Man is a worshiper of beauty Beautiful singing, beautiful voice, beautiful looks, beautiful way of talking; it is these qualities that attract us toward someone Unfortunately however, God doesn’t make us beautiful and perfect from all sides Somewhere or the other, some crevices are left But, balanced from all aspects; beautiful, marvellous; when we think of these admirable qualities, the artist whose name immediately comes to our mind is our dear Prasunda; Late Prasun Bandopadhyay, whose name I always take with great reverence, touching my ear, because though he was our Guru’s disciple; he was more like a Guru to me. I have learnt a lot from him That is why I touched my ear in respect, when I took his name Prasunda was undoubtedly a brilliant singer; but I don’t think there are many people living here, many music lovers present today who would have heard him at his best Well, his reputation still goes and we know that he was a brilliant singer I have been very fortunate because, I was in Calcutta in ’50s and that was the time when Prasunda had come here from Patna As a music student he was greatly influenced by and impressed by Ustad Faiyaz Khan Sahab and Pandit D.V.Paluskar, but when he came here (Kolkata) he first received his training from Pandit Jamini Ganguly and then Padmabhushan Jnan Prakash Ghoshji; Jnanda And that did him a world of good He was a very conscientious scholar scholar and took his music very seriously and was brilliant of course; so much so that we hear that when he was taken to his All India Radio audition test, in the very first test he obtained an ‘A’ Grade, although the person interviewing him, or listening to him, was as great an examiner, as strict an examiner as Pandit S.N.Ratanjankarji So, he was a brilliant musician It was his radio auditions. Guruji (Jnan Prakash Ghosh) said, “Listen, Pandit Ratanjankarji would be coming as your examiner,

therefore you will have to prepare at least one hundred Ragas.” So, he just he took two years’ time, or two & half years time to complete those hundred Ragas And, I think Guruji wanted people to realise that at that time time there was no other Bengali singer except Prasunda to appear in the radio auditions with the knowledge of a hundred Ragas Prasunda was the first amongst them to prepare Ragas like Lachari Todi, Karanshankara with Guruji This I heard from Guruji himself He learned all these Ragas, sat for the auditions and was cleared in ‘A’ Grade in the very first attempt My first meeting with Prasunda was in 1948-’49 He was probably learning with Sangeetacharya Jamini Ganguly at that time After this, we frequently met at Jnanbabu’s house; he subsequently became Jnanbabu’s disciple Jnanbabu would frequently feature his disciple’s voice in his various projects Films like Jadubhatta and others, for which Jnanbabu had composed the tunes, had a number of very high quality Bengali songs, all of which were sung by Prasunda The rehearsals for these songs happened mostly at Jnanbabu’s house in 25, Dixon Lane Our intimacy grew stronger over time and he came to our house for a chat as well as to sing His standard Tabla player was Shankar Ghosh We had an amalgamate home and everybody were our guardians in addition to our parents Because I was adamant on playing the Tabla only and take up nothing else as my professional career, I got a dictum from the guardians that I must contribute into the family earnings As a result Prasunda became my sole refuge. I told him, “You have to maintain me from now on.” He asked, “Why what happened?” I narrated everything to him and demanded, “Either you will fund me from your pocket or else arrange tuitions for me.” Prasunda had a good earning in those days. Immediately he provided me with three tuitions I also used to play with Radhubabu (Radhika Mohan Maitreya) He was very happy with me and promptly allotted me three more tuitions Thus in one month I was able to earn in abundance and contributed 40-50 rupees to home, which was a lot in those days because my father used to earn Rs.250 per month and the entire house ran comfortably at Rs.150 a month; such was the economy in those days My 50 rupees was hailed as a tremendous donation and it saved me from being forcibly drifted to other professions So this was how Prasunda had emerged as my savior Then there was another contract too; I would accompany Prasunda during his riyaz (practice sessions) and would be paid Rs.20 by him; a super professional deal! What a voice; what an unbelievable voice! We went to Bombay to perform at the Swami Haridas Swami Conference; myself, Prasunda and Arun Chatterjee, a sitar disciple of Radhubabu Prasunda sang; and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and all the rest were in the front row The newspapers wrote in Hindi that Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb, Amir Khan Saheb and D.V.Paluskar were speechless in their appreciation for him; calling him the Emperor of ‘Sur’; just after one listening! What a sublime voice, unbelievable! There were many such occasions when people broke into tears, I cannot express that feeling! My maternal uncle in law worked as the manager of a renowned tea estate. He wept non-stop! He urged Prasunda to come and stay at their place for one week, so that he could be at his humble service. So, this was Prasunda And whenever he got a coat made for himself, one would be gifted to me too!

