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Rush for Rabindranath

(From top) Sriradha Bandyopadhyay, Arjun Chakraborty and Swagatalaxmi Dasgupta, Shovan Sundar Bosu, Sounak Chattopadhyay and Satinath Mukherjee. (Saradindu Chaudhury)

Big-ticket artistes, who perform at reputed venues like Jorasanko and Rabindra Sadan, came down to Salt Lake on Rabindra Jayanti, but given the packed schedule they had on that day they were in a hurry to leave from the moment they reached.

There were at least four Rabindra Jayanti events in the township itself, starring the biggest names in the music industry. Most of these artistes performed one or two items and beat a quick retreat to attend the other shows they had committed to. While the audience relished the bouquet of so many performers the artistes themselves were weather-beaten and exhausted.

Coming or going?

“Artistes on Rabindra Jayanti share the fate of purohits on Saraswati puja,” joked elocutionist Jagannath Basu, who along with wife Urmimala, had come to Central Park to perform. They were booked for 12 events that day, even after declining two or three. “Our first show was at 6.30am but I don’t know what time will be our last.”

Singer Chitralekha Chowdhury had 10 shows, after declining seven. “I also declined two or three events where they wanted to felicitate me,” said the lady at the Central Park event, organised jointly by the municipality and township-based cultural group Sreenandana. Chowdhury would go on to perform at the EZCC event too, organised by Bidhannagar Sanskriti Angan.

As the day went on, many artistes didn’t know if they were coming or going. “I’m in Salt Lake now, will travel the whole city and come back to Salt Lake for another show at night,” elocutionist Shovan Sundar Bosu said.

Swagalxami Dasgupta had 20 shows and Srabana Bhattacharya was getting calls from HA Block Residents’ Forum even as she waited to sing at Central Park. “I’ve got so late that the HA Block organisers thought I had forgotten about their show!” she said, before rushing off.

Siblings Manoj and Manisha Murli Nair reached the Central Park venue at noon, only to find eight more artistes waiting to perform before them. They contemplated making a quick visit to the EZCC event and coming back but stayed back on request from the organisers.

Sriradha Bandyopadhyay not only zig-zagged around Calcutta but even wove in Arambagh into her itinerary. “I have to perform at Arambagh and return to Calcutta to perform here,” said the half-running lady whose SUV was driven up next to the Central Park stage even as she sang the last stanza of Ami tomari songe bendhechhi. She hopped in and the car disappeared in seconds.

At open-air venues, the heat was unbearable. The tabla player at Central Park was seen fanning himself with his handkerchief in between artistes and once Promita Mullick and son-in-law Aniruddha Ghoshal got off stage, a withered-looking Mullick was heard telling Ghoshal: “I can’t bear it anymore, the heat is killing. I’m going home.”

Ghoshal had to calm her down. Mullick was in Delhi till a few hours ago. “She landed at the airport and headed straight to Jorasanko. We’ve only managed to cover two shows so far. We have to get going.” Perhaps symbolically, Ghoshal sung the upbeat Choli go and tried to leave immediately but the audience held him back for one more.

Chauffeured around

The men who drive these artistes around had an equally hectic day. “It’s going to be a long day but it’s my privilege to drive such a talented couple,” said Dilip Guha, who is Jagannath and Urmimala Basu’s driver. “I’ve told my family not to wait for me at dinner.”

The chauffeurs also help chalk out routes. Says singer Shreya Guhathakurta: “I’m lucky that my driver has a keen sense of direction. I tell him the venues and he suggests a route map,” she smiles.

Elocutionist Rokeya Roy drove into EZCC and those like Sutapa Bandyopodhyay had hired cars. “I normally drive myself around, but today would have been too hectic,” says Bandyopodhyay.

Tiffin time

For those who came to sing to the township lunch was the last thing on their minds. “I didn’t even have breakfast,” smiled Iman Chakraborty wryly at Central Park. “If there’s time I’ll grab a bite at Flury’s before my Rabindra Sadan show.”

The secret to Rokeya Roy’s energy was a glass of chhatu sherbet in the morning. “I avoid tea and snacks. I’ll go home for lunch before setting off for the second half of the day.” Some, like Roy, had worked out their schedule so they could visit home for lunch. Sounak Chattopadhyay’s Patuli home was off-route. “But I simply must go home in the afternoon — for lunch and a shower.”

Most artistes resorted to lunching out of the food packets handed out by organisers. The one at Central Park was quite filling what with chips, cream biscuits, cake, a chocolate bar and a mango drink packed in. “But I’m on a diet! I can’t eat these,” lamented Sutapa Bandyopodhyay. “I don’t know what I’ll do for lunch.”

Tea was their lifeblood. Santanu Roy Choudhury had sipped 15 cups of tea before taking stage at EZCC and singing Tagore tunes set to Hindi lyrics. Elocutionist Partho Ghosh felt he would need 50 cups to last the whole day.

Fan club

The artistes unanimously said Rabindra Jayanti was the busiest day of their calendar and that despite the rush they loved it. “I don’t get as excited on my own birthday as I do on Rabindranath’s,” smiled Sounak Chattopadhyay.

It is also a day they get to interact with so many fans. Singer Soumik Pal could only blush as an elderly lady rushed to him and said: “You have the voice of Hemanta Mukherjee and the looks of Uttam Kumar.”

Anjulekha Guha, an avid Rabindrasangeet lover, is a resident of Naktala but she has been coming down to her sister’s flat in Karunamoyee a day before Rabindra Jayanti for years. “I love watching my favourite artistes perform. I shall return to Naktala tomorrow,” Guha said.

“I’m getting so many bouquets from these events that my house will be full tomorrow. But these are hard-earned,” smiled Kamalini Mukherji, signing an autograph for a teenager. No wonder Shovan Sundar Bosu’s R-day wish is that he remain this busy year after year.


Song, interrupted

Councillors and organisers seated on the stage itself, to the right of the performers at Central Park. Every time a political big shot reached, he was felicitated between songs

The audience at Central Park was confused as to why councillors were seated on stage as the artistes performed. “It was distracting. While we tried to watch the musicians the councillors were walking about the stage, adjusting the fans to face themselves and gesturing at the deputies off stage,” said an irritated Rama Prasad Ray of AK Block at 7.30am. He was stomping out of the venue in search of better ambience at EZCC.

Ratna Mitra of Digantika, a listener at Central Park, felt the flow of music getting disrupted every time an important guest arrived and was felicitated in between songs. “I haven’t come here to see ministers and MLAs,” said Mitra. “After a song finishes I want it to linger in my mind. I couldn’t do that here. It would have still made sense if some musician was felicitated. I felt like I’ve come to a political rally.”

Wrong choices

The Salt Lake audience is tough to please and being a good singer is as important as choosing the right song. “Why do these singers not perform something uncommon? I’m tired of hearing Eki labanye,” said a bored-looking lady as Santanu Roy Choudhury started off. She must have got even more annoyed when both Srabana Bhattacharya and Sutapa Chaudhury sang Amar khola hawa.

The sweating and hungry audience wanted to hear every artiste perform but they also wanted to go home quickly. “Why did she have to sing Krishnakali ami tarei boli? It’s such a long song. I want to hear everyone before leaving,” the same lady grumbled towards the end of show when Shreya Guhathakurta took stage.