| Songstresses of Bowbazar practise for New Year's eve. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Dil cheez kya hai, aap meri jaan lijiye, bas ek bar mera kaha maan lijiye...
An accomplished, melodious voice wafts across a maze of lanes lined with squalid walls. One of the narrow passages, after several twists and turns, ends at a narrow staircase leading to a well-decorated room.
There sits Ameerabai, surrounded by musicians, practising mujras under the watchful eye of her ustadji.
She is preparing for the year-end night, when a slice of Calcutta's past, long thought to be dead, will come alive in her room.
Far from the uproarious crowds of discotheques, a group of Calcuttans will gather in Ameerabai's room to welcome the New Year through songs of the soil.
'Ek baar aap aiye aur meri gana suniye, subha kab hogi pata nahi chalega (Listen to my songs once, you will not realise when dawn breaks),' lilts Ameerabai.
Welcome to Bowbazar 'the only patch in the city that is still clinging on to the majlishi culture. Around 40 baijis, living in three buildings on BB Ganguly Street, are gearing up for the year-end bash in their unique style.
'Nightclubs and hotels are attracting people by hiring dance girls from Mumbai and cabaret and belly dancers from abroad. We, too, can contribute to the year-end revelry, in a different way. Girls from Delhi, Agra and Varanasi are coming here with their troupes. See for yourself how they weave magic with their art,' says Raziabai.
Elaborating on the packages on offer, Anuradha, daughter of Munnibai, who acted with Uttam Kumar in Anthony Firingi, says: 'We are ready with a stock of ghazals, thumris, dadras and folk songs.'
Young performers are busy practising for December 31. 'I am going through a tight schedule. Both dance and vocal classes are on. I am taking lessons from ustadji in the morning and afternoon,' says Janobai.
Khushboo, a 24-year-old singer from Varanasi, explains what has led the girls to come up with this alternative year-end bash: 'The entire BB Ganguly Street used to be a music hub even two decades ago. A musical ambience ' a perfect mix of tabla bols, sarengi strains and ghoongru jingles ' used to pervade through the neighbourhood. People used to stand in queues to spend an hour here. Now, the scene has changed. Our culture is dying. But we still believe there are some people who love music and our show is for them.'