Remembering Suchitra Mitra

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A special tribute to a unique singer who dedicated her life to promoting Tagorean music By MADHUCHANDA DAS

Uncannily true rings the adage that you can never take Rabindranath Tagore out of a Bengali’s heart! Hence, although growing up far away from the land of rossogolla, adda and Tagore, my typical simple living-high thinking Bengali parents felt doubly responsible in bringing us up as quintessentially Bengali offspring. As a result, Rabindra Sangeet (Tagorean music) and Bengali films tiptoed surreptitiously into an unobtrusive corner of my soul. As part of the inimitable babumoshai spirit, I often sought refuge in the rhythm and histrionics of the legendary Suchitra duo – the shining stars of the Bengali cultural scene, Suchitra Mitra and Suchitra Sen. January 3, 2011 saw the passing away of one of them – the legendary Rabindra Sangeet singer, Suchitra Mitra. Thankfully, it was my Ma (who had instilled the love of Rabindra Sangeet in me) and not the Facebook status of a friend, that broke the news to me. Ma, who’s always had her way with words and is an amazing singer herself, asked me if I remembered Suchitra-di’s spirited rendition of Krishnokoli Aami Taarei Boli (I call her Krishnokoli). This was the first song that I had ever heard from the artiste, and in no time at all I could picture myself at eight, being enthralled by an uninhibited voice as Bangla lyrics didn’t make much sense then. Even in my constricted, concrete city room, I could fathom the ethereal charm of the solitary, dusky village girl in a pristine Bengal paddy field. Thereafter, this voice never failed to electrify my soul with its Aamar Shonar Bangla Ami Tomai Bhalobashi (I love you, my Bengal, the place made of solid gold). It became an inextricable ingredient of my cultural psyche and I was hooked for life.

Her voice reiterated that no one else could do justice to Tagore’s prose like her… as if she held the sole patent for those melodies, or as if they were created only for her to interpret.

When Ma finally broke the tragic news of Suchitra-di’s demise, I consoled my shattered eight-year-old heart that Suchitra-di’s physical form had moved on but the fragrance of her melodies would continue to rejuvenate my life, re-ignite my passions and reinstate my often-wavering faith. Yes, they would continue to resonate in my Bengali being.

This multi-faceted doyen of melody had come to personify the essence of Rabindra Sangeet to me.

I have absolutely no qualms in stating that till date I remain much unlettered about the profundity of Tagore’s musical realm. To this ignorant admirer of Suchitra-di, her music symbolized a sudden burst of much needed showers, soaking long parched lands. Her voice reiterated that no one else could do justice to Tagore’s prose like her… as if she held the sole patent for those melodies, or as if they were created only for her to interpret.

Her inimitable gayaki conveyed the mirth, the melancholy and the melodrama of Tagore’s songs like none other. In fact, her music sketched the song’s story for the listener. She fired one’s imagination and inundated the soul with life’s myriad colours. Like her bold rendition of Oyi bujhi kalboishakhi (So that’s the Nor’wester) which succinctly captured the might of the approaching storms. Her energetic execution of Tagore’s swadeshi (patriotic) songs such as Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite Ekla chalo re (Walk Alone) often overwhelmed her audience and moved them to tears. The poignancy of Hridayer Ekul Okul Dukul Bheshey Jaay, O Sajani (Both resorts of my heart are getting flooded out, Oh my loved one) remains timeless in appeal.

Suchitra-di resisted temptations to deviate from Tagore’s original notations and she insisted on preserving the essence of the bard’s lyrics.

Suchitra-di resisted temptations to deviate from Tagore’s original notations and she insisted on preserving the essence of the bard’s lyrics. Her passionate interpretations were further bolstered by her elegant personality and smart persona. My memory is flooded with black and white TV grabs of the lady with the stylishly cut short hair, swaying to the beats of the rhythm with closed eyes… as if in a trance. Her singing and her personality magnificently manifested the seamless unison of the traditional and the modern in Tagore’s compositions.

She was the lady on the move, both literally and figuratively. Born on a moving train in Gujhandi, Bihar, Suchitra-di’s life was marked by relentless creative enterprise as she globe-trotted to share Tagore’s treasures. She also was an active member of Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), the Sheriff of Kolkata, and even dabbled with acting in the Rituporno Ghosh directed acclaimed Bengali film Dahan (Combustion). Her music school Rabitirtha is a leading centre of Tagorean culture, having produced numerous promising stars of Rabindra Sangeet. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that making dolls was a hobby that she fervently pursued till her last days. She indeed lived a complete life in every sense, except for an enduring regret of having joined Visva-Bharati only a few days after Rabindranath Tagore passed away in 1941.

Yes, I’m aware that the show must go on as Rabindra Sangeet itself assumes newer dimensions that signify both uncertainty and hope. But undeniably, Suchitra-di has taken along with her a precious chunk of my childhood. Yet, I’m not complaining as I hum Tobu Mone Rekho, Jodi Doorey Jai Choley, Tobu Mone Rekho (Remember me, if you can. In case I go far away from you, still do remember me).


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