How Padma awardee Ajoy Chakrabarty pursued music against odds

Beyond the obvious: Ajoy Chakrabarty

Beyond the obvious: Ajoy Chakrabarty  

As his biography “Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty – seeker of the music within” hits the stands, Padma Bhushan Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty talks about his eventful musical journey

When it comes to the Padma Awards in classical music, Bengal, widely accepted as the land of the world renowned intellectuals and artists, hasn’t received its due. Even the ardent admirers of musicians have been of the opinion that in the arena of khayal singing, this undisputed land of music lags behind miserably. Till 2019, there was no Bengali khayal exponent to stake a claim on even a Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award, till the arrival of Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty in the hallowed zone this Republic Day.

Chakrabarty, an extremely well-read musician candidly answers, “Because the problem lies here. For centuries, Bengal nursed music in a way that no musician could do without offering his/her art here. The local musicians such as Tarapada Chakraborty, Prasun Banerjee, Sukhendu Goswami, Meera Banerjee, Malabika Kanan, and several other legends, therefore, hardly ventured out of Bengal. Also, as was the trend, Hindi belt and its language and dialects bore little or no importance for them. This blocked the authentic aroma of khayal. In comparison, musicians who cared to embrace the language and tradition blossomed on the national level.”

How Padma awardee Ajoy Chakrabarty pursued music against odds

Going by his new biography, “Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty – seeker of the music within” (authored by Shyam Banerji and published by Niyogi Books), he does not live the tradition either! When reminded of it, he simply admits, “True. I came from a very humble background but my father, my first guru, never allowed me to be complacent. He always wanted to be a vocalist himself but his traditionalist father did not allow him to accept the stipend and offer of learning music from Ustad Inayet Khan, the then court musician of Gouripur. So, he ran away from home, accepted a life of relentless struggle and reared me by pumping passion for music with a fixed goal to make it real big.”

The biography, like a jod-raga, runs in double streams of stirring soliloquies and deferential descriptions. According to one such narrative, “When Ajit (Chakrabarty) heard Ajoy sing for the first time…he remembered that Premananda Tirthaswami Maharaj had prophesied that his son would one day become a very well-known singer.” A true believer, Ajit decided that come what may, he will ensure this; and he did!

Unconditional love

Sitting in the music room of his sprawling official bungalow within the ITC SRA’s emerald draped campus, Chakrabarty recalls, “Driven by sheer poverty, I was lured by several distracting offers, but Baba stood his ground like a rock. Ironically, my first guru Pannalal Samanta led me to his teacher Kanaidas Bairagi, who in turn took me to his Guru, Jnan Prakash Ghosh! All of them drenched me with their unconditional love-driven music of diverse genres and I simply soaked in what I received. For this, Baba encouraged me to develop my own way of writing notations. Then, one day, Guruji took me to Ustad Munawwar Ali Khansaheb.”

This started his tryst with a Gharana, and a powerful one like Patiala! Soon after a chance meeting with Pandit Vijay Kichlu, the founder-director of the newborn Sangeet Research Academy, facilitated his entry into the world of homogeneous music fraternity of Hindustani classical music wherein ‘Hindustani’, with its language and culture, reigned supreme and in full glory.

A ‘princely’ scholarship beyond his imagination, concert platforms, honorariums and admirations, and ensuing marriage, this was a huge turning point that placed him beyond national boundaries. It sounds like a fairy tale! “But to retain the story in my favour, I had to work harder and harder,” he says.

Every resident of the SRA knows about his ‘whole night riyaaz’ sessions. What urged him to do so for years? The ringing truthfulness of his tone is touching, when he admits, “I was music hungry. SRA offered me a feast that forced me to egg on. Moreover, here I got the opportunity to observe such masters such as Latafat Hussain Khan, Hirabai Barodekar, Nivruttibua Sarnaik, Nissar Hussain Khan; and saw the fruition of a young genius like Rashid (Khan). Such was his impact that aami abhibhuto hotaam (I used to get dazed). There were many instances when I was not considered but musicians from the Hindi belt were. I got hurt but at the same time I tried to analyse the reason?”

New vistas

Such experiences sharpened his awareness and hunger for more knowledge, he says. “I tried the way Ustad Amir Khan melodically meditated on stage and the way his music emanated peace is our very own treasure. Indian music is known the world over for its intrinsic spiritualism. It demands nishtha (dedication), chintan (reflection), parishram (toil) and aahuti (surrender). These have no colours of isms.”

He maintains despite being handed down from generation to generation, all this was never explained to them. “Because earlier taking orders from elders and teachers was the norm and asking question was a taboo. But today, young students come up with every conceivable question and this opens up new vistas of analysis for a passionate teacher like me. Once a student asked me, ‘what is a raga?’ and refused to accept the traditional ‘ranjayate iti’. To satiate his quest, I had to write a definition logically and scientifically.”

Connectivity of notes

Chakrabarty is a great guru in the real sense who teaches by giving practical examples, based on his own experiences at the feet of numerous gurus. A persistent ‘jijnaasu’ (learner), he believes in the principle of ‘Guru-tattva’. Focused on his vision of educating the keen students the secrets of Indian music-making, he shares a few points but not before clarifying that unlike Western music, notations cannot describe the Indian science of connectivity of notes which convert them into swaras.

“Science jekhane shesh shekhane philosophy shuru (where science ends, philosophy begins),” he says. “The touch notes connect and add life to swaras that are movable and living. To make a child understand this philosophy, one must explain that inhaling air is life, exhaling is music. So, respect the air and practise pranayama with sur. This helps build a steady voice. Sustaining long notes is India’s very own. This not only brings the listeners in the musician’s canoe of melody but also allows them to settle down peacefully.”

Blend of Carnatic and Hindustani

Another important subject, he adds, is learning the musical alphabets or position of notes to write the story of a raga.

“Though vivisection of art is disfiguration of beauty, this exercise helps understand that Sa is not an alphabet, it is a sentence, a story too which helps portray the deep emotion that dominates a raga. In this journey, lyrics play an important role. So does the laya or the time-zone between the two beats and the logic behind the usage of mnemonics. Dha-dhin is not simple 1 and 2. The tala’s gait and its beauty have to be internalised by clapping. This technique of Carnatic music needs to be blended with Hindustani music’s sensibilities. Also, the art of accompaniment needs to be reorganised to reduce the cacophony.”

Chakrabarty accepts the Padma Bhushan as a humble ‘patra’ (carrier) of the ‘highest art’ which came with the blessing of his parents and gurus. Kolkata’s music fraternity, led by ITC SRA, is gearing up to felicitate the master for this achievement.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 3:24:22 PM |

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