At that time I was financially not strong enough; so he gave me financial help Both these artists were my contemporaries Prasunbabu was older than me by six months, and Meera Bandhopadhyay was about three years younger, so in a way contemporary! When my name was spreading a bit, Prasunbabu’s had spread a lot So was Meera Bandhopadhyay’s too. Prasunbabu earned great fame overnight The prosperity of his voice was beyond description It is doubtful if a voice like his had ever been heard! My father used to say, “After Jnenu (Jnanendra Prasad Goswami), Prasun’s voice is the best ever.” This was my father’s viewpoint; others may opine differently but truly I have found his voice magnificent and absolutely matchless Mainly due to such a heavenly voice, his fame spread like wild fire Yet if we talk only of his voice, it would seem as though we are limiting his quality to only one medium With the voice there is also the creative capability, the style of singing Singing is called as an art of music Stylized nuances are the real elements of this art. And in that he excelled majestically Even just the song would sound so sublime in his rendition Only the song, the Bandish; sthayi antara (the lyrical verse); his rendition would sound so beautiful My acquaintance with him was from a long time It often happened that we met at music concerts; Amir Khan singing at Jhankar (music circle), or sometimes it was Ghulam Ali Khan. I would be in the audience and so would they. We met, exchanged pleasantries and had musical discussions Once it happened that there was a music conference in Siliguri in 1961 Prasunbabu himself came to our house; I was not at home He asked my father about me, who asked him who he was! He said he was Prasun Bandhopadhyay My father was pleasantly shocked in disbelief and greeted him most cordially He said he had come to invite me on behalf of the Siliguri organizers to their conference Of course it was obvious that I agreed to participate and we all went together We were lodged in a guest house From Kolkata, although I don’t remember all the names; but Kanan Saheb went and also did Prasunbabu, myself, Laddan Khan and Chandrabhanji I am sure I am missing some more names At the guest house, Prasunbabu and I were lodged in the same room We spent about a week there and it was endless chat and chat for us meant singing on and on! We exchanged numerous ideas through that One day Prasunbabu took up (Raga) Bhairavi He kept on singing and I also joined We developed a great friendship. Even to the music conference we rode the same Cycle Rickshaw! This was the extent of our intimacy Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb used to sing a Bandish in (Raga) Kafi Kanada which went thus: R g RSR P

This song I had incorporated fully into my Sarod playing Moments after my broadcast came in the All India Radio, Dada (Prasunda) and Didi’s (Meeradi) telephone call came: “You have entered so vastly into Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb’s realm; this was beyond our imagination!” I said, “My whole life I have immersed myself in him and still the pursuit goes on. You have guided and helped me at every step That singing I will never hear again and no other singing appeals to me after that.” He (Prasunda) shared his music with me without reserve whenever I needed anything from him I was in Loretto School at that time and Dixon Lane had gone past Loretto School, meandering round the Prachi cinema hall, reaching into Creek Row I recollect having gone past that lane time and again in those days, aiming to venture around that (Jnanbabu’s) house as frequently as possible I distinctly remember that there was not a moment in that house when some music would not play from it, vocal or instrumental! Every time I went via that house it would be the sweet sound of either the Tabla or the Sitar or Sarangi or someone singing or sometimes the sound of the Harmonium So it was always some sound or the other; the sweetest that one can ever imagine There was a courtyard in front and we used to stop there and listen, overwhelmed! The building had a great aura and serenity about it but at that time we had no idea of who this Jnanbabu was or why it was called Jnanbabu’s house, as he was nowhere to be seen! Later, as we grew up and continued our frequent journeys through that lane we came to know that this Dixon Lane house was a great seat of Indian Raga music and Tabla culture The funniest side was that we knew Prasunbabu as a popular playback singer! His songs in the film “Dhuli” had entered each and every Bengali household! People were mad for him! All his Raga based Bengali songs had flooded the market in such enormity that people just thought of him as a playback singer Although he did not somewhat pursue that career afterwards but whatever he did was just too incredible to describe! To us who were younger, he was the most glamorous person because of his enthralling voice and for the fact that someone could sing Raagini Sangeet so eloquently I won’t say just a Raga based Bengali song; I would rather say Raagini Sangeet because through these songs he rendered the whole vistaar (expansion) of the Raga, employing the lyrics This was the particular reason why these songs moved us so much in those days The moment we heard them we longed to hear again and again. Our ears would be thirsty for them! So, this was his hallmark. Also he had the reputation of being charmingly good looking – we hadn’t seen him yet at that time But in various localities people would talk about his glamourous looks! In those days, by handsome musician people meant three names; Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan and Prasunda People all over would talk about their beauty and said that they took the entire audience by their handsome looks; music came thereafter As for Raagpradhan (Raga based Bengali songs), the up-gradation he had achieved for it, had never been equalled afterwards Raagpradhan didn’t really reach that perfection again Let me elaborate the reason also; now that the topic of Raagpradhan came up The reason why Prasunda is hailed as the all-time best performer of it is because in spite of his being a vastly knowledgeable classical singer, he never exploited his classical prowess by illogically expanding the song melody, while keeping the lyrics aside When he sang Raagpradhan, he paid tremendous respect to the lyrical verse and always maintained its metrical balance, never venturing outside it He made a judicious scansion of each word and correctly judged its optimality and never broke a single idiom to take part in the free expansion of melody He gauged the entire song in this way, with the required patience and although it might seem to be a fixed song, it would actually not be so when one heard it a few times The listener would then realise that the charm is endless; it goes on increasing after each listening! These songs were on the lips of every Bengali in those days! What incredible marvels they were; everlasting and nonperishable! Nowadays, when we hear these songs being rendered by the present day musicians; songs like “Je akaashey jhorey baadol”, “Ami tomari gahi”, we find that they are sung through variations and improvisations I would say that instead of doing so, if one observed and maintained the notation as done by Jnanbabu originally, one could do a much higher justice A problem with maintaining the legacy of Raagpradhan songs; can be that the Raga might often be misunderstood as being its principal vehicle and it would start to govern the words; so much so that the words might lose their charm On the contrary if the lyric is looked upon as an integral part of the Bandish and the intactness of the Bandish is maintained, these songs can have a much stronger life force

