Mellow mood and music

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 10.04.05

What happens when Leonard Cohen and Norah Jones meet Rabindranath Tagore on a summery evening laced with nostalgia? There?s music, poetry and much more...

Perched on bar stools, singer performer Lee-Alison Sibley, her husband and US consul-general George N. Sibley, Rabindrasangeet singer Isheeta Ganguly and PR consultant Rita Bhimani gathered on the mezzanine floor of Oxford Bookstore to regale a roomful with melody and literature.

Titled Poets, Dreamers and All That Jazz, the Friday evening soiree was meant to be a celebration of East-West fusion, but the tinge of sadness was unmistakable as the Sibley couple bid goodbye to the city that has been their home for the past three years.

?Since we are leaving Calcutta very soon, I felt time was running out. Isheeta and I had planned to put up a show together long ago,? explained Lee, before calling the Suchitra Mitra disciple for a duet.

Tagore?s Aami chini go chini tomare and Pran chaye chokkhu na chaye were interesting departures with Lee?s jazz-trained timbre a fine contrast to Isheeta?s grainy texture. The singers were accompanied by Pulak Sarkar on keyboard and Sanjoy Das on guitar.

On her own, Isheeta enthralled listeners with a rendering of Norah Jones? Don?t know why and Tracy Chapman?s If you wait for me. Raised in the US, Isheeta trained under Suchitra Mitra during her trips to Calcutta and recorded her first Rabindrasangeet album at age 15. Later, she pursued a bachelor?s course in biomedical ethics at Brown University and bagged a management degree from Columbia University.

Lee meandered through her memories, crooning Leonard Cohen?s Suzanne. ?I had heard it in the Sixties and since then it has become my signature tune. I sing it wherever I go,? added the singer who had been to Boston University and Manhattan School of Music.

Her husband took the microphone for a spirited rendition of Paul Simon?s solo, Richard Cory, from the 1966 album Sounds of Silence. Thereafter, Lee distributed copies of the Robert Burns?s poem Auld Lang Syne, to the audience who joined in.

The songs were interspersed by some poetry-reading by Rita, who chose translations from Tagore?s Gitanjali, and two poems written by Lee ?when she was a young girl?. The evening steeped in nostalgia was hosted by the Park Street bookstore in association with Calcutta School of Music.

Reshmi Sengupta

In the queen?s memory

Woh jo hummein tummein qarar tha? As the strains of the mesmerising husky voice wafted around, the half-lit basement hall of The Kenilworth seemed transfixed in time. With a majlish of poetry, dance and music, Friday evening was dedicated to the ?queen of ghazals?, Begum Akhtar.

The show conceptualised by Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee had assigned unfamiliar tasks to some familiar faces. For instance, there was theatre veteran Dolly Basu reading out from Jigar Moradabadi and Daag Dehelvi?s poetry (the lyrics were originally sung by Begum Akhtar). Or, Odissi exponent Alokananda Roy dancing to Begum Akhtar, in kathak costume.

Actress Suchita Roy Chowdhury, known for her sensitive performance in Chokher Bali, shared with the audience anecdotes on the colourful singer: ?There would be an ice cream in one hand, and a cigarette in the other, just before a show. When people asked Begum if that wouldn?t spoil her voice, she would retort that one doesn?t sing from one?s voice.?

Born in Uttar Pradesh?s Faizabad in 1910, Begum Akhtar was groomed in khayal gayaki by Ustad Ata Hussain Khan of the Patiala gharana. At 30, she recorded her first thumri album. Ever since, she has enamoured generations of listeners with her plaintive notes.

?Despite leading a very colourful life, Begum was a loner at heart. She was a solitary figure on a quest for love, which she never found. There?s a pathos in her voice which made me call the show Siskiyan? the hiccups that follow our tears,? said Sujoy, who directed the show and also read a self-translation of Shakeel Badayuni and Sudarshan Fakir. Actress Sudipa Basu translated and recited the same passages in Bengali.

But the spirit of the show was Jayati, the middle-aged expert on Begum Akhtar who rarely performs on stage. Jayati learnt classical music from Bijoybala Ghosh Dastidar before training in ghazal under Ashish Chakraborty.

?Begum had sung this song very beautifully,? said she, in a gritty but grand voice reminding the audience of her inspiration, before breaking into the evergreen Aye mohabbat tere anjaam.

Among those who sat in the dark enjoying the evening were actor Arjun Chakraborty and wife Nilanjana, actress Rupa Ganguly, writers Bani Basu and Bharati Ray, artists Chitravanu Majumdar and Ganesh Pyne, and designer Sharbari Dutta.

Mahima mayhem: Wait until Friday

She?s been off the big screen for quite some time, but the Darjeeling beauty who passed through town this week romps back next Friday with Samar Khan?s Kuchh Meetha Ho Jaye. ?I had written the role keeping her in mind,? says Samar about ?good friend? Mahima. And there will be more of her in the coming months, with Tanuja Chandra?s Film Star and Sujoy Ghosh?s Home Delivery. That?s enough Mahima mayhem for sure!