritika, like many other children and teenagers, sent out a strong message that morning: Calcutta continues to cling to its love for music, every which way.

The event was the inaugural Young Talent Contest organised by the Calcutta School of Music, perhaps the country’s earliest and most distinguished home for Western classical music. Its story goes back to 1915, when Dr Philippe Sandre, a distinguished musician of the time, founded it to foster an interest in European music and motivate musicians to take their art to the public.

As music critic extraordinaire, Kishore Chatterjee, records: ‘Soon the Calcutta Symphony Orchestra was formed, the bands — Army, Police, Barrackpore and the Governor’s — merging into it’. Conducted by the likes of Gerald Neil Craig and Bernard Jacob, maestros like Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern have performed with the Orchestra.

Calcutta’s rich heritage of Western classical music has its roots in the fact that many professional teachers came over to impart music lessons to the wives of English civil servants. Bored and homesick, these ladies befriended instrument and teacher alike, and many a lovely afternoon was filled with music and mystique. Long before that, in 1781, the charismatic Nabakrishna Deb hosted ‘a dance to Western music’, to celebrate the birthday of one Miss Wrangham, the most beautiful Englishwoman in town at the time. In 1803, 50 years after Handel’s death, his oratorio Judas Maccabeus was performed here by church-goers and amateurs.

The popularity graph of Western classical music went up with the Wednesday Music Forums hosted by Indira Debi Choudhurani, the Sunday music sessions of Anil Gupta and the Tuesday Club of Dr Adi Gazder. And how can one ignore Satyajit Ray’s great romance with Western classical music' A founder-member of the Calcutta Gramophone Society, he was a serious listener who encouraged others to develop a ear for it.

Over the years, the Oxford Mission in Behala, under the baton of Father Matthiessen, has produced musicians by the score. As its mission continues, the Calcutta Foundation Orchestra, patronised by Shamlu Dudeja, takes on the mantle. Today, from Raj Bhavan to Taj Bengal, the CFO is pulling at the heartstrings as it adjusts keys from Tchaikovsky to Tagore.

Chief guest Kathy Hall (extreme right) with some of the winners of CSM’s Young Talent Contest

Like Ray and Matthiessen, there were others too whose umbilical music cord could never be detached from the magic of Mozart and the brilliance of Bach. As a child, I watched in awe the likes of Brian Conway and Caro Basil decipher every note of every classical piece played at quiz contests in the 70s. As an adult, last week, I watched in awe as young Calcuttans let the piano and their violins voice their love for classical music.

While Lee Alison Sibley, Anita Mehta and Rev. Noel Sen judged the ‘classical’ category, Gopa Ghosh and Ian Zachairah ranked the performers in the ‘popular’ category. A fitting finale saw Usha Uthup singing I Believe in Music with a one-time accompanist of hers, Cyrus Tata. Cyrus and Nondon Bagchi, like Garney Nyss, Carlton Kitto and Lew Hilt before them, are members of CSM’s ‘popular music’ faculty. Hitting the right classical chords with its 750 students, is a truly-skilled team of musicians led by the principal, Tanusree Deb.

With connoisseurs Dickoo Nowroji and Sam Medora heading the governing committee, one thing’s for sure — CSM will show the way as it trains the young in music, dance, elocution and communication skills. Let’s raise a toast to CSM and let the music play on!

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