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Upendrakishore’s music

Caleidoscope
Upendrakishore Raychaudhuri and the cover of Bismritir Sangeetshilpi K. Mallik

Anniversaries of public figures — either birth or death — are considered the ideal time for publishing books on their contribution to society. Sutradhar has recently published two slim volumes — the first on the 150th birth anniversary of that multi-faceted genius, Upendrakishore Raychaudhuri, and the second on the 125th birth anniversary of the once-well-known singer K. Mallik, who is almost forgotten today, although he can be easily heard on YouTube.

The first is titled Bharatiya Sangeet by Upendrakishore himself, the current edition being edited by Devajit Bandyopadhyay, and the second, Bismritir Sangeetshilpi K. Mallik by Giridhari Sarkar. As is well known, Upendrakishore was a painter, writer (for children in particular), musician, and an expert in printing technology. He also wrote several treatises on Indian music and musical instruments such as the violin and the harmonium. He was an autodidact and he could play both instruments with panache, and composed several Brahmasangeet. Bharatiya Sangeet is all about the origin of Indian music both classical and the more home-grown varieties. He began with the myths of their origin but took the more far-fetched tales associated with them with a pinch of salt, being of a scientific bent of mind.

Upendrakishore had written a fascinating essay titled Sangeet O Chitravidya or “Music and the art of painting” on the chromatic values of sol-fa, and analysed it in a scientific manner. This essay is added to this volume. There is also a CD with a rendering of one of his compositions, Jago Purabasi. But one wonders if the Brahmo Upendrakishore would have appreciated the cover showing a bare-breasted woman singing lustily.

The real name of K. Mallik, born in a poor family in a village in Burdwan, was Munsi Muhammad Kasem. But since his renderings of hymns to Hindu gods and goddesses became such a runaway hit, his name had to be changed. Bismritir Sangeetshilpi K. Mallik, not more than 52 pages, records his meteoric rise as a singer, who charged more than most for his recordings, and his last days in his village. He could sing anything from Shyamasangeet, Nazrulgeeti, Atulprasad and Rabindrasangeet to Islamic songs, when he reverted to his actual name, and held his own at a time when there were so many great singers. Yet he never forgot his humble beginnings and continued to work in a leather merchant’s establishment where he began his career.

Rabindranath was not pleased with K. Mallik’s rendering of Amar matha nato kore dao he tomar but the singer refused to make any changes. Later, the poet got the song recorded by Dinendranath Tagore, but it was not as popular as K. Mallik’s. This book should have been tightly edited, although that would have reduced the number of pages even further.

Poems from Singapore

A relationship forged at a time when Soumitra Chatterjee had not yet become Ray’s Apu culminated in an album this monsoon. Titled Ananya, the album is a recitation of poetry written by a Calcuttan now living in Singapore, Debjani Mitra. At the album’s launch at Oxford Bookstore on Friday, Chatterjee travelled down memory lane. “Debjani’s father Parthapratim was a cousin of my closest friend, Ashok Palit. Partha used to come see my plays, became an ardent admirer of my work and took me to his native place Durgapur many times to perform,” recalled Chatterjee.

(From left) Bratati Bandyopadhyay, Kalyan Sen Barat, Soumitra Chatterjee and Kajal Sur at the launch with Debjani Mitra. Picture by Bhubaneswarananda Halder

The album, which was released in end-June in Singapore, has 15 poems. While Debjani has recited the first, on Calcutta, herself, Chatterjee has done four. The remaining 10 have been recited by Bratati Bandyopadhyay. “I started recitation as a four-year-old, inspired by my father. He had founded the Durgapur chapter of Abritti Parishad,” said the young poet. The Jadavpur University economics student has a company called Zoie in Singapore, which promotes cross-cultural exchanges. “But the writing bug never left me,” she smiled.

Bratati spoke of the dominant themes in Debjani’s verses — the woman in many avatars, her pain, her deprivations. “The poems also touch upon the insecurity women face today. I was especially touched by the title poem on a girl who spent her life thanklessly supporting her family and finally found solace in a foundling abandoned in a garbage vat.”

Also present at the launch were Kalyan Sen Barat, who has done the background score, and Kajal Sur, the narrator.

Contributed by Soumitra Das and Sudeshna Banerjee