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This page is an account of Asit's association with his main Gurus and mentors in raga-sangeet and the way they have influenced him at different stages of his development. Faithful and detailed accounts of biographies of the Gurus are easily available elsewhere.
Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty
After the untimely demise of Ustad Dabir Khan, Asit searched for several years and experimented with himself trying to find a tight and well-structured Khayal form and was very dissatisfied with all his attempts. In the mean time he graduated from high school with flying colours and joined college and was destined to become an academician. This is the period he generally avoided singing Khayal in front of anybody because he was unsure of the form of Khayal he wanted to pursue (although he kept up with the riyaz with ragas Todi/Bhairav etc in the mornings and Yaman/Shuddha Kalyan etc in the evenings). He became immediately popular with his semi-classical singing in college, and took part in many music competitions in most vocal streams except the Khayal. He did wonderfully well in all those competitions, most notable among them being the well-known inter-college competition held in the University Institute auditorium where he received several awards in the late seventies from his would-be dadaguru Acharya Jnan Prakash Ghosh.
Around this time, Asit heard his next Guru Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty, his Ajoy-da, as Asit still calls Pandit Chakrabarty. It was a small concert in Birla Academy auditorium off Southern Avenue. Pandit Chakrabarty, much thinner those days with thick black framed lenses, had a bad cold and a resultant broken voice, and he sang raga Bihag. What a raga Bihag it was, audience was spellbound, so was Asit who could not imagine anybody could sing like that. For the next few years, Asit followed wherever Ajoy-ji sang around Kolkata. Finally, through Asit's brother-in-law Mrityunjay Dutta who was a friend of Ajoy-ji's from their Rabindra Bharati University days, Asit was introduced to him. In Asit's mind, he was sure, he had to learn from this man. But how? There were problems galore. Around this time, Asit lost his mother, after a prolonged illness from cancer and soon after that Asit was to fly to the USA for higher studies. Anyway, just before Asit flew to the USA, Ajoy-ji sent Asit a few cassettes that contained his own concert at RIMPA festivals in Benaras (ragas Bhupali and Desh) and various selections of Ajoyji's dadaguru Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb so that Asit could at least listen to these while abroad.
A year after Asit went to the USA, his father, a freedom-fighter and a man of principle, also passed away.
The first direct musical interactions with Pandit Chakrabarty started in Pittsburgh, USA in early eighties when Panditji asked Asit to sing something for him. Asit sang ragas Lalit and Shuddh Sarang at Partha and Sumita Sen's house in Monroeville near Pittsburgh where Panditji stayed with his accompanists Pandit Samar Saha and Pandit Ramesh Mishra. The very first piece of musical instructions Panditji gave Asit was on the use of the two madhyams in Lalit, whether or not to use them subsequently etc. He also referred to Ustad Ali Akbar Khan's treatment regarding the two madhyams.
This was the beginning of a close association with Panditji for nearly fifteen years. Asit remained abroad for a number of those years, both in USA and Europe, for his doctoral and post-doctoral research. At the same time, Pandit Chakrabarty's visits abroad became more frequent with time, to almost a yearly event, and Asit used to take time off from his research, at times for several weeks at a stretch, to be with Pandit Chakrabarty and tour with him. There used to be endless opportunities for Asit to learn on these occasions. Other than sleep and other essential chores, Pandit Chakrabarty made himself available for the whole day. During this time, gradually Asit started giving vocal support to Panditji during the concerts. At times, even in the green room just before a concert, talim was given. For example, once in Chicago, Panditji sang raga Shyam Kalyan in a concert. But before that, in the green room, after tuning up the tanpuras, he taught Asit the famous Teental vandish "bega daraswa" in Shuddh Sarang.
One major area that was addressed during this period was taankari - and its basic varieties - with dana, meend and gamak. Fortunately, Asit could immediately understand the technical part, for example, use of the aa-kaar and very short meend during taan. Special palta exercises were given for taans with dana and meend, and for the first time in his life Asit started doing riyaz using paltas in a given raga scale, an exercise which reaped immediate benefits for Asit. Slowly Panditji exposed all other Khayal angas (vistar, layakari, behlawa, boltaan, sargam, aa-kaar taan) to Asit. Even use of shuddh vani in vilambit raga-vistar, and choice of the laya (tempo) was discussed and emphasized in detail. With God's blessings, Asit was smart enough not to let even a word from Panditji go wasted. He tried to absorb everything Panditji taught him or discussed with him, in actual talim sessions, or during informal discussions over dinner or even when Asit was driving Panditji somewhere. The job for Asit was made easier by Panditji himself, because being a performer at the highest possible level, Panditji could easily demonstate everything that he talked about.
Obviously, time was ripe for Asit to do riyaz, and to do a lot of it. This was one of the most rewarding times for Asit in his musical journey. During this period, at times he ended up doing up to eight hours of riyaz in a day, especially during weekends. Encouragement from the Maharashtrians and the South Indian community in the nearby locality (within about a hundred miles) really was a big help. Average tabla players for riyaz was not at all a problem. For the concerts, Shyam Kane-ji, a student of Ustad Zakir Hussain, was generally available.
After marriage when Asit became a bit more settled in life, during his tours abroad Panditji stayed at Asit's place, both in USA and Germany, a few times with all his accompanists. Pandit Bickram Ghosh (Bumba, as he used to be called then), Pandit Samar Saha and Pandit Biresh Roy - all stayed at Asit's place on such occasions. During his long stay abroad, Asit also visited India quite a few times. Panditji, despite his tremendously busy schedule, always kept aside time for talim and any other help with musical instruments.
Actually, when Asit finally came back to India with a faculty position at the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Panditji already had ordered new jora tanpuras and a tabla bayan set for Asit. During the day hours, Panditji had commitments to Sangeet Research Academy. As a result, for talim Asit used to go to Panditji's place after office hours in the evening, then occasionally help Koushiki (Panditji's daughter, then in school) with her Maths, have dinner there, and then late at night received talim from Panditji. The first raga in which Asit got talim from Panditji after he came back permanently to India was Hameer. Koushiki joined too in that particular session. Asit used to stay overnight at Panditji's place, because by the time the talim ended, it would normally be well past midnight. There were a few times when both Asit and Panditji, extremely tired after a long day and a long session, dozed off on the carpeted floor of the music room itself. In the early hours of the morning, sometimes there used to be another session of talim, at the end of which Asit would have breakfast, and then head straight to Saha Institute, his workplace. About twice or thrice a week Asit spent the night over at Panditji's place for talim. Many a times, Panditji himself played tabla during the talim.
Panditji never took a penny from Asit as fees or for any other reasons. Instead he and Guruma (Vidushi Chandana Chakrabarty, herself an accomplished singer and Guru) took care of Asit by offering their best to Asit with nutritious food, comfortable bed and all other conveniences, and above all by their love and affection. Even abroad, Panditji never let Asit spend anything during the time Asit was still a student. He took full care of Asit whenever Asit used to visit Panditji during the tours abroad.
Asit received the primordial sur (melody) from Guruji Ustad Dabir Khan. Then Ajoy-da, Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty put a structured form to that sur so that the music could be expressed in its richness, while Asit's next Guru taught Asit how to blend in individuality to that music.