You may do endless taans following the Raga, as an excuse to expand that song, but you can never pay proper respect to the lyric by doing so The magic lies in the very manner of saying that word; there is a flash inside it Prasunda had done a successful research and also the practice of how the value of the lyrics could be enhanced by the application of Sur (melody); where exactly to halt and how to perfectly pronounce each and every word! I feel a strong urge to sing, but I’ve told Shantanu that I won’t sing now; because these songs should remain eternal in Prasunda’s voice only; a voice so sublime that just through one magic touch of it, many an endless lecture become unnecessary That is why, even though I have the Harmonium in front of me, I have vowed not to sing Today we must talk about Prasunda; we must remember him; we should cultivate him Today on this auspicious day of his birth, we must always remind ourselves that our ideal should be these musicians’ voice; their devotion; their respectfulness His talking; his capacity to deliver the song expression; application of the Sur – these were extraordinary! And in these respects I don’t think anybody could match anywhere near him I still say; I still repeat with conviction that his Aakar was the steadiest one could ever imagine; unshaken; unwavering! That’s how he always began; in impeccable Sur! Guruji (Jnanbabu) used to say: “Prasun is the only vocalist who owns the capacity to deliver the ‘Sa’ on spot, the moment he begins.” Guruji never pronounced “Prasun”; he used to take his name as “Pra-s/f-un”; “s” would reach near “f” – “Pra-s/f-un” He loved him the most; always his only topic would be “Prasun”! At first we didn’t understand why Guruji admired him so strongly Of course, later we realised the reason when we heard his singing Guruji had set our ideals right from our younger days that we have to become Prasunda; otherwise we are no good! Even to this day I feel I have not become even a shade of what he was However, our love for him is permanent in our hearts We’ve tried to follow his emotions, thoughts, and admired the accuracy of his pronunciation The credit goes of course to Guruji I must say, because of the way he taught us! But the disciple’s credit becomes much higher when he receives the Guru’s taalim (coaching) perfectly In this respect Prasunda was an ideal man His specialty was that he was extremely tuneful and had very intense, emotionally charged delivery

For the same song, its delivery makes it a different song every time Whenever he sang, he touched human hearts, every time! Until today, he stays back in my memory as a sweet, natural singer who never wrestled with music; but sang always from an inner flow One kind of music is the learned substance; while another is how its image is created in the mind I remember that day when I heard Prasunda live for the first time. He sang Khayal in Raga Darbari It won’t be irrelevant to mention here that I had the honour of tuning his Surmandal in Raga Darbari on that occasion He handed the instrument to me and said in his inimitable style: “Brother; would you please tune this for me!” See, even today my hair stands on its end when I reminisce his way of talking He was an incomparably kind-hearted person who never spoke ill of anybody ever! I do not remember even a single such occasion. If I would ever criticise anybody’s singing; he would say, “You see, I found most of it to be satisfactorily good, you know!” This was the nature of his talking. Going back to that concert; after the Darbari, on our request he announced that he was going to sing a song in Raga Chhayanat, called ‘Shunyo ey bookey pakhi more aay’ He chose not to mention that it was Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam’s composition While listening to that rendition, although I myself own a good repute of singing this song well and my album as well as my rendering of this song in a movie have won me great accolades; but believe me honestly; that day while listening to Prasunda render it; tears flowed down my cheeks without my least knowledge of it! And this was at a time when my concerts were becoming more frequent and my name was spreading Subsequently a penetrating thought crossed my mind as to what was music actually! Did music mean Chhayanat? Did it mean Tintaal? Did it mean the lyrics? I realised that music was a means, an attempt to transmit from soul to soul directly In that realm Prasunda was an Emperor; a King A lot of musicological or textual knowledge or even profuse taalim fell insufficient to his magnificent expressionism He could directly grab the human mind and stir it like a shaker. Of that sublime height there has been really a very few musicians in our country like Prasunda; I have not heard anything like that ever Now let me tell you about his human aspects; extremely soft-spoken, uttering a word or two at the most And looks? Oh my! At any moment if you placed him beside the most handsome film heroes – he even acted in a few films and acted brilliantly too – one would have had difficulty in choosing whether to go for Uttam Kumar (the most popular Bengali Film Hero) or for him! Such a handsome and elegant person was he! Brought up in Bihar, especially Patna where a nice tradition of Raga music culture had developed; all great artists used to go perform there; from that town Prasunda, just by immersing in that wonderful musical ambience and doing riyaz, came to Kolkata and got himself enrolled under Guruji for taalim With Prasunda and his family house in Patna, I always had such freeness I would often go and spend 10-12 days there without any prior notice Just taking a train and reaching there; such was his pull There was no concert or any engagement; but there was Prasunda; I was always like that; a roamer; so magnificent was his presence that I would be drawn like to a magnet nobody ever asked me where I was heading to; and if they did, I would mention about a concert fictitiously Actually I had a deep bondage with him; I learnt vocals with him for 10 years! I know many bandishes and can sing the respective sargams (note syllables); because I learnt with passion And I consider it necessary for a Tabla player to learn vocal music After that he went to Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb for taalim; that of course happened through Meeradi

