Gaaner Opaarey – My Parallel Universe of Rabindrasangeet
Ms Alokananda Roy – an eminent Rabindrasangeet vocalist at IIT Kharagpur shares her journey
The first person to introduce me to Tagore’s music was my mother, a trained Rabindrasangeet singer herself and alumna of ‘Geetabitan’ an eminent music institute in Kolkata. Thus, one could say, I was born listening to Tagore’s songs. My mother introduced me to my first gurus – Shri Sailen Basu Roychowdhury and his wife, Smt Kamala Basu – both renowned Rabindrasangeet exponents of the time.
I believe, whenever a child is exposed to something over a sustained period very early in life, it leaves an indelible impression on her mind. It becomes difficult for the child to dissociate herself from that influence even later in life, no matter how hard she may try. That is exactly what happened to me. After I trained under the Basus for several years, I met and started to learn from Acharya Jayanta Bose – a classical singer who taught me the basics of vocal symphony and voice training. However, in this too, I was driven by my desire to improve my versatility as a singer of Rabindrasangeet.
My father had been an ardent fan of Smt Ritu Guha, one of the legends of Rabindrasangeet and wanted me to learn from her. Baba took me to her place, where my very first rendition of a song I had learnt from one of her recordings impressed her. She suggested I undertake a 5-year certification course from Dakshinee, the reputed Kolkata institution that she too was an alumna of.
Ritu di referred me to Shri Sudeb Guhathakurta, the current Principal of Dakshinee and thus began my journey with the Institute. This was April 1,1996. Here, I had the opportunity to train under various stalwarts of the genre including Smt Meera Ghosh, Smt Rupu Boral, Shri Rono Guhathakurta etc.
The training and practice of my formative years now yielded dividends, as I was given an opportunity to perform on stage much earlier than most students were conventionally allowed. Soon, I started performing regularly at Dakshinee’s programmes. Carrying the Dakshinee legacy forward was a huge responsibility. It gave me goosebumps performing at Rabindra Sadan and Kala Mandir for the first time!. I was euphoric as my journey as a ‘performing’ artist had truly begun.
By then, I had earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and decided to pursue postgraduate studies in music with Rabindrasangeet as a major. Thus, Rabindra Bharati University happened, where I had the good fortune of learning from yet another bunch of stalwarts – Prof. Agniva Bandyopadhyay, Prof. Bulbul Sengupta, Prof. Mekhola Dasgupta, Prof. Shantanu Bandyopadhyay of Bishnupur Gharana and many more. During this phase, I also signed up for Maya Sen’s classes of Anandadhwani.
My MA programme at RBU and the certificate course at Dakshinee got over almost at the same time. I secured second position in the final examinations at Dakshinee. I always say that RBU taught me technicalities, whereas Ritu di and Dakshinee taught me rendition, the art of performance. I have had the opportunity to perform on various platforms – in India and abroad – all because of Dakshinee. I have performed in Delhi, Mumbai, Patna, Jamshedpur, Ranchi, Hyderabad, Allahabad, Dhaka (Bangladesh) and Colorado (USA). In 2002-2003 I recorded almost 60 songs and dance drama Chitrangada for Rabindrasangeet CD series Gitabitan Live 1 & 2 released by ISS Infotech USA.
In 2003 I moved to Ranchi with my husband. I could not detach myself from Rabindrasangeet. One of my acquaintances introduced me to Mr Subir Lahiri who was the Cultural Head of the Bengali Association of Ranchi. He suggested I should perform at an event organized by Ranchi’s Union Club. Thereafter, the Union Club regularly invited me to perform in all its programmes.
I moved back to West Bengal when my husband joined IIT Kharagpur in 2006. I started performing at various Tagore events and other programmes while shuttling between KGP and Kolkata. In 2009, I performed for the first time at IIT KGP, at an event organized by the Technology Club on the occasion of Durga Puja. Over the next few years I had the opportunity of performing at cultural evening of conferences conducted by different departments of IIT Kharagpur.
It was a pleasure and privilege for me to participate in the Induction Programme for freshers at IIT Kharagpur as a resource person for Music Appreciation in 2017. In 2018 I was awarded the Arundhati Devi Smriti Puraskar for Best Female Vocalist by Dakshinee. That is another milestone of my career in music. Very recently, the former Director of IIT Kharagpur, Professor Partha Pratim Chakrabarti felicitated me on behalf of Technology Students’ Gymkhana after I conducted a day-long workshop on Rabindrasangeet for students, scholars and music lovers on campus.
My introduction as a singer on campus gradually brought in students, mostly spouses of faculty members, and some faculty members themselves, who wanted to learn Rabindrasangeet. I realized that teaching students five days a week would make it easier for me to keep up with my reyaaz. I decided to turn my passion into my profession. I got endless support from all my teachers, especially Shri Sudeb Guhathakurta. He even suggested a name for my little school; and thus Chirontonee was born.
I do not expect Chirontonee to be a very famous institution. However, I have a certain vision for a future for Chirontonee.
Having resided in this campus for 14 years now, I am a part of a community which includes students, faculty members and other non-teaching staff. Through Chirontonee, I have had the opportunity to interact with KGPians from all walks, and I realize the immense pressure each of them faces in the regular journey of life, and the need for some respite and relief. I strongly feel the need to involve them in something creative, something that affords them a break from their regular routine. I’m striving in my own little way to bring all these individuals under an umbrella called Tagore, through Chirontonee.
The healing power of music is infinite and I shall consider myself blessed if Chirontonee can provide that succour for the community. If through this humble initiative of mine, I am able to inculcate positivity in the minds and lifestyle of a few, and bring them even some fleeting moments of joy and rejuvenation, I shall feel accomplished.
It gives me immense pride when my students travel across the globe for higher education and also earn accolades as Rabindrasangeet singers. They carry Chirontonee’s name across borders — what more could I ask for?
I can only thank Tagore in his own words: “Amaare tumi ashesh korechho emoni leela tobo… (You have made me infinite; such is your aura).”