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In a free-wheeling conversation internationally acclaimed London based artiste Chandra Chakraborty talks to Arundhati Mukherjee from Asian Lite news desk about classical music, its tradition and artistes and art today. 

Rishi Vashista, Sri Parasuram, Karna, Arjun, Ekalavya are some of the names that surround our mind, the moment we hear the phrase – ‘Guru-Shishya Parampara’. Not only the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, but this tradition of imparting knowledge from the teacher to the disciple also stands tall in almost all Vedic Culture. It is fascinating how ITC Sangeet Research Academy is keeping up this purest form of schooling even in today’s time. Their disciples never fail to showcase brilliant results of this most devoted form of learning.

Chandra Chakraborty, founder-director of Kalakar Arts, UK is a renowned name in Indian classical and Semi Classical music, all over the world. Only at the age of ten, when most kids were enjoying the Mahabharata tv-series sitting with their parents, Chandra left her home to live with her Guru and Guruma until she got married. In the vast campus of Sangeet Research Academy, from that tender age, her spirits got focused on classical music under the very able guidance of her Guruji, the late Pandit A. Kanan, and Guruma, late Vidushi Malabika Kanan.

Chandra Chakraborty with Ghazal maestro Ustad Ghulam Ali

“My Guruji and Guruma’s place in my heart is nothing less than that of my parents. Perhaps greater. I was nothing less than their daughter. Even my parents always considered that my Guruji’s claim over me is ultimate. Their decisions regarding my life surpassed everything else”, says Chandra.

Throughout her student life, her daily schedule was tightly knitted with rigorous music lessons and riaz, and lessons on languages like Urdu, English and Hindi. Along with this, she has continued pursuing general academic degrees. A common teenager’s life when is laced with Bollywood, street foods, and hanging out with friends, Chandra’s idea of entertainment and fun was to be able to socialise with the then Classical music maestros under the same roof.

While the journey of her own life is so interesting, it is only fitting that she would be drawn towards the very dramatic and tragic life of the ghazal queen Begum Akhtar. Just before the pandemic driven lockdown, Chandra Chakraborty scripted, directed, and performed the musical ‘Akhtari’ at the SSAI International Women’s Day concert, on 8th March 2020. The musical theatre comprised of singing, live music, Kathak dance, and acting by Chandra’s students and other internationally acclaimed artists. Chandra’s first production on Begum Akhtar in 2019 had wowed the audience of the UK. Not only the acting prowess and musical charisma of the queen of Ghazal but also her personal life, her ability to overcome obstacles, and her perseverance influenced Indian Classical and Semi Classical vocalist Chandra Chakraborty to work on her life, time and again.

Before this Chandra had curated and performed on similar life inspiring yesteryear artists like Badi Moti Bai and Saraswati, daughter of Tansen. Incidentally, Padmabibhushan Smt Girija Devi, another queen of Thumri had also been Chandra’s teacher for some time. Chandra’s melodious portrayal of the unknown and untapped sides of such enigmatic stars has often been greeted by a hall full of awestruck audience and standing ovations.

“Since Kalakar is born, every year we try to present something equally unique to the audience.  This year is the birth centenary of my Guruji. I wished to do a production on Guru Shishya Parampara. However, due to the pandemic this year, we are conducting the event in a virtual medium. The series so far has garnered immense appreciation from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Bangladesh, India, and Europe,” said Chandra.

Renowned vocalist Girija Devi with Chandra Chakraborty

The weekly interactive sessions and performances have taken place since April this year with Maestros and living legends like Pandit Vijay Kichlu, Ustad Shahid Parvez, Ustad Rashid Khan, Ustad Shujat Khan, Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan, Pandit Tejendra Narayan Majumdar, Pandit Gaurav Mazumdar, Pandit Shubhankar Banerjee, Pandit Tanmoy Bose, Murad Ali Khan, Sanju Sahai, Pandit Kumar Bose, Pandit Jayanta Bose and many more performers paying a tribute to the stalwart, Pandit A Kanan. The sessions which are profoundly conducted by Chakraborty brings about the various shades of the teacher-student dynamics. The latest sessions of the Guru- Shishya Parampara series with Padmashree Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri and Nilan Chaudhuri, and also with Pandit Kumar Bose and his disciples P Sudatta Kumari and Chiranjit Mukherjee has been widely appreciated, with live viewership at times reaching past seventy thousand.

Gifted, mellifluous, extremely talented Chandra Chakraborty was considered as a child prodigy in India by many of the doyens of Indian Classical Music. Chandra started singing at the tender age of 3. Her first teacher was her mother Smt Manju Chakraborty. Chandra is also a Gold Medalist in Thumri from All India Radio and a National Scholar of Music and Dance. Before coming to England, she continued her passion for teaching Indian Classical music at Indian Consulate and at Witwatersrand University (as lecturer of Music in the history and society for advanced students) Johannesburg, South Africa.

After coming to London in 2000, Chandra started performing under the banner of well-known organisations such as Milap Fest, Art Asia, Saz-O-Awaz, Darbar and performed few times for Her Majesty the Queen of England. She was also invited to perform at the inaugural ceremony of Commonwealth Games, went to Pakistan to perform and was also invited to perform for Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar at his London residence. In 2011, Chandra Chakraborty co-founded Saudha- the society of poetry and Indian Music with Poet TM Ahmed Kaysher. Saudha organised many concerts including a few at House Of Commons. Presently she is focussing on taking Kalakar Arts into new heights in Indian Classical Music to an international audience. Kalakar Arts UK has a great line up of maestros supporting the journey. The NEDs are Dr Sid Kargupta, Dr Sanjukta Ghosh (artistic director of SOAS South Asia Institute), Dr Imtiaz Ahmed (renowned oncologist and director of Anandadhara Arts), Pandit Vijay Kichlu, Smt Meena Banerjee (author and music critic), Pandit Subhankar Banerjee, Pandit Gaurav Mazumdar and Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan. Kalakar wants to support and encourage young talents by inviting them to perform on this prestigious platform. Kalakar also supports UNICEF by organising charity events performed by young members of Kalakar.

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