An Evening With Dr Sreekumar Chattopadhyay - 50 Years of Rabindra Sangeet - Exclusive Interview

Dr Sreekumar Chatterjee

Rabindra Sangeet exponent Dr Sreekumar Chattopadhyay grew up and lives in North Calcutta, in the Shyambazar area, in his ancestral home. His father, Dr Sukumar Chattopadhyay, was also a medical doctor, and mother used to teach classes in graduate school. His father was a very handsome man, and a renowned doctor as well - but his love for the arts was probably more than for his profession, with music, acting in theater and even Bengali movies among his passions. Somtimes he used to return late at night, but still found time to sing while playing his Esraj.

They had as their neighbors folks like Kanu Bandopadhyay, Tapan Singha, Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, Shailajaranjan Mukhopadhyay and Narendranath Mitra. Sisir Bhaduri was actually a patient of Dr Sukumar Chattopadhyay.

Dr Sreekumar Chattopadhyay's mother was a professor in Bengali, and also an accomplished singer. It was fashionable around the time of her wedding to present an Organ to the bride. His mother was presented an Organ manufactured by the famous Dwarkin & Sons founded by Dwarkanath Ghosh. The legendary classical Tabla maestro Pandit Jnan Prakash Ghose was a grandson of Dwarkanath Ghosh. Among other achievements, Dwarkanath Ghosh invented the ubiquitous Harmonium. Dr Chatterji in his childhood used to hear his mother, who trained under Girija Shankar Chakraborty in Classical Vocal, singing and playing the organ. She used to sing Rabindra Sangeet, as well as Bengali modern songs by popular singers like Kanan Devi and Binata Ray.

Dr Sukumar Chattopadhyay believed that his children should learn some art form in addition to formal school studies, and when Dr Sreekumar Chattopadhyay was around 8 years old, asked his son what he would like to learn. His son expressed a desire to learn to play the Tabla. So Dr Sreekumar Chattopadhyay was taken to Natu Ganguli, brother of Heeru Ganguli - both brothers were famous Tabla players who were also their neighbors. Dr Chatterjee subsequently took Tabla lessons from Natu Ganguli for almost 8 years.

He soon started to play Tabla along with songs sung by his friends. He then would often sing along with his friends, or sometimes by himself sing the songs he had heard his friends singing, having easily memorized the lyrics and tunes. Eventually Dr Chatterjee's father chanced to hear his son singing, and was pretty impressed by his abilities. It was decided that Dr Chatterjee would take singing lessons, and was taken to his father's friend Badrinath Ghosh. In the next few years, Dr Chatterjee trained with or was advised by Nachiketa Ghosh, Dwijen Mukherjee and Sunil Chakraborty. His friends and fellow students under the tutelage of Sunil Chakaborty included Shipra Basu, Goutam Mitra, Mrinal Mukherjee and others.

By this time, Dr Chatterjee was a student at R J Kar Medical college. In the video recording above, he also tells us some fantastic stories from those days, especially about Intercollegiate Competitions in which students from different colleges competed in various items including Rabindra Sangeet and Indian Classical vocals, and winners gained immediate fame and recognition in all colleges and universities across the state of West Bengal. Dr Sreekumar Chattopadhyay won the top prize in Rabindra Sangeet three years in a row in Intercollegiate competitions. Other champions include Manabendra Mukherjee, Sukumar Mitra, Chinmoy Chatterjee and Anup Ghosal. One of the stories Dr Chatterjee shares with us in the video is how his friend Subhash Mukherjee from Sodpur, the winner in Dhrupad and Kheyal vocals, could never win the Rabindra Sangeet competition, and how Dr Chatterjee and he discussed his singing style with complete camaraderie in spite of being competitors.

In 1964, Dr Sreekumar Chatterjee auditioned at Hindusthan Records, with Raichand Boral, and Maya Sen in Rabindra Sangeet. Apparently Nirod Banerjee, a famous sound recordist at Hindusthan Records, appreciated Dr Chatterjee's singing, and expressed surprise when he learned that he was a student of medicine. A few days later, Dr Chatterjee was pleasantly surprised to see his name at the top of the list of successful candidates who had auditioned with Hindusthan Records. It was customary for new artists at Hindusthan Records to be assigned a trainer. Dr Chatterjee, when asked who he wanted to have as his trainer, said he would like Debabrata Biswas. On learning George Biswas had not expressed any desire to be a trainer for anyone, Dr Chatterjee suggested Chinmoy Chattopadhyay. Though Chinmoy Chatterjee was an artist of HMV, he agreed to become the trainer for the first time after hearing Dr Sreekumar Chatterjee's singing.

The interview video continues Dr Chatterjee's fascinating stories from a time and age cherished by all Bengalis. Do not miss the anecdotes from Dr Chatterjee involving Debabrata Biswas, Hemanta Mukherjee and so on. Also hear him singing with no musical accompaniment where his fantastic voice shines at its brightest.

The informal talk with Dr Sreekumar Chatterjee was recorded at the residence of his son, Dr Sabarni Chatterjee. Also seen in the video is Supratim Sanyal, founder of Washington Bangla Radio.