Pandit Abhijit Banerjee is a renowned Tabla player of Kolkata. He is a prime disciple of Pandit Jnan Prakash Ghosh. He has also learn Vocal from Pandit Ajay Chakraborty
1982, Chitresh Das, Sur Chhandam, Solo performance, Jnan Prakash Ghosh, Buddhadev Dasgupta, Kumar Mukherjee, Jodhpur Park, Nikhil Banerjee, Ravi Shankar, Amlan Dasgupta, Hiren Roy, Bacchuda, All India Radio, Indira di, Programme, Organiser, Sitar, Jhaptala, Rupak, Teen Tala, Accompany , Riyaz, Subrata Roy Chowdhury, Sitar player
There was an organisation called ‘Surchhandam’ and famous dancer Sri Chitresh Das and his friends were associated in this organisation. The year was 1982. Chitreshda and his friends knew me and they gave me an opportunity to play a solo there. This was my first major solo after I started learning from my Guruji Jnanprakash Ghosh and where personalities like Budhhadeb Dasgupta, Kumar Mukherjee were present.
Where was this place?
It was in Jodhpur Park. There was a person named Kalyanbabu and his house was the venue. Then it was a very popular programme.‘Surchhandam’ was the organiser and they did a big programme annually where Pt. Ravishankarji, Pt Nikhil Banerjee used to perform. We didn’t get a chance to perform at the annual programme but I heard Pt. Nikhil Banerjee there. I was telling you about my introduction to Nikhil Banerjee. The only reason I am narrating this is to show how great, how honest persons these people were. So, I had played this solo. Amlan Dasgupta, one of my professors, I mean who I was later acquainted with as a professor when I was studying English, had come to the performance. He was a great fan of table. He was accompanied by Bachhuda, the son of Hiren Roy, Sitar maker. This man, Bachhuda, was a student of Pt. Nikhil Banerjee and he told Pt. Nikhil Banerjee “I know a boy (me) who plays tabla well”.
I was not aware of all these, I had performed, and I still remember had got paid 100 rupees for it. I think my mother has still preserved that 100 rupees, this was the first time I received a payment for playing tabla. Except for All India Radio where Indiradi used to pay 5 rupees as a child artist. I got this money at an important juncture of my life, as my father was not in a financially good position. We had been financially quite well-off before, but at that moment father was without a job. That 100 rupees was a considerable sum for me and I asked my mother to use it to meet expenses. However, father told mother that it was a blessing and this small amount would not be of much good to serve the interests of the family. So, he told my mother to preserve it well.
Anyway, I went to college, after I met Amlan Dasgupta in the programme, the year was 1982. I was reading +12 in college and Bachhuda told Pt. Nikhil Banerjee about me. The next day I returned from college in the evening and my mother informed me that Nikhil Banerjee had called. I nonchalantly asked who Nikhil Banerjee?
Mother answered the sitar maestro Nikhil Banerjee. I was quite confident that it was not that Nikhil Banerjee, you heard it wrong, I told my mother. But she told me no, he gave me this number and asked you to call him. I told her ok, and after some supper I called on this given number.There was no mobile phone then. I forgot the number, 464 or something, a six or seven-digit number. I lived in Howrah then, and I dialled the phone. He picked up the phone himself, I did not recognise his voice, I told him that I want to talk to Nikhil Banerjee. I was quite sure that it was some other Nikhil Banerjee, perhaps some organiser who can give me some programme.
But instead, he said, ‘Yes, I am Nikhil Banerjee speaking, and I heard you play table well. Do you read in college?’ I answered that yes, I was reading in college. I was still so naïve, I could not understand. So he told me simply that ‘I play a little bit of Sitar, would you play with me? Come in the morning, we could rehearse from 9 to 11 then you can attend the college. You can come earlier if you want to, but remember you must continue your study, must attend college regularly.’ It was still unbelievable, I stuttered, ‘Yes yes, I mean’. He again confirmed that he played a little bit of sitar. The truth sank in, I started shaking all over, this was the legend Nikhil Banerjee, so easy-going, so conversational.
Anyway, I went to his residence next morning. I was hearing the sitar while entering, it was unbelievable. I am telling you that it was a prime experience of my life, the long years that I had spent with him, it was priceless. He was playing his instrument on the second floor of the house but the whole house was humming with the beautiful sound. It was one of the best sitar of India. Iwas listening to it while entering, it was mesmerising. This first encounter with the maestro was so awe-inspiring to me, I cannot express fully in words. My eyes always moisten while recounting this experience. He was a very reserved person, not much friends were there.I went to the second floor, he practised with me. I can remember, he played three talas Jha?pta?la, Rupak and lastly Tinta?la.
Then he remembered and asked me to go immediately, ‘You shouldn’t ignore your studies, go now, if you have time, come sometimes.’ I was like, ‘I would come every day, if you wish.’ He said, ‘No, you have to study first’. Then he chitchatted about my classes, class timings etc. What I am saying here, the whole story is about the gentle nature of this great man. This top-class person, he telephoned me himself, getting my phone no.and so on. In this age I have never heard a person of his calibre doing such things. I have never asked him about how he had gotten my number. No, wait I asked him about it much later. He got it from Subrata Roychoudhury, who also played Sitar. I used to practise with Subratakaku. He was so interested that he called Subratakaku then he called me. Nowadays everyone does these things through their secretaries. But he telephoned me himself and not only that, he picked up the phone himself when I called him back. It was a unique experience and I think today’s generation would never be part of such experience. Such a grand personality with so meek behaviour is really unique and it was a very important event of my life too.