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Interview with Kaushiki Chakraborty :: Indian Classical Vocalist

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When Life is a Song : a Heart to Heart talk with Kaushiki Chakraborty

That she is a beautiful Indian classical vocalist, we know. That she is a crowd-puller and a leading one at that, we know too. But, not all of us know what goes in retaining that amazing voice or the focus and discipline required to stay tuned in to that kala (art). The art that has made her the voice she is today has plenty of unspoken elements that celebrate the craft of Kaushiki Chakraborty. At the outset, words like focus, dedication or perseverance contribute towards making her and many others like her the artistes we feel proud of. We like to follow them and are fans of their compositions. At home in gatherings, at public halls, even in car stereos. Chakraborty is one such artiste – sought-after and soulful.

Besides owning a voice that can render many a listener prisoners forever, Kaushiki is careful not to let her art get the better of her. She enjoys singing, is dedicated to it but does not let it consume other aspects of her life. However, riyaaz and tending to vocal cords is a given although there’s a difference in what is ideal and what actually happens. “There’s a lot of difference between what you ideally need and what you practically get. Ideally one should not be talking a lot, one should stick to one kind of climate, have the right kind of food (non-spicy), avoid late nights but in the last couple of days none of this has happened,” she laughs, “but that’s what happens with travelling musicians, we don’t always get the ideal situation. There has to be primary acceptance of this and in the right spirit; you also need to train your voice in a certain way that it can take care of itself, despite odds. So, acceptance is the key to everything, you cannot mull over the rights and the wrongs in situations that come forth. Also, if your voice is well-trained and you have practiced the right way, your voice gets immune to a lot of things. And so, even if you have had wrong food, late nights or loud talking, your voice with the riyaaz, the taaleem, would have attained a level and may not get affected by a few disturbances. Also, with our discipline, we are first a student, then an apprentice and that phase of apprecticeship is very important because you start travelling with your teacher, your guru. Late  nights, wrong food are all taken in to account and then you get on to the stage with your guru to perform. That kind of becomes a survival chain.”

Turning to her seven-year-old son Rishith, Kaushiki shares how he was up till 5 am the previous night. “He played the tanpura with me for about 45 minutes at Saptak. For him it is a big thing, but for me it is normal. People tell me you must be a devilish mom who is forcing her son to do something like this,” she says matter-of-fact, as I offer the example of the recently released Dangal where Aamir Khan plays a tough father, driving his daughters to pursue his unrealized dreams. Wearing her signature smile, she says, “Ah, that was completely my childhood! If you groom kids the hard way, they become harder, tougher. It’s never going to be easy ever, right? So, the earlier you expose them to how life is going to be practically, the better it will be. As a parent you will defend them but it’s not going to be a cakewalk and they must know it. Why, then, give them the impression to have dinner at 8.30 or go to bed by 9 pm? I am not a fussy mother or a stickler for schedules. He survives everything!”


Does that mean she is different in raising her son from how her father raised her – with harsh schedules and training and all that it involves? And, doesn’t she believe that if she turned out well with all the strict guidance, her son would too? “No, there’s no mathematics or formula in that. One has to learn, appreciate and value the toughness, but you don’t have to live it at every stage of your life. Of course, discipline is mandatory… there’s not one person who excelled without discipline on this earth. As parents it is our instinct to protect and care for our child which we do. If harshness is required, so be it, they need to know that too,” she states categorically.

“I was six years old when I travelled with my parents for a three-month tour to the US. Every weekend there would be two to three concerts and I would sing at every concert with my father, until 2 or 3 am each time. My father was another name to Hitler! We still don’t have conversations. He tells me something and I say yes to it. Despite being a child back then, I could never tell him I won’t perform or that I was tired or wanted to sleep. And it wasn’t just about singing on stage, I also had stage etiquette that I learnt from him. That was true survival – understanding and valuing the discipline of a platform. For us the stage is an alter, a place of workship, you can’t just lie down and sleep there. But nobody had to tell me, I saw my father and did the same. You see, kids are best at mirroring. If they see you shout, they know that when you are out of control, you shout. The day before yesterday I touched the dias before stepping on it, yesterday I saw my son do the same. Nobody told him to do so. They learn from watching you!”

Kaushiki believes the everyday process of life and its goings-on are the best teachers. “The biggest loss as parents would be to realize that children don’t look up to you or respect you, because you were busy teaching them the dos and don’ts without adhering to them yourself. You give your life to see them become what they do and if they don’t look up to you, it is the worst thing that could happen,” she says. Does Rishith follow her footsteps in singing? “Oh not quite, he loves playing the tabla. He goes for classes where he would see people and picked it up. And since none of us plays the tabla, we didn’t know what to lead him to. Though my husband plays a bit of tabla and taught him to an extent but it is Rishith himself who asked for a teacher. None of us forced him into it, his environment took him there. He’s also learning to sing but we cannot make him a singer. You cannot make someone a musician, if he believes he can do it, you can lead him to it,” says the vocalist who believes one can be guided, but never forced to become an artiste.

It also isn’t just about music for this mother and son. The 36-year-old enjoys taking lots of holidays with her seven-year-old. “We love writing stories, we do painting, we bake cakes…we enjoy photography together as well. We have little competitions like whose sunset photo is better… of course, his has to be the better one!” smiles the mother.

So, is she happy to see a lot of young people take interest in Indian classical music as against earlier? “Well, the Indian classical music was never for the masses… it caters to a certain mental state. When I was young and my father was singing, I never saw so many youngsters in the audience as I do now. That is a very promising factor and a positive development. It is a lot owing to youtube and easier accessibility. New avenues are opening up. Social media and digital mediums have helped music reach out to everyone. Getting an audience is not as tough…one click and a few hundreds are sure to see and listen to you,” she believes.

And well, with artistes like her, the hundreds get multiplied.

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Photographs : Aditya Sharma


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