Ash King, the London born-and-bred singer who was spotted by A.R. Rahman and then went on to belt out Bolly hits like Te amo (Dum Maaro Dum) and I love you (Bodyguard), is actually Ashutosh Ganguly. In Calcutta after his father passed away last month, the boy who has recently sung his first Bengali song, the theme love track for Pratim D. Gupta’s Paanch Adhyay, took Metro on a rediscovery of his roots. The city was home to his grandfather Brajendra Lal Ganguly, the first teacher of Indian classical music in Santiniketan appointed by Tagore himself. There’s more to the half-Bengali and half-Gujarati gospel singer-turned-Bolly voice — he belongs to the Ganguly family tree of Kishore Kumar and is also a great-grandson of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel!
First stop: Mahajati Sadan
Ash strolled into the heritage structure on CR Avenue to trace the portrait of his grandfather, Brajendra Lal Ganguly, that hung on its hallowed wall of fame amidst 500 portraits. “My grandfather was the right-hand man of Netaji. He was a freedom fighter and an Indian classical music teacher. He would sing Vande Mataram at various meetings and went to jail several times,” said Ash, his eyes glowing as he spotted a fading oil painting on the first floor (portrait above his left shoulder). “His birthday is on January 1, so on every New Year’s day there’s a puja at our ancestral house in Bangalpara followed by a visit to Mahajati Sadan. It was in 2010 that I came to Calcutta and spent three months discovering all this with my father (music composer and teacher Shankar Ganguly).…” said Ash, a bit upset with the missing nametag and fading portrait. “Ki korey restore kora jaay?” he asked the manager in his broken Bengali before urging them to hasten the process. “I can pay for the restoration,” he stressed.
Second stop: Brajendra Lal Ganguly Lane
Wiping the dust off the slab at the mouth of a lane adjacent to Bhabani cinema in Tollygunge, Ash explained: “This stretch, popularly known as Bangalpara, was named after my grandfather when he passed away.” He moved swiftly forward to point out the community hall named after his grandfather too, just a few steps away.
Third Stop: Ancestral house
Winding his way through one of the bylanes off BL Ganguly Lane, he reached his destination and pushed opened the iron gate leading to an old house. “The Maharaja of Natore, pleased with my grandfather, who would teach and practise music in his court, gifted this piece of land to him where our ancestral house still stands,” said Ash. Standing in the front yard, holding up photographs of his grandparents, he added: “My grandfather was born in 1870 and died in the 1930s. This is where his family of eight sons and three daughters lived, including my Dad.... Rabindranath Tagore would often visit this house because my grandfather had been appointed by Tagore himself as the first teacher of Indian classical music in Visva-Bharati. He would also write the notations to many of Tagore’s songs.” A cousin, who lives in the house, pointed out how the song Tumi kemon korey gaan koro hey guni was dedicated by Tagore to Brajendra Lal.
Fourth stop: Haimanti Shukla’s house
“Ashu!” exclaimed singer Haimanti Shukla’s musical aides as he walked into her apartment in Golf Green. “Ashu-r koto naam hoyechhe Bollywood-e jano tomra (Do you know how famous he is in Bollywood?) You must sing them your hit song,” beamed a proud “pishi”, giving Ash an affectionate hug. “Although we’re not blood relations, she has been the closest to my family. Haimanti pishi would stay with us on her visits to London and as a kid I used to listen to her songs played at home all the time. Whenever I’m down I feel happy listening to her songs. The last time I was here she got me a sherwani which I think I’ll wear when I get married!” It was time for a fresh revelation as his mother Nalini (Patel) Ganguly, staying with Haimanti, stepped in. Ash: “Mum, how exactly are we related to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel?” Nalini: “He was my Dad’s Dad…my Dadaji.” Ash: “What! My great grandfather?”
Nalini: “Yes.” Ash: “I knew that there was some connection but now that I know the facts it just adds more to the book and film I intend making someday on my family history. So my next venture will be to invade Gujarat after this!”
Text: Mohua Das. Pictures: Pabitra Das