Dr. Soma Ghosh is the daughter of freedom fighter. She was born and brought up in Benaras and the adopted daughter of Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan with whom she had the opportunity to have Jugalbandi duet five times one of which was at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and once at the Parliament of India where she was felicitated by former President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Sonia Gandhi, and Jaswant Singh and again in 2010 by former President of India Pratibha Patil. She is also the first women ever to perform in the Parliament of India. Editor-in-Chief Dr. Vaidehi Taman had a conversation with Dr. Soma Ghosh as she threw light on her musical journey.
How did music come your way?
I inherited music from my mother Archana Chakravarty who was a vocalist of Senia Gharana and my first guru. Even while in her womb, I would rest happily if she sang! As a small child, I would play but would run to her lap as soon as she started teaching her students. At the small age of four years, she heard me sing and thereafter started training me. Thus my musical journey started!
Shehnai Samrat Ustad Bismillah Khan Ji was your mentor, any unforgettable memory that you would like to share with us?
Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan was not my “guru” but definitely my mentor. He was like the Goldsmith who cut the raw diamond and presented me to the world. He gave me the wings to fearlessly fly on the musical horizon! So many memories with him; the best I may say is his ‘Manglorie Black Topiee’ that he wore for our first Jugalbandi.
He said, “Duniya Ko Mai Kaise Kahun Ki Hum Kitne Khus Hai…Mera Manglorie Topi, Jo Mai Apni Jawani Mein Pahenta Tha, Kahegi Ki Mai Dil Se Yeh Jugalbandi Kar Raha Hoon”
When he came to the auditorium for the event, he was wearing his usual Gandhi Topi. My heart sank in seeing the White Topi. I bowed and touched his feet to take his blessings before the show.
Tell us about your journey from learning music to getting the title as Gandharva Kokila.
I have learned Hindustani Classical music from four gurus — Archana Chakravarty, Narayan Chakravarty (both of Senia Gharana), Chittaranjan Jyotishi of Gwalior Gharana, and Bageshwari Devi of Banaras Gharana. I met Ustad Bismillah Khan in Mumbai after my marriage and became overnight what I am.
Ustad Bismillah Khan gave me the title of ‘Kashi Kokila’ at the Swarangana Sangeet Sammelan. However, during a concert for the Rotary Club of Bombay, Vipin Reshammiya, the famous musician and also the father of music director Himesh Reshammiya, gave me the title of ‘Gandharva Kokila’ – the name stuck ever since.
Who has influenced you the most in Sangeet Gharanas?
Every Gharana has its strong points. I have got musical depth and flight of imagination from Senia Gharana. I have got emotional rendering in my singing from the Gwalior Gharana and the Banaras Gharana rounded up my entire musical upbringing. I must say that I got the best from all the three Gharanas!
Tell us about your Parampara concerts to help conserve the Indian culture through music. How did you develop this concept?
Naushad Ali, the legendary music director, and Ustad Bismillah Khan were discussing the dire condition of Indian musical instruments, many of which were becoming endangered. Naushad Ali entrusted me with the great responsibility of trying to save these endangered instruments. This started my Parampara series. The then President Honourable Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam strongly supported me in this noble cause and came for the inauguration of my first Parampara festival.
Tell us your voyage with Bhavanjali
After my training had reached a certain level, Guru Pt. Chittaranjan Jyotishi inspired a few of us to start performing before an audience. For this purpose, we formed Bhavanjali, a musical platform for all of us. Our first song and dance drama ran into a financial problem and taught us the importance of marketing. We learned the harsher realities of life. However, thanks to my elder brother Amitabh Chakravarty and our grit, we managed to keep Bhavanjali going for a few years and then I got married and shifted to Mumbai.
You mesmerised your audiences with a pliable voice that enables you to take the Taar Saptak without a falsetto note, how much practise made you so perfect?
Taar Saptak is a very beautiful note that can be achieved only after dedicated practice over the years. My mother and her Guru-Bhai Narayan Chakravarty made me practise this for years.
Why should music be compulsory in every school? Tell us about your huge efforts to make it reach to maximum students.
According to Dr. Kalam, humans will become like animals if there is no music in this world. Music has the biggest ‘de-stressing’ effect on humans and also on animals. Today’s children suffer from stress all the time. Their hectic lifestyle and leaning on fast rhythmic Western music keep them perpetually excited from within, and many such young boys and girls suffer heart attacks. Earlier in our school days, we used to have several extra-curricular activity classes in which we had poetry, song dance, and dramas. Gradually these classes vanished from the curriculum and students were burdened with only heavy studies. This had to change.
I then undertook several performances across Uttar Pradesh through Spickmackay and reached Ragadari singing to the students.
You have launched many music albums, which one is your own favourite and why?
You might have noticed that I have steeped myself in a particular stream of music and then done my recordings. When I was steeped only in Raagdari, I sang in duet with Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan and there are two very popular albums with Times Music. Some beautiful solo renderings of Ragas on HMV and then came to a phase of folk music as I recorded several Thumri, Hori, and Kajari albums.
Naushad Ali had taken a promise from me that I have to sing Ghazals. I took my time and steeped myself in Ghazal Gayeki. As I was recording my first Ghazal album ‘Ishq’, Naushad Ji passed away. I dedicated this tremendously popular album to Naushad Ali.
When can we see you as a playback singer for Bollywood films?
When I was steeped in Indian Classical music, my dear friend Himesh Reshammiya requested me to sing in several of his compositions. My musical state did not permit me to accept them then. However, I sang one song for him then in the film “Kutch Meetha Ho Jaye” which had Thumri rendering in the song.
Apart from music, if given a chance, will you ever join politics?
I will do whatever it takes to make sure that Indian music is saved (preserved and propagated) in its full glory. For that, if I have to join politics – so be it!
What is your plan for the future?
I was entrusted with the huge responsibility by Baba Ustad Bismillah Khan and Naushad Ali of striving to create a “Sangeet Gram” – a Gurukul where the Masters may teach aspiring students to save endangered instruments and Gharana traditions, in all forms, be it instrumental, vocal, dance form or folk music and dance.
What is your message to our readers?
I have a great belief in the therapeutic quality of Indian Classical music. In fact, I did my second Ph.D. in Music on this subject only. My request to the readers is to make music a part of their lives, listen to music whenever they can and stay healthy!!
One memorable incident to share – a Commander of a Submarine of the Indian Navy had a paralytic stroke while on duty. He recovered from it by listening to Raga Bihag duet of me and Baba. He is hale and hearty now and serving the country well.