His brilliance flourished further when he came under the tutelage of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Sahib But the indisputable fact was that the moment he delivered his voice; there would be a tormenting inside you About Prasunbabu, the one aspect that surpassed everything else was his unmatchable voice; sweet as honey; and what a sublime singing style! His name spread very rapidly What an extraordinary tenderness and flexibility of the voice! The ‘Thumri’ ang (stylisation) specialties; which were Ustad Barkat Ali Khan Saheb’s contribution; are all embedded here I won’t say the technical names, but the image that the Ustad used to draw with Sur, through these stylisations, were all contained in Prasunda’s Thumri singing These songs should be heard by today’s listeners To tell the truth; of all the classical artists that we have found in Bengal, the most effective male singer was Prasunda; effective! And yet he was always shy and introvert; like, how to say; a fragrant flower not fully blossomed but giving out its sweet fragrance and charm, emanating an ethereal beauty! Prasunda was the possessor of that unparalleled voice However farther we may move ahead towards future, Prasunda’s voice will always stay in our ears I had once sung the song “Jamini holo je bhor” at S.R.A (Sangeet Research Academy) People were overwhelmed and commented to me that such singing they never heard before I said to myself; why is Prasunda so ill and immovable today? Why doesn’t he reappear on stage and sing this song to the people, to prove that Ajoy could do absolutely no justice to it! The way he sang “Jamini holo je bhor”; the intensity with which he penetrated our minds with each word syllable; I have no words to describe; “Modhu na phuraate keno pohaalo ey modhunisha” I would like to mention here that in the history of Indian music, the man who for the first time emphasised on the need to give proper care to word expression and pronunciation; was Jnan Prakash Ghosh; any form of lyrics, any language or genre And I consider Prasunda as one of the ideals who gave it a perfect fruition How incredibly beautiful were his expressions for “Modhu na phuraate keno pohaalo ey modhunisha; ekti jonomey bujhi metena praaner trisha” People tell me that I try to give proper attention and care to the lyrical verse The entire credit for it goes to my Guruji But I would also like to add here that with regard to the ornamentation and beautification of a song, the name of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb is still ahead of any other name in the history of Indian music

The nectar of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb and Ustad Barkat Ali Khan Saheb was best ever expressed in the Bengali language by Prasunda He was the only artist from Bengal who had achieved that aesthetic capability and owned the judicious right to express it I pay infinite salutations to his soul Everybody who listened to him; used to say that he is a brilliant Patiala gharana singer And people were, I mean; they were falling for him, there was a time; at one time And I still remember as a young man; Shailenda, Meeradi’s father, used to have a number of soirees at his house, and Prasunda was also there always So we used to enjoy music, enjoy Prasunda’s company He was, apart from being a very brilliant, handsome musician, he was a handsome individual; very impressive and a great fun-loving person, who used to have lot of fun, always enjoyed jokes and was a wonderful company as well; and a very nice human being indeed, very nice So it was; he was one of the towering personalities of West Bengal; and when he did leave us; ’97, it was a great loss; but still; we still remember him and we still cherish his music and his personality overall With Prasunda, the other name that inseparably comes to our mind with most dignified values; is none other than his wife, Srimati Meera Bandopadhyay, the pride of Bengal; the first and foremost among the lady vocalists from here to achieve an all-India stature She and Srimati Malabika Kanan were the two vocalists from Bengal in that era, to have made a strong impression in the major listening belts of the country Malabika Kanan’s name fits in automatically to complete the full circle that she and Meeradi had created at that time Meeradi had a determined and weighty presence on stage with her great vocal prowess Our country at that time had no dearth of exceptional female vocalists; Hirabai Barodekar, Saraswati Rane, Manik Verma being some of the iconic names to reckon But the moment Meeradi sat on stage with her Surmandal, one could easily say that she made a stamp of her style of singing The typicality that was present in Ghulam Ali Khan Sahib’s Patiala style; the message; “I am here with a purpose, I am not lost or forgotten, my singing conveys a specific ideal;” all this was strongly evident in Meeradi’s rendition; much more than Prasunda or any other vocalist This determination made her what she was, and even today if we listen to the Subaddha Sangeet (“well compacted music”) recordings of All India Radio – I am sure we are hearing them while seeing this film – we are lost for words in amazement as to what extraordinary singing Meeradi has gifted us! I am like their disciple and student Unlike Prasunda, she was not my Gurubon (she was rather the Gurubon – co-disciple – with my Ustad, Munawar Ali Khan; what a great pair of friends they were!),

