By Tirthankar Mitra
Rendition of any Rabindra Sangeet in Suchitra Mitra’s powerful yet melodious voice has always left her audience asking for more. More often than not, the singer extraordinary of Bengal obliged. On the occasion of her birth centenary this month, one once again feels the appeal of her songs to be as fresh as the day Mitra first lent voice to them. The ravages of time have not made these songs stale or shallow. Suchitra died in 2011 at the age of 87 after leading a full life devoted to singing and coaching of aspiring singers.
For their words flowing from the genius of Rabindranath Tagore are profound. And when Suchitra Mitra sang them while retaining their original characteristics of heartfelt wisdom and sincerity, there were glimpses of an undercurrent of a ripple of joyous optimism.
In Suchitra’s own words “Singing only the notes of Tagore’s songs does not mean anything. …..the singer must understand the lyrics…He used tunes or created new beats as the rhythm of the poetry demanded”
This singer extraordinary had the rare distinction of being taught the rudiments of Rabindra Sangeet by Indira Devi Chaudhari, Santidev Ghosh and Sailajaranjan Majumdar at Visva Bharati, Santiniketan. It was her lifelong regret that Tagore had passed away 20 days before her arrival in red earth Santiniketan.
But the great man was always in her consciousness. She had imbibed from Tagore’s look at life. This slip of a girl after stepping into womanhood learnt never to jump with joy no matter how bright was the rainbow or huddle into a corner when dark clouds were gathering around her. It was Tagore’s take on life which helped her to retain her footing after a few hard knocks.
It was a lesson Mitra remembered all her life. Be it singing the national anthem of Bangladesh Aamar Sonar Bangla, Aami Tomay Bhalobashi which took her person and performance to a new high or taking on the ire of some political leaders when she reportedly sang Joyo Yatray Jao Hey (Embark on a victorious campaign) for her friend Indira Gandhi who had visited her during an election campaign, she never failed to follow the path of her mentor; she stood by her convictions.
Mitra’s inherent traits uprightness and an adhesion to her ideals were hall mark of her songs. Her inimitable rendition of Krishnakali, aami tarei boli a Tagore song and Shei Meye, an adhunik song are twin reminders of it.
Small wonder, Mitra was the embodiment of these qualities on the silver screen in Dahan directed by Rituparno Ghosh. The role of a dignified grandmother who feels her granddaughter did her duty and no more by rescuing a young woman from the clutches of kidnappers fitted her like a glove.
Yet Suchitra Mitra was no all knowing agony aunt if one mistakenly gathered such an impression from her bespectacled photograph oozing intelligence and intensity. It gives no forewarning of her passion and wit which had equipped her with an ability to read between the lines of even her mentor, Tagore.
Mitra was no ivory tower artiste. Her connect with the people started when as an active member of IPTA, she toured villages of Bengal and sang with musical greats like Hemanta Mukhopadhyay and Debabrata Biswas.
A journey to inculcate peace and unity cutting across the religious divide was on. It would be a lifetime mission. Politics in Suchitra’s words was not confined to a topic of drawing room conversation. It is a whole time mission, she felt.
Brought amidst books and melodies at her father Sourindra Mohan Mukhopadhayay’s house, Suchitra was inclined to egalitarian thinking and persons pursuing them from her young days. She tied the knot with Dhruba Mitra on a May Day. A son was born to them but they got divorced soon.. The uniqueness of Suchitra’s personality surfaces from the fact that she remained Dhruba’s friend throughout.
Suchitra’s home in south Kolkata was a throwback of her personality, tasteful and organised. Her home was decorated with her paintings and tribal artefacts from Bankura. Daughter of a litterateur, Suchitra penned Kheyal Khushi, a book of rhymes. Her penchant for words was manifest in her translation of Khalil Gibran
An excellent cook and a great hostess, Mitra never shirked her family responsibilities in the pursuit of a career. She never lost an opportunity to spend quality time with his son Kunal and a niece she had brought up like her daughter.
Honours were showered on her, be it Padmasree, Sangeet Natak Academy award or being made the sheriff of the city she lived in. But the fact remains, she was an adornment to these awards. Suchitra Mitra never aspired for greatness. But she had acquired it in the journey of her life marching confidently, stumbling, falling and then picking herself up to continue a trek whose destination beckoned her on and on. (IPA Service)