Music College at Golakganj became quite famous, for this was the only one of its kind. Till the college was established nobody knew that there were so many talented musicians around. Before the opening of the college, they did not have any place to utilise and display their talents and expertise. They were inducted as teachers in the college like Jatin sir and Monbhola sir, the two great tablists, Panchanan sir for classical vocal. Braja Karmakar, who had a jewellery shop but on Saturdays and Sundays he would be our music teacher. Soon many students got admitted in the college and every afternoon on Saturdays and in the mornings on Sundays used to get melodious, sa re ga ma pa and tere kete tako tako, tere kete tako tako; ta dhin dhin ta/ na dhin dhin dha. In the beginning only the children of the ones who took initiatives to set up the college were the students. Else others would not come and take admission in the college, and we were there because our parents happened to be the main organisers of the school.
A college only for music was unheard of. It was under the Lucknow Bhatkhande. University of music was called a Bhatkhande, we were told and the Lucknow Bhatkhande was one of the most famous in India. We were little clueless though. Music and song were something considered not to be pursued by the good students, these were considered a waste. Moreover, we never heard that musicians and singers ever used to go to places called music colleges and universities to learn their skill. There was no curriculum like mathematics, English or science, and how could one call it a college?
However, soon many of students joined. For classical vocal classes the students were the maximum, followed by the tabla classes. From most of the households in the evenings, one could hear the riwaj of the music students with the harmonium or with the tabla. It came to such a pass that if somebody visited someone’s house, the parents would entertain their guests with the performance of their kids. With tea, biscuits and also luchi and sabji for the special guests, they were also served with classical songs. At times the guests and the hosts would also to take part and sing and play together. From classical songs they would often shift to other songs like Rabindra sangeet, Jyoti sangeet, Nazrul geeti, Borgeet and also the songs of Manna Dey, Hemanta Kumar, Dr. Bhupen Hazarika both in Assamese and Bengali and also the folksongs Pratima Barua Pandey.
Among the students of classical music most of the students were the Bengali girls. Almost from every Bengali household there would be at least one student in the classical vocal class. In the higher classes they would sing difficult ragas like raga Bhupali, Bhairavi, Malkosh, Darbar and they would not sing with the harmonium anymore, they would sing with the tanpura. They were good singers. It was an unnamed feeling when they would help us with the ragas when we would think that raga Yaman would be the first and the last raga we would ever learn. When they would nimble their fingers on the strings of the tanpura they looked quite like Saraswati, they looked that beautiful.
Kamal, whose father had the biggest grocery shop, Sri Shankar Bhandar, joined me for the classical vocal classes. As one year passed, prathama, he got tired of it. There was still a long way to go- madhyama and then bisharad and then only one becomes a graduate. We were initially taught by Braja Karmakar for the basics and then by Panchanan Biswas sir. The special classes were by Ustad Biharilal. Everybody called him Panditji and also as Ustad. In the entire college there was only one Ustad, Ustad Biharilal. When he would sing, we would listen to him in rapt silence. The other teachers would do the sangat with the tanpura and the tabla and he would sing closing his eyes. It would always be a slow and languid beginning, vilambat, and gradually his recitals would gain the crescendo and the tabla too would reach the drut taal ⸻
dha dhin dhin dha/ dha dhin dhin dha/
ta tete tuna/ ta dhin dhin dha/
dha dhin dhin dha/ dha dhin dhin dha/
ta tete tuna/ ta dhin dhin dha ⸻
And then the whole environment would be under a magical spell.
Ustadji would often tell us:
-‘You must learn the first raga, that is Yaman, the raga of the evening. If you can master this you can learn the other ragas as well. All great vocalists first mastered this raga.’
We realised that we would not be able to become a master of raga Yaman nor we would ever be able to sing like him in our lifetime. We were asked to perfect aroh and aborah on end without being allowed to come to the main song. Kamal was disillusioned and greatly annoyed. For me the only interesting part with him was to munch his Bikaneer bhujia that he used to bring in generous quantity from his shop. One day as he munched his bhujia, he told me with genuine dejection,
- ‘Look at our sir, he would never allow us to sing any Hindi song. Only these classical songs. Who will listen to all these songs? You know, my cousin in Alipur Duar, he did not go for all this stuff, but he now moves around singing the songs of Kishore Kumar in grand musical nites. And look at us, we can’t even sing a single Kishore Kumar number or a song of Mukesh or Rafi. What’s the use? I am thinking of calling it quits.’
- ‘You should not.’
- ‘I am tired of this “Imon raag.”’
Despite being totally disappointed by the music teaching methods he continued with the course for sometimes. The music college turned out to be a great gathering ground for all the singers and artists, not only the classical musicians and singers but also the folk musicians and singers. Almost simultaneously there came up a club, Sura Mandir Music Club. They especially collaborated for the course on folk songs- Goalparia Bhawaiya songs. For that the teachers were Biren Ray and Abdul Jabbar and also Bablu Ray, who was a young teacher. They would teach totally different kind of songs with the dotora. Kamal did not enrol for this course. He said,
- ‘See, nowadays people don’t listen to the songs sung with the dotora, not even with the
tanpura and tabla, they only like the songs sung with the guitar and the drum sets. Do you think you can sing in the grand musical nites the songs accompanied by the dotora?’
I said the same thing to my father. He said, ‘Do you know Pratima Barua Pandey?’ I said, ‘No.’
– ‘She is the princess of Gauripur. Niece of a Raja, a king. Her father is also a prince. And she sings these songs. And our great Bhuepn Hazarika also sings these songs. They are known all over the country, they are world famous. If you want to become great, you can be one only through these songs.’
I did found it quite unconvincing, that is to be world famous with the dotora. However, I continued with the folksong classes along with the classical vocal. In the folk song classes not only the students, several other people would also come and sit in the class just to listen to the songs of our teachers – Biren Ray and Abdul Jabbar. Sometimes even the rickshaw pullers and cart pullers, when they had no passenger or goods to carry, would sit near the class or peep through the window. They would also request to sing particular songs. At times they would close their eyes and move their heads as the song progressed. They would also make requests like, ‘Ela ekta chatka houk.’ (Let there be a song with faster beat) and our sirs would oblige with much enthusiasm. Often times they would laugh at us if we went wrong, they would correct us with the right words or the right modulations. There were so many teachers for the folk songs, both the actual teachers and the audience, but for the classical vocal classes, there were no such expert audience.
One day we were told that there would be a Mini Function where the students of the college would be the main performers. My father asked me to practice properly for the function. It was like a storm. What song could I sing? That too in front of so many people? Finally, the date was announced and the tentative programme made. Among the students of the classical vocals I was also selected to perform ⸻ a recital of raga Yaman. I was supposed to sing along with Kamal. Our first appearance on stage to sing a classical song in the Mini Function. I was wondering. ‘Will Kamal sing?’