The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Granny on tour with a poetic gift

“Kaler jatrar dhwani shunitey ki pao...” As the Down Bongaon local comes to a halt at Chandpara in course of its journey towards Calcutta, lines from Biday bid passengers farewell. Those who stay on are treated to some more gems from Tagore. It’s a daily treat that they have got used to. For Shivani Chakrabarty, a 62-year-old widow from Thakurnagar in North 24-Parganas, is a regular on trains in the Calcutta-Bongaon section.

The diminutive lady in white sari and thick glasses earns a living by ‘selling’ her recitations. And after five years of life on the railway tracks, Shivani’s voice has been heard far and wide. The minstrel, who has never performed on stage, was awarded at the Rajya Kavita Utsav held at Nandan in 2002. And on Sunday, in recognition of her unique struggle and to help her in the journey of life, Joy Goswami, Anjan Dutta and Moushumi Saha will perform at a Bongaon auditorium, at the initiative of Suchetana, a local organisation.

Shivani, popularly known as ‘Padya Thakuma’ (Poetry Granny) in this railway section, had started life in better shape. After passing her matriculation in 1958, she had begun her career as a private tutor. She got a respite from her financial responsibilities after marriage. But things again took a troublesome turn when her husband was murdered seven years ago. Left with a daughter and a son-in-law, who earned virtually nothing, Shivani again had to fend for her family.

“The idea of recitation came to me five years ago when I was on my way back from Calcutta. Some boys were singing in the compartment and asking passengers for help,” said Shivani.

But since she could not sing, she thought of an alternative. “I was good in recitation in school. To earn a living, I decided to hone the childhood talent. This was better than begging,” she added.

But she could not afford to buy poetry books. “I used to visit a local school teacher and memorised some short poems of Tagore in his collection. I started to recite them in train compartments. One day, a passenger gave me Rs 50 and I bought a copy of Sanchaita,” she recalled. The book cost Rs 70. “I skipped a meal to spend the extra amount,” she smiled.

Now armed with Nazrul’s Kandari Hushiyar, Jasimuddin’s Nakshi Kathar Math and Tagore’s collection, she is confident of carrying on with her poetic business for the rest of her life. “I want to make more people hear my recitation,” the lady said, eyes glimmering with hope behind the glasses.

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