Reciting for a living

Read more below

  • Published 17.01.14

When asked to recite a poem of his choice, Chinmoy Nandi is most likely to recite Rabindranath Tagore’s Pronam or Jibanananda Das’s Sindhu Saras. These two works are close to his heart and Nandi can easily recite from memory. When most others take up elocution as a hobby, Nandi is an exception, he makes it his profession. “This is the only thing that I can do well, so I chose to take this up as a full time profession,” said Nandi. He earns his livelihood by teaching elocution to youngsters and even older people who love the art but lack the skill for it. He also runs an elocution group jointly with elocutionist Utpal Kundu named Chhandaneer, which was the first of its kind in Howrah.

People who knew Chinmoy since childhood found it strange that he was a full time elocutionist. For he was a keen football player, who represented his school, Santragachhi Kedarnath Institution. “Although I played a lot of football at that time, I also attended cultural programmes at school and at other places in Howrah. I was selected to recite poetry at school programmes a few times,” said Chinmoy. However, his interest in poetry grew after his first performance at Howrah Seba Sangha in 1968. “I took part in a recitation competition at the club that year. Many elocutionists from Calcutta and other places had attended the programme and it was by chance that I won the prize. One of the competitors had missed out an entire stanza which is why I won it. I remember reciting Tagore’s Urbashi at that competition,” said Nandi. The prize motivated Chinmoy to learn recitation and that is when he started taking lessons from Srijan Rudra at Ramrajatala.

Chhandaneer was formed in 1971, when Utpal Kundu and Chinmoy felt the need to revive recitation. “We would see people taking less interest in poetry and recitation and so started the first recitation group in Calcutta. We approached organisations and clubs to give us a chance to perform at their cultural programmes. While Utpal looked into teaching and rehearsals, I was in charge of coordination of the group. At that time, I devoted a lot of time to the group,” said Chinmoy.

In 1975, Chhandaneer launched its journal by the same name. It was distributed in the Rabindra Sadan area. “While we were concentrating on teaching recitation, many people advised us to do more programmes, just to popularise our group. From 1976-77, we had heavy bookings for performing in office clubs and other cultural events,” said Chinmoy. In the 1980s, Chinmoy introduced the concept of reciting the rhymes of Sahaj Path. He trained the youngsters at Chhandaneer in this. In 2006, he launched his first recitation album along with Tapashi Dey, on Tagore’s poems on monsoon.

Not just elocution, Chinmoy has a lot of creative ideas which never found expression. “I wanted to experiment with poetry. I would recite works of all poets, both traditional and modern. Along with that I had wanted to do creative work like drawing a link between poetry with other forms of art like painting and music. However, I never got the opportunity to do so,” said Chinmoy.

Running a family by only teaching recitation is a tough task for Chinmoy. “I have 30 students whom I teach privately. Otherwise, I have been teaching recitation at Phanindranath Kindergarten school in central Howrah since 1989. Apart from teaching, I am also a regular artiste at Bangla Akademi and at Rabindra Sadan. I am still associated with Chhandaneer,” said Chinmoy. But Nandi regrets losing chances. “Unlike the other arts, there is no grading system for elocutionists in our state. Few get an opportunity to reach the right place and that too, after struggling for many years,” he laments.

More about Chinmoy

  • DoB: March 1, 1948
  • Born in: Howrah
  • Family: Wife, daughter, brother
  • Education: B Com
  • Loves: Music
  • Hates: Politics