Bankim Ghosh, 1950’s, partition, East Pakistan, Esraj, tuition, multiple instrument player, 1982, All India Radio, Nikhil Banerjee, wishes, waiting
Samir Chatterjee speaks:
This is about the time when Calcutta was reshaping itself. Independence was in 1947, at the time East Pakistan was created, we know about the consequences of that- across the border area in the east and the west, what happened… Many of the Hindu musicians decided to leave Bangladesh and the nearest area they could think off was Calcutta. So they were all moving to Calcutta. One of such musicians was Pandit Bankim Ghosh. No one ever heard of him. He came from District Barishal and somehow landed in our house. He came into our house before I was born. I was born in 1955 so, I am talking about 52/53 – around that time he came in. As I started growing up, that was my initiation in music…. My mother became his disciple. What was his main instrument that you get to hear very rarely these days – Esraj. His father was a very renowned (musician), we found mention of his father’s name in some of the old books of music history. I did not get any chance to listen his father but I could imagine how his father was through his playing. I was nearly 3/ 4 years old and his routine was he would wake up late in the morning and then would clean himself up, had his tea and then listen to radio and then picked up and tuned a few instruments every now and then; earning his living by private tuition he had to play few other instruments and I was amazed to see he was able to pick up any instrument and played (flawlessly). We hear about Ustad Alauddin Khan Sahab was able to do that. At that time there (were something in the) few other people also less known who had same kind of ability. In front of my own eyes I saw him to play the Flute, Violin, Harmonium, Guitar. As Guitar came in he said,” Yes, I can play it, give me the instrument”. Gyan Babu also something like that, this kind of versatility we could see in him; but his (Pandit Bankim Ghosh) main instrument was still Esraj. And, — after the lunch, late lunch at 1.30 or 2’o clock, then he will take a short nap. And then go out for tuition at 3 or 4 o clock. He will dress up and leave and he would see me, he would like to see me every now and then throughout the course of the day. That was his waiting but my waiting started until he came back home. At that age I would be put to bed at 9 o’ clock and it was quite a struggle for me to pretend being asleep for 2 hours until he came at 11 p.m. My mother knew that I was not sleeping from the blinking of my eyes. She was sometimes come and scrolled me (saying that),” Now I am going to hit you , you have to go to school and still you are not sleeping”. She knew the reason. I would wait for him to come back home and knock on the door. Usually his wife opened the door….in the quiteness of the night , I could hear every sound and knew what he was doing . He would rinse his mouth with water and he would ask for the meal then lit up the bidi and he would pick up the Esraj.
I was just waiting for the first note, which inevitably put goose-bumps. Then for half an hour or 45 minutes or 1hour…all the duration he was practicing I would be in tears.
Later on, when I was teaching at Yale University one of my students, when I asked them to write article on their experience of music. One of my students wrote that……she started the first paragraph like this — the first sentence was this …..”no one ever cries in our family … we had deaths ..we had accidents ..we had tragedies….but we have never seen anyone cries in our family. Only the time I saw my father crying was when he listens music. So this is how…this is what … this is whom I owe my musical sensibility. “
If my music can ever…..you know I play Tabla… and I always had this question that; will I be limited in scope? In 1982 that was actually what put me restless and I picked up several locations to quit my job at All India Radio because in my book ‘ Music of India ‘ – in the front of the book I confessed that until my late youth I thought that music is divine, musicians are not. I didn’t have examples in front of mine or around me….to encourage me to really take music as a profession.
So in 1982 when I was touring with Pandit Nikhil Banerjee I gave it a second thought that, if this man can be in music, may be, I can give it a shot. I did not know him well enough yet, but I smelt something …. I see something there which I had not seen much around me. I won’t say that there were not any other person at all, there might have a been a few, but not enough to convince me to engage, to dedicate my entire life…. It’s my life, Sanjoy, I am talking about. And I had a clear vision of my life that how I want it to spent the years on this planet. So he gave me that impetus, that encouragement that and convinced me that I could give it a shot. In one of those 3 months I asked him directly this question, “Dada, you have your Sitar, and it seems to me that you can practically express any of your emotions through the Sitar. What am I going to do with the dead skins “. He was, he barely spoke, — he put some Pan-Parag into his mouth….and then just go quite….then one/two days had gone…..he knew that I’m not going to give up, I would bring up the question again and he was thinking….clearly thinking……3 days later when I asked him again during the lunch break …. just briefly said-” If you wish”.
Sanjoy Bandopadhyay: wow!
Samir Chatterjee: There are 2 things we are not ready to do with sincerity- wishing and waiting. When you wish something be careful because if you wish anybody or something continuously…… you may get answered….and imagine this was happened in 1982…..in 1996 when my son was putting up my website, he needed my bio data and I gave him it and he said,” give me your press comments”, so all the press comments I had saved I put it together with bullet points….. some of those were in Bengali , in Hindi or in English . Then once I organize them what comes out…..I read through it….I became alert of something……and then I realize that all of the reviews I had received so far were talking about the melodious aspect…… musical aspect of my Tabla.
Sanjoy Bandopadhyay: So you got that…
Samir Chatterjee: I was amazed! Not just convinced but I was amazed. I was not even aware….it was happening. So this is how things shape up naturally and that’s what I would say you not as an advice just a humble recommendation to all musicians of our next generation that keep you intend straight and honest.