A Record of Store
Some of our best and priceless collections are not in museums but have been lovingly put together over the years by private connoisseurs. Amit Guha, a former football player has a similar archive of old records and it is simply a hair raising experience to listen to the original voices of Tagore and Gahaur Jaan.
Once, Rabindranath Tagore was recording a duet song, Tomar Surer Dhara with Rama Devi, sometime in the late 1920s. The recording took place in the studio of Hindusthan Records and quite a few stalwarts including its founder, CC Saha were present. Just after finishing the song, unaware that the recording was still on, Tagore, pleased with his own rendition observed to Rama Devi that he had sung the song quite well. CC Saha rejected the record and requested Tagore to sing once again but he declined. The poet had cut eight records with Hindusthan Records and another nine records with HMV.
Tagore's rejected record - the only piece available now, has found its place in the archive at Suraj Shruti Sadan off Sinthee Morh. The archive has 75,000 Bengali records made between 1902 when shellac made records first came to India from Hanover in Germany till late 1970s when records were replaced by audio cassettes. In addition there are around 20,000 records of Hindi songs which are yet to be catalogued, said Amit Guha, owner of the archive.
During the anti-Partition movement, Narayan Mukherjee, a noted singer had recorded “Bande Mataram” written by Bankimchandra and set to music by Tagore. It was a 10-inch paper record. Interestingly, 31 artistes had sung this song between 1906 and 1934 and they all feature in the collection of Guha. The first recording by Mukherjee had begun with a piano and was essentially sung at a slower pace. Later, the rhythm became faster and flute and clarinet were used. Jana Gana Mana, our National Anthem was first recorded by the students of Santiniketan under the supervision of Rabindranath and the chorus included Santidev Ghosh, Sudhin Dutta, Amala Das and Nandini Devi.
The famous kirtan, Hari Din To Galo Sandhya Holo which was used by Satyajit Ray in Pather Panchali had been recorded by none other than Lalchand Boral in 1908. Great singers like Manadashundari, Krishnabhamini, Miss Shibani, and Miss Satyarani sang tappa, usually sung by male singers. Though they were prostitutes, at the end of the song the singer introduced herself in English, to establish they were no way inferior to their male counterparts. Anathnath Bose, another noted singer of the era could sing in both female and male voices, simultaneously. Bose's records - thumri in female voice and khayal in male voice became quite popular in the 1930s.
Guha says the collection of old records date back to three generations. Surajlal Mukherjee began collecting old records when his father became ill in 1964. His father was a connoisseur of Indian music and asked Surajlal popularly known as Harubabu to bring old records for him. Harubabu began collecting records and by the time his father died he had an amazing collection of 50,000 records. The archive has two priceless possessions: the first- a record of Gahaur Jaan sung in 1906 and a collection of Nidhubabur tappa by famous Kalipada Pathak. Harubabu passed on his treasure to his son-in-law, Amit Guha, who was a footballer playing for East Bengal. “I did not have an ear for old songs. My father-in-law often asked me to listen to them which frankly speaking, I did not enjoy. However, with the passage of time my taste for old songs grew,” said Guha.
One is equally amazed to listen to the baritone voice of Nazrul Islam in Shunyo E Buke. A prayer by Sri Ramakrishna recorded by Swami Abhedananda also finds a place in the archive. It has a rare collection of songs sung by famous composers including Anupam Ghatak, Himangsu Dutta, Kamal Dasgupta and Jyotirindranath Moitra.
However, getting old pins to run the old gramophone and record player is a tough job. “The archive should be used for research on Bengali popular songs. My doors are always open to the genuine music lovers and research scholars”, Guha said while signing off.