and I was fortunate to have enjoyed a deep and intimate, mother-son relationship with her Words cannot describe how she showered her endless blessings and good wishes on me What I would like to say however, is that I have accompanied Meeradi on numerous occasions not only on the Harmonium, but also as her bodyguard; and the sweet memories of many such train journeys remain with me During the last years of her life, a sweet bondage grew between us; and she used to share her mind’s innermost thoughts with me I can compare Meeradi only with the historical poet composer singer devotee Meerabai What a sacred lady Meeradi was, what a sacred life! In the 60s and 70s, with her extraordinary voice, she gave us the impression that it was impossible to get out of the Patiala style as a listener! If you wanted to be entertained, if you wanted to know what Khayal is, if you wanted to know what Thumri is; what Ghulam Ali Khan Sahib was rendering in those days; it was very hard to come out of that spell and listen to anything else but that style only Exceptionally beautiful and ornately ornamented was that musical substance; where the voice is creating endless marvels; the other ingredients being the bandish (composition), the taalim (training) and of course the greatness of the artists themselves On the whole, it was a total arrangement, complete and perfect in itself The first time when I heard her live from a very close, almost a hand-touching distance; was in 1971, at a house concert in Badurbagan, North Kolkata Before that I heard her live on stage; but this was one was very intimate It was a Saraswati Pooja; and I discovered something most extraordinary on that day in Meeradi ‘s singing She sang the entire syllabus of Patiala alright; encapsulating taans and alankaars; just three minutes of that would epitomise the entire Patiala character for us; but inside was a meditative Sanyasin, the systematic development towards a psychic entity I had no clue how she could do that; because Patiala singing is so full of colours and varieties; at one time it was so well known for its incredible speed and glitter; that bringing such a meditative feel as she did was simply astonishing to me Meeradi possessed an enviable ‘gamak’ in her voice; but that day she didn’t go to her ‘gamaks’ or ‘halaks’, but mesmerised us with just ‘meend’-based ‘vistaars’ Comparing with my previous encounters with her live singing, numbering about 8 to 10 times; that day I realised that she was slowly withdrawing into a cave, only to re-emerge as a more transcendental artist who brought the feeling of a proper absorption in the music The same feeling was also felt in Prasunda’s rendition of Kaunsi Kanada at about the same time, sung for Suresh Sangeet Sansad The very connotation that got associated with Patiala style was that of the ‘Ustad’, a highly sophisticated riyaz based ‘Ustadi’ full of shining scape and the most difficult and challenging skills beyond imagination, the highest possibilities the voice and the intellect could reach; all these found a continuous overflow in that style But Meeradi that day I saw, administered a restraint, even while abiding by all its formulations The majesty of this restraint was felt thereafter, apart from Prasunda’s of course; in Meeradi’s Kaunsi Kanada, as well as her Khayal in Bhairavi I had a realisation that she was re-discovering herself through this journey in Ragas I started thinking about it. In the ’70s,

her other contemporary lady vocalists had created great spells in the music conferences with tremendous efficiency and skills in their vocalism Meeradi took a uniquely novel route in her own approach She gradually shifted to an inner world of mystic emotions, carrying Patiala in her cradle Sometimes later, I started listening to all her records that I had listened before too, numerous times I concluded that her musical journey had a well carved out trajectory In the ’60s, she would literally swipe any musical soiree just with the power of her voice But with time, she dawned as a ‘Sadhika’, an engrossed singer devotee The other aspect of Meeradi which compulsorily deserves my mention was her magnificent voice I have not come across such a quality amongst the female vocalists of Bengal Just the sound of her voice was enough to establish her identity Even before the name was announced in her Radio broadcasts, her ‘Aakar’ would confirm that it was her This sound was tremendously special; weighty and round, shaped like a sphere, with no kinks or rough edges whatsoever It did not need to be soft; it was quite robust in fact, but as fluid as honey; the supreme example of which was, of course, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Sahib The moment it came, it was all prepared; did not call for a soft start or warm up The very first occurrence of it created a peaking impact; there were no jerks, no pushes or drags A few days ago I was listening to some of Meeradi’s renderings on CD; her voice right from the first second was all warmed up, bold and perfectly set She sounded as if she was always prepared, at the very onset of every concert; whether this was through riyaz at home I don’t know; but she never needed any time to warm up or become steadier; she was at her peak even at the start It was a typical female voice all right, but suffused with weight, and the ‘meend’ to start with was just too fascinating to describe I had the good fortune to interview her for a Television programme At that time her voice was sore and she had difficulty in walking even. But she told me she would still come and talk We requested her to keep the Harmonium ready; but she was not sure if she would be able to sing I said just in case if there was a flow; only to have it handy At the shoot, she chatted for long and before ending the programme, she said that because she was asked to sing, she felt the mood to do so She sang, probably Bihag, or maybe it was Yaman. What a marvel it was! Just 3 or 4 minutes; but she brought down the entire Raga with her unmatchable temperament At that time her health was down, age catching up, voice range getting lower; and particularly after Prasunda left, she became very detached from life and lived within herself most of the time; therefore it was more intriguing to me to think and be wonder-struck as to how she could generate that powerful, robust, round and melodious voice steeped in the Raga

