Sahana Bajpaie has lived all over the world — but to define the idea of home, she refers to the Bangladeshi vocabulary. “In Bangladesh, they have two words — bari and basa. Bari is where you were born or where your parents have lived. And basa is where you have built a home or have migrated to. If you ask me what Santiniketan is, it is my bari,” she tells us.
The artiste, who was born and raised in Santiniketan and left for Bangladesh at 21, is on the verge of attaining a PhD in music. Her debut album, Notun Kore Pabo Bole (2007), made waves with its contemporary sound and at her Hard Rock Cafe gig last week, Sahana belted out some groovy alt-rock notes with folk melodies.
“If you ask me, my journey into music has been natural. I have perceived my music with complete honesty and I find no fakery in my craft,” Sahana says.
In an exclusive interview with My Kolkata, the musician shares some candid perspectives on art, the artiste and more:
“I am an accidental singer”
My Kolkata: The first question has to be, what is music to Sahana Bajpaie?
Sahana Bajpaie: I guess it’s my life. And, anything I do, anything I am, whatever I am — it’s all because of music. So, it’s my soulmate, really. I can’t live without music.
A natural second question – how do you perceive your own songs?
I am an accidental singer… I never wanted to become a singer. I call myself a music practitioner because I did not want to call myself a singer. I always wanted to be an academic, I always wanted to write, to teach. I loved dancing and used to dance and sing a lot as a child.
As a teenager, I found my love for music as a whole — because I have a very musical family. My dad and mum were great listeners and my dad actually was a really good singer (at home, he never performed). He played the violin and we listened for hours.
I think music is something so personal. I will not sing anything that I don’t connect with. Every music practitioner has certain limitations and certain strengths. So, I try to be very honest with my work, I pour myself into singing. Since I have pursued it as a profession, I will have to sing songs that I probably don’t connect with, at times. But, for the time being, when I am recording it or singing it, I try to connect as much as possible because I think that is the only way to deliver music of any kind.
“Rabindranath is in everyday life.”
How would you define Rabindranath Tagore’s presence in your life and consciousness?
I will define him as a friend whose hand I can hold whenever I want to — haat baralei bandhu (closest friend). I was brought up in Santiniketan, and Rabindranath is everywhere over here. He is so palpable, in poetry, in performances, in theatre, in songs — everything is about Rabindranath in Santiniketan…
So, while we did not have a choice, a lot of us did not want a choice in this respect because we found a friend in him — be it in his works or his songs. I used to read the Geetabitan so frequently. I think my relationship with Rabindranath has left a mark in everything, starting from ghor sajano (decorating home) to my personal philosophies — everything has been ingrained in me because I have been studying here since I was five years old. I was learning music and painting — our school followed an all-inclusive curriculum. So, he was there every day. He is more than a god, he is a best friend.
London, Santiniketan, Kolkata…what is homecoming to you?
Sahana Bajpaie: I have made homes in quite a few cities. For me, home is somewhere you can go back to, where it smells and feels familiar. Homecoming to me is coming to Santiniketan, visiting London or Dhaka, because homecoming is where people remember you and they smile at you — that’s home for me.
Did ‘E parabase rabe ke’ change your idea of home?
Sahana Bajpaie: Yes, it did. You never realise how homesick you are until you leave home. I am a perennially homesick person. I left home (Santiniketan) for Bangladesh when I was 21. I realised no matter where I live, I have to come back to Santiniketan, that’s where everything is. Especially after both of my parents passed away, I think my idea of homecoming has become even stronger, even more palpable.
“I’m still grieving for my late parents… I don’t want negativity or toxicity around me.”
If you could time-travel to your childhood, what would be your fondest memory?
My fondest memory from my childhood, in my Santiniketan home, would be me singing with my father while sitting on the verandah, amidst a load shedding — it’s a memory I constantly come back to. A candle or two, or a hurricane around us, and Baba and I, singing one song after the other. It’s my fondest memory.
On social media and in life, the way you write or the photographs you share — show an affectionate and warm person. How do you see relationships in general?
Sahana Bajpaie: My mum was a very warm and affectionate human being and I think I got this from her. I think both of my parents laid out this rule that you have to be good to people who are good to you. I think I get the warmth from my mum mostly.
I have always been a friendly person. Not that I have too many friends, but the friends I have, I share a very sweet and warm relationship with them. I have even had a few unsavoury experiences because of my warmth. There have been times when I have been nice to people and they haven’t.
But I have also received immense love from others. I strongly believe that manusher proti biswas harano paap (losing faith in people is a sin).
Joydebda (poet Joydeb Basu) who used to study here (in Santiniketan) once wrote, “Je bhasha je bojhe tar sathe sei bhasha bolo” (talk to a person in a language they would understand). And I think that is very important. I try to understand what the person on the opposite end is going through. I eject myself from a situation only after I’ve offered several chances.
I was left with quite a lot of grief after my parents’ passing. I don’t want negativity or toxicity around me.
How has your music journey been?
I received my first music lessons from my father, and my first birthday gift was a portable radio because my dad wanted me to listen to more music. I was not thrown into a competitive music circuit. My education is in English and South Asian Studies and now I am pursuing PhD in music. My journey, to me, is a very natural one.
You are also a fashion icon because of the way you dress and carry yourself…
I have no clue about this! I have loved wearing saris since I was a child.
What are you planning next?
Samantak (Sinha) and I are conceptualising an album on Rabindranth’er gaan. It’s quite personal and it is going to come out on our YouTube and audio platforms. There’s an offer or two and I have a few gigs coming up.
A quick rapid fire
If Bhooter Raja gives you 5 boons, what would you want?
I would ask for my parents back, I want to live in my parents’ house in Santiniketan forever, I want a lot of plants in my garden — big krishnachura trees, I would like to travel quite more to know my country better, and I would want my daughter Rohini to grow up to be a really good human being.
Five favourite songs sung by you?
Amar haat bandhibi, O je mane na mana, Tomra ja bolo tai bolo, Premey jwol hoye jao gole, Malaya batashe
Your favourite singers?
Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Kishore Kumar, Debabrata Biswas, Samantak Sinha
All-time favourite songs by other artists?
Graceland, Paul Simon; Don’t think twice, Bob Dylan; Kangalpona by Kabir Suman; Roopey tomay by Samantak and Akash bhora by Debabrata Biswas