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Posted at: Mar 10, 2019, 12:06 AM; last updated: Mar 10, 2019, 12:06 AM (IST)

Voice of Punjab is Bengali

Kaushiki Chakraborty may be singled out for her extensive PR, but the fact remains that she is the face of Patiala gharana
Voice of Punjab is Bengali
Indian classical vocalist Sushri Kaushiki Chakrabarty. PTI

Shailaja Khanna

Kaushiki Chakraborty is the highest-paid woman classical musician, with a massive fan following on social media and a youthful audience in every city she sings in. She has transcended the barriers of classical music and appeals to all types of listeners.

The classical singer is often criticised for being a product of superb marketing, however, she stands out for her singing technique executed with excellence. Her training under different gurus, including the late Balmuralikrishna, Ustad Mashkur Ali Khan and Pt Ajoy Chakravorty, lends to her singing a newness, which has catapulted her ability to connect with audiences. She sells and her eagerness to explore uncharted grounds musically is appreciated by her listeners too.

At the recently concluded Patiala Heritage Festival, Kaushiki, who is today the most popular singer of Patiala gharana, is happy to talk about her link with Punjab. “I just love the spirit of the people here,” she gushes. “And I love shopping here too! I bought myself the world-famous Patiala parandis and juttis. I love to see the places that I perform in and am so happy I was invited to sing in Patiala, which today is my musical identity.”

Talking about the Patiala style, she says, “Patiala gharana style has definitely been influenced by the place. The people of Punjab have a robust quality. That has shaped the music and concretised into Patiala gharana. In that sense, the gharana is inextricably linked to the soil of Punjab. Yahan ke logon mein woh baat hai — sab aao, sab khaao. This openness and inclusiveness extends to all facets of life, including the audience, which is very passionate and exuberant.”

Having sung at various places across Punjab, she says you don’t have to live only in Punjab to be able to sing Patiala gayaki. “If that music is in you, you can reflect it. The ratio of Patiala gharana singers vis-à-vis singers of other styles is not great and the gharana could have died out by now, but it remains one of the main gharanas today. It is relevant because it’s so appealing,” she says.

Asked whether some regions inspired her musically more than others and Kaushiki ponders… “When I first went to Sawai Gandharva Festival (Pune), I went a day earlier so that I could imbibe the spirit of that place. I went the night before to hear Rashid kaku (Ustad Rashid Khan) sing, and that night, I was so energised. The next day I couldn’t wait to start my concert. In an area where so much music happens all the time, the vibes are out there. You just have to immerse yourself in it. It’s like a temple, it’s so charged! But I would say that our music transcends regions totally. And it is not because of something special in me; I am appreciated because of the audience and their understanding of music. In Maharashtra, I am truly loved. Unhone mujhe sar pe baitha ke rakha hai, and it’s been like this for years. They connect to the music I represent. I sing the same style all over, I don’t improvise for different regions,” she says.

Kaushiki’s recent joint concerts with Carnatic singing duo Ranjani-Gayatri have been very popular. She says the immense popularity is due to the fact that they adapt each other’s styles in their singing. “I think that works. It’s not a North-South music collaboration. I sing in their Carnatic tradition (ragam tanam) while they sing my thumri. Of course, I have sung with other Carnatic greats like Chitravina Ravikiran and my guru, Padma Vibhushan M Balamuralikrishna ji.”

Her popularity takes her to a new city every third day. We ask her how she takes all this travelling. “All my family holidays are in places where we connect with nature. We try to switch off, no phones, no network. So, it’s only about connecting with nature, with silence. In loving nature you start loving yourself as nature is a part of you. It simplifies a lot of things, including all the travelling I do.” When home, Kaushiki says she gets up at 7 am, but may not want to get ready and go out every day. “I enjoy my time at home.”

The concert in Patiala got such an overwhelming response that Kaushiki had to be escorted away by policemen to keep away the ecstatic fans who could not get enough of her. Marketing or no marketing, Kaushiki is loved.

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