Later, when she passed away, I was putting these thoughts together and came to the conclusion myself, that because she was reclusive in nature, she had found in her singing an exact measurement of how much to show or express outside A most important fact that I feel I must tell is that Meeradi and Prasunda acquired the most perfect cream of the ‘taalim’ from Ghulam Ali Khan Sahib in the Patiala style What they learnt, would never be possible for anyone else to achieve, because by sitting in front of the greatest vocalist of all times, the ‘riyaz’ they heard and also did themselves, was astonishing. And its reflection was felt in their singing on countless occasions, innumerable times The greatest attribute of your Guruma’s singing was that no other lady grasped or delivered the Patiala singing as much as she did And in the process of doing so, she very efficiently softened the powerful and violent executions immanent in that style, to suit the female temperament and vocalism People could accept her more easily as a result. I have learnt a number of ‘asthayees’ from her as well; specially that in Malkauns Meera Bandopadhyay was known to me from long ago, but a closer bondage grew towards the latter part of her life In the last 4 years or so before passing away, she used to come to each one of my recitals; so keen was her interest Her singing was always characterised by compactness and a well-knit systematised structure It never sounded loose enough. Never ever in her singing could one find any catchy or cheap sounding phrase or a light expression; so astute was her sense And the singing always sounded fresh and energetic. She was a perfect example of how to maintain great equilibrium throughout the rendition of the ‘gayaki’ Many fundamental elements, concepts and varieties were in there too. I used to listen to her singing with meticulous care and attention It was one of very high status and worth remembering for posterity. Her ‘gayaki’ should be termed as highly formidable and of a supreme class ‘Taans’ were superb. She earned a great name for herself Her contemporary was Malabika Kanan, though she was an altogether different style Meeradi’s father was great friends with my father In 1952, there was a music competition arranged by Guruji’s Jhankar Music Circle at their 25, Dixon Lane premise Meeradi came as a judge There she asked me in admiration of my sprouting talent, if I could come to accompany her during her riyaz I was always afraid of asking her this; therefore I was dumbfounded in disbelief, that an artist of her merit would give me a chance to play with; an opportunity I was eagerly looking for I thanked her enormously and started visiting her An added attraction of course was the double egg omelette that she would prepare for me herself. She would claim that such an omelette was not to be found elsewhere Apart from the ‘riyaz’ at that time; it was the omelette which made me all the more eager to go to her and wait expectantly for it to arrive I used to reach by 9 a.m and Meeradi would wait with her Tanpura and Harmonium ready That was the beginning of my lifelong career with her What a singer she was; Oh! What a voice, my God, how will I tell you, what an incredible voice she possessed! From that time, wherever she had performed; almost everywhere I used to be on Tabla I remember; that it was in Tatanagar (Jamshedpur) that she sang, just 3 days prior to her wedding; exactly 3 days! Unforgettable it was; that recital Funnily, there was a ‘thhala’ (plate) kept in front, where people were giving money

Meeradi nervously asked me as to what was its purpose behind I assured her jokingly that I would collect that sum for ourselves, once the recital was over! Then we came back and that very day Meeradi sat on the wedding stool The great thing about her was the confidence and personality that always shone on her character She was totally fearless and didn’t care anybody My wife Sanjukta fondly remembers the gait in which she used to walk in, wearing her long coat during winter season, in order to come and meet Prasunda or ask his permission prior to leaving for a concert She describes how charmingly beautiful she looked, what a glowing health! And her skin was soft as silk; even until the last days before she passed away, she retained that smooth skin I have innumerable memories and anecdotes from my outings with her Once in Ahmedabad, she was asked to sing after none other than Rasoolanbai After such an overwhelming performance from Rasoolanbai, a Sitar recital followed; and then came Meeradi on stage, with me on Tabla No words on earth can describe her singing on that night; what a dream concert it was! Two hours of singing and still the people wouldn’t let her go This was Meeradi; a very popular, famous and heart-throbbing musician all over India She was a master of all genres and a very ‘laydaar’ musician, one with great command over rhythm, hitting the ‘sam’ immaculately with approximate ‘tihaais’ Meeradi was one of the sweetest persons I have ever come across She was a musician par excellence in her days, and I again go back to the old days in 1950s when I came to Calcutta She was a sleek, very charming, very impressive, young, female singer from Bengal; and sensational; absolutely sensational At that time, the kind of effects that she used to create in the conferences was I think un-paralleled; everybody was absolutely floored listening to her I have listened to these ‘taans’ from her in the programmes at Kalamandir, Rabindra Sadan; something that Vilayat Khan Sahib would rhetorically remark as “Zameen Asmaan” taans, ones that shot like missiles from ground to space! Impossible to describe these taans that Meeradi sang; it was a direct result of her face to face ‘taalim’ with Ghulam Ali Khan Sahib; otherwise it is humanly impossible Meeradi’s singing bore ample testimony to her Ustad’s taalim. Ghulam Ali Khan Sahib would do these taans even before the thought could capture it; as if he was just talking to someone I used to teach Tabla at a music school in Meeradi’s locality; when one day suddenly her father came there looking for me He said, “Come with me at once; you will have to play with Ghulam Ali Khan Sahib.” Personality, penetration and the presence of a lady performer; these qualities that Meeradi possessed, were extraordinary and unparalleled to this date And the character that I won’t let it go, I will do it, my Ustad used to do it like this, I will take this challenge, I will show my mettle; these qualities were exemplary in her She could embroider her improvisations in a beautiful manner with the lyrics and give a successful completion to their meaning Sur waits at a certain height for the lyric, in order to fully express its own self Once soul-lifted with the words, the sur attains its cherished texture and the lyric also experiences a re-birth in perfection, which otherwise might be absent in itself This mastery had settled without a doubt in our Didi She chanted the lyrics with so much of beauty, sweetness and tenderness; there was no limit to affection in her singing, but she controlled her powerful voice in such a way as to make it tender enough to suit the lyrical imagery One uniqueness was that there were not many female singers of her stature in Patiala Gharana As it is; those were the days when there were very few female singers who were coming out openly to sing from public platforms, from respectable families; she was one of the pioneers also; but besides that on her own right, she was a very fine, very impressive singer So she created a sensation, and I remember those days

