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Style in perfect pitch

She is a young woman at 87 — warm, friendly and very passionate about her music. For not everyone has the zeal to sing 10 to 12 songs every day without fail. “I love to practise whenever I can. My family’s love and support keeps me going,” says singer Bijoya Chaudhuri at the launch of her CD, The incomparable Bijoya Chaudhuri: Songs of Tagore by Bihaan music at Weaver’s Studio Centre for the Arts on Friday.

Her youthfulness permeates her songs. One of the guests at the launch, professor Sibaji Bandopadhyay of Jadavpur University, said he was gripped by the mischief, richness and poetry in Bijoya’s rendering of Esho neepobone.

Her son, writer and musician Amit Chaudhuri, felt there was no excessive emotion in her mother’s singing. “She sings in pitch-perfect tunefulness and with dignity. In my mother’s rendering of Tagore songs, it is the music that comes to the foreground and the singer takes the backstage,” says the son, a self-confessed admirer of his mother’s music and cooking.

Amit accepts that he was used to excellence for so long that initially he was indifferent to it. “My mother’s songs were a discovery for me too. She was singing all the time and I never took her seriously initially. But now I realise how consistently excellent her singing is. Many artistes lose their touch after a while, but my mother held on to her style and charm,” he said at the launch.

The evening turned out to be a homely affair with many relations and friends turning up to support Bijoya. Her nephew Subha Prasad Nandi Majumdar shared anecdotes of his pishimoni’s fastidiousness when it comes to choosing the right tabla player even for family soirees.

In conversation with artiste Ratna Mitra, Bijoya traced her journey as a singer from Sylhet to England. “My school headmistress in Sylhet used to love me only for my singing. Otherwise I was quite a careless student,” laughs Bijoya. Hailing from a musical family, Bijoya made a name for herself quite early and was popularly known as “Amader Khuku” in Sylhet. In between training, public performances and song recordings, came marriage and travels to England and Mumbai.

Bijoya remembered the time when Hemanta Mukhopadhyay played the harmonium while she sang a bhajan at India House, London, on Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary. “I was the victim of politics and none of the NRIs wanted to play the harmonium for me. So I requested Hemanta, who was also performing as a guest, and he readily complied,” the veteran singer recollected.

There were other recollections too of her gurus and singing experiences. “Despite living outside Calcutta for long, credit goes to Bijoya for holding on to her music. She had followed her fiancé to England for love. That was a bold step in those times. The love in her heart finds reflection in her style of singing,” said Mitra.

Singing legend Dilip Roy, who had nicknamed Bijoya “Victoria”, felt tappa was her forte.

Conversations on music were peppered with some recorded songs of Bijoya in between. The first choice was the son’s favourite, Esho neepobone from a 1965 recording.

More Rabindrasangeets and a bhajan (Sadho man ka maan tyago) followed. The new CD has nine songs including Dariye achho tumi amar and Tumi chhere chile.

(Contributed by Chandreyee Ghose)