They held this position in the classical circuit, stout and strong, Prasunda and Meeradi; and we the youngsters held them in very high esteem We used to target these artists for our compulsory listening, just as anyone would do with big stars When I started frequenting classical music programmes; Meeradi was at the top of the world She was highly respected by all; I don’t know if the same reflected on her fees also, but there would be long queues at the ticket counter for her recitals, people would sit patiently for her to arrive; would quickly run out for a cup of tea just before she would begin, and then come back and sit through her entire performance The time came when the thickness between Prasunda and Meeradi entered a romantic course Shyamal’s (Tabla artist Shyamal Bose) house was nearby and they used to meet there often Soon Prasunda started using me to carry his love-letters to Meeradi Phone was not an option, as phone calls at Meeradi’s house would mostly be taken by her father, who was dead against this infatuation and did not agree to their nuptial plans; because love marriage in those days was not common at all His main objection was regarding the fact that both of them were professional singers Anyway, I embarked on this courier service and the double-decked bus was my transport I sat upstairs on it and opened the envelope by licking the gum I enjoyed reading the content thoroughly and fulfilled my heart; then closed the envelope again by hiring gum from a ‘paan’ shop Upon delivering it to Meeradi, she complained for its wetness, to which I said that the sweat on my kerchief that was also there in the pocket, had caused the letter to dampen as well She hated to learn about the sweat, but depended on me again in getting the reply mail back to Prasunda The return mail suffered the same fate too; thanks to the double-decked bus and the gum supplying paan vendor Because we ourselves did not yet enter the lovers’ arena yet; it was a great taalim received as to how romancers exchanged love mails! Prasunda also complained along the same lines and my reply story was again based on the imaginary sweat from the pocket as before Prasunda went to the inner room and prepared his counterpart for the reply. Thus the saga went on and I was the beneficiary in a secret way! Much later, when they were happily wedded; I did divulge the entire story to them and both of them laughed endlessly in the most pleasant shock of disbelief And then, when she married Prasunda, then it was a Bengal’s number one singing couple Both of them really made a wonderful couple; extremely popular, extremely capable and extremely charming; everybody loved them Meeradi got wedded to Prasunda and we made a lot of fun However, soon after that I got entangled in my service career in such a taxing way, that I could hardly be in touch with them for a long period But finally there came an opportunity when I could grab the two of them and held them captive at my quarters in Kashipur for an entire day, to be bathed in a non-ending stream of Bengali songs from this celestial couple I had a very good Ferrograph spool tape recorder in which I recorded all of that musical substance; but as is usual with our maintenance standards; all of that is lost today and my heart laments endlessly The daylong recording session was of course followed by a conventional ‘Biriyani’ and everything Let me say about the musical difference between Prasunbabu and Meera Bandopadhyay Both of them took to the Patiala style of training at some point of time; but none of them sang the pure Patiala ‘gayaki’ Prasunbabu’s used to be like his own, while Meera Bandopadhyay’s used to be like her own; though at the summit both were Patiala-founded They distinctively maintained their own identity

It was music of real high class; a class that is not much in access of the present day learners and lovers of music I am not aware if their music has been preserved for posterity and published for circulation; but if that has been done, it is of great value for the future generation; otherwise it will be permanently lost Taan has a geometry that cannot be ignored; wherefrom should it start, what trajectory should it follow, where all it has to stop, whereto will it reach, whereto should it come back; all this calls for a measured geometry that is achieved not just through blind practising but is a matter of understanding This was present in Meeradi. And yet, the same person turned gradually into a thinking musician with deeper introspection, as I follow her evolution since the end of the 70s. This has always mystified me Also, if Prasunda did not leave prematurely, Meeradi must have gone on for at least 10 more years; such is my feeling She became very much reticent ever after Prasunda left; because, in spite of the fact that she was a great artist, she was after all a mother; she was a dedicated housewife She believed in that culture and lived that life, keeping the tradition alive till she breathed her last She never compromised with her family life in order to chase a professional career; she achieved all her music through rigorous ‘Sadhana’, but never ran after programmes here or there Her memoirs were told to me by Ravi Shankarji also, reminiscing from their memorable Russia tour of 1954 that was covered by a Television Channel; that she had an astonishing voice and sang most admirably, still called as Meera Chatterjee Meeradi will always be remembered as an ideal daughter, ideal sister, ideal wife and ideal mother The convergence of so many roles in one being is indeed rare What I really liked about Meeradi very much, that she was so supportive Anyone who was just wanting to take to the platform, take up this profession, this career; she was so encouraging, so loving, so sort of pushing everybody, that everybody loved her And I can’t remember in some of my functions where I brought her; I remember in fact once I was presenting a programme at G.D.Birla Sabhagar, to explain the greatness of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Sahab So she was the one who came and inaugurated the whole thing; and talked about Khan Sahab and talked about it all And she started crying and it was so touching! And she was so nice; I mean the whole programme developed a different kind of ambience because how she spoke and how she began the whole thing So she was a marvellous person and I would not hesitate to say that she was the kind of a human being I will always miss At the Broadway Hotel, I went with Baba the next day, with the tidiest and cleanest dress and a mind full of hope; to see The Ustad My father spoke the most horrible Hindi ever. Therefore he broke into his typical Bengali laden Hindi addressing the Ustad, saying, “See Ustad; whatever knowledge and intellect I possessed, I have given it all to my daughter. Now I submit her over to you for further taalim.” I noticed that my Ustad, whenever he was doing that combination in Jaijaiwanti; tears would roll down his cheeks At that time I was still young to understand this; how a Raga could bring tears to one’s eyes I was yet to experience this myself! Today I realise what it was At that time, this one family always gave me the assurance that a wedded musician couple could still successfully live on That was the time when I was frequently attending classical programmes; and either Meera Devi Prasunbabu had same day performances, or they would be singing on alternate days

What a beautiful and ideal relationship they maintained; no competition with each other, and yet each one was giving their individual best This always intrigued me at that time, because I am sure Ravi Shankarji would also have said that a musician couple cannot exist under one roof, but I refuse to accept this just by looking at this amazing pair, who stood before us as the ideal husband-wife Later I also understood this, that at one level, one need not charge himself through competitiveness If the wife sings extraordinarily, the husband should realise that he too has some contribution in it And if the man is singing in top form; he should remember that much of it came as an inspiration from his wife After one stage, both of them evolve equally and harmoniously. Prasunda and Meeradi were the greatest illustrations for this This pair was a dream pair. I cannot even describe how great it was I can only say that such a union was never again seen in Hindustani Classical Music I pray to God that they inspire the public who are now listening to them in heaven Meeradi shared a very intimate relation with me I could never gauge the extent of her affection, but she always responded to my invitations at my annual conference, came and lectured a lot of good adjectives about me; and in the end would gift me, in open public, a packet of Cadbury Chocolate This has remained as a significant event in my life with regard to Didi. Not for once did she forget it The audience would break into a wide laughter, but she never changed her habit Maybe this had a connotation in her mind that I was a younger brother to her; and I always accepted it heartily I need to mention here that Meeradi registered me as her younger brother She would not eat until I arrived; such was the intimacy of our relation Today on this occasion of remembering Prasunbabu and Meera Bandopadhyay, all I would like to say say is that the topmost priority should be paid to try and preserve their invaluable music for posterity They will be immortal through their music Till today I am madly searching for those tapes I had recorded of them What an idiot I am, that I did not realise their pristine value at that time and my repentance knows no bounds Maybe one day they will surface, but no more in a state to reproduce anything As I said, they were recorded on a very good device of those days at my Kashipur home Prasunda had even sung a Bengali version of the immortal ‘Hari OM Tatsat’ in that You will receive God’s Blessings because you are doing this commemorative programme in the sacred memory of your Guruji and Guruma I pray for you that you are able to do this ‘Gurupranaam’ programme every year For such beings of the highest calibre and yet introvert nature; if their powerful disciples do not come forward and put their effort into creating a programme platform for their propagation, they will gradually be lost in oblivion If Prasunda and Meeradi’s memory does not stay back with the music lovers of Bengal; it is a most unfortunate situation The coming generation would be even more unfortunate for not being able to hear them or even know about them, as they would have no idea whatsoever; of what colossal artists were Prasun Banerjee and Meera Bandopadhyay You will always have my benedictions and love, especially because you are trying to make your Guru and Guruma immortal; which is not done by many Artists are too much eager to expand their own career and build up their empire; what is the need to waste time on the Guru? They have done their duties; they have gone away

This is not right. Best wishes I do not know what to say. Only I would say in prayer that artists like Meeradi and Prasunda should be born amongst us age after age And the bondage that they have demonstrated as being two artists together in a married relation, overcoming the tussles, setting an ideal for us by balancing many aspects of their life mutually; is also an example to be learnt Working hand in hand to maintain the home, raising the family – they had three daughters; we consider them as our three sisters – educating them, teaching them music and growing them up in music admiration; thus doing all the duties of the household, singing in multiple and varied venues splitting journeys; leading life like this is no easy task That too they had accomplished I pay my obeisance to them in equal esteem as parents With that I would also like to add, that our affectionate Shantanu deserves a special credit for taking this initiative to do a commemorative annual programme on his Guruji and Guruma With help, cooperation and blessings from all; the programme should mount to the highest level of success; and his efforts right from dreaming it and making it into a reality, should be acknowledged by all I pray that he gets all the blessings of God. Acknowledging the Guru, remembering and worshipping the Guru, are the highest acts of life; this is my humble opinion In every drop of breath, I remember and pay respects to my Guru Jnan Prakash Ghosh Because of him, we were gifted with the genius of Prasunda and Meeradi Although Meeradi was not her direct student, she still held him in the same esteem as a Guru In fact all musicians maintain the same reverence for him Guruji’s main subject was the Tabla; but Vocals, Tabla, Humanitarian values, Sports, Education, Painting; Guru Jnan Prakash Ghosh was a combination of all these Without taking his name, Prasunda’s name will not be complete That is why, in the lineage of Guruji’s training across generations, whatever little we have been able to learn, that is to be retained of course; but a greater responsibility is to keep alive his values, ethics You heard about several of his illustrious disciples of Vocals and Tabla; all that glorifies his stature as the Guru In that same legacy of Guru-Shishya Parampara, Shantanu has done this; one day Shantanu’s students will also carry forward the same tradition This is how our culture will survive. The most important of our country’s cultural element are music and spirituality Therefore, with our belief in our spirituality, with our respect and love for it, may we march forward in the path as enlightened before us by our Gurus Prasunda, Jnan Prakash Ghosh and even their Gurus from whom they inherited all these great values of life This is my humble prayer to God. I bow down in countless salutations to the eternal souls of Prasunda and Meeradi

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