Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Bitthanbai: A Timeless Journey

Legendary singer Reba Muhuri in Bitthanbai narrates story of the life of a Baiji, old Kolkata and death of love. Aitrayee Sarkar takes the opportunity to throw light at it.  

Bitthanbai is Reba Muhuri’s last book. We generally remember Reba Muhuri for the famous Meera-bhajan ‘Mohe Lagi Lagaan Guru Charan Ki’ used in Satyajit Ray’s Joi Baba Felunath (1979). But the two songs that had brought Reba the nationwide fame were the thungris sung for Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977). Those were—‘Bajaye Bashuria Shyam, Yamuna Kinare’ and ‘Chabi Dikhlaja, Banke Sabariya’. Unfortunately, we do not know much about this legendary singer other than that.  
Reba Muhuri (right) with Satyajit Ray and Bijoya Ray at a family function
Reba Muhuri’s first book ‘Thungri O Baiji’ was written in mid-80s. Unlike the first one Bitthanbai is a work of semi-fiction. The story of the protagonist Bitthan is narrated here in a novel-like style. The characters described by Reba are inspired by the life and time experienced by the then famous Baijis of the country. Her narration gives us the opportunity to get a glimpse of the old Kolkata which sheltered famous Baijis like Gauhar Jaan, Malka Jaan and many more after the past glory of cities like Lucknow, Agra and Delhi started to fade away in the post-Sipahi Vidroha (Indian Rebellion of 1857) era. Like every other professional the Baijis, too, migrated to the then Calcutta, the new capital of the British India, to try their luck once again. Though the writer has not mentioned anything directly but it’s not hard to assume that the shift in political stronghold must had played a significant role behind Bitthan’s epic journey to various corners of the country along with her love interest Meher Ali.  

The book is divided into three separate parts. The first part is dedicated to describe some personal memories of Reba Muhuri. It’s a remarkably written section by the editor of the book Ritaprava Bandhopadhyay. The second part consists of the story of Bitthanbai, And the last but not the least is an album of 14 unheard songs of Reba Muhuri, brought together from personal collection of several people. Some of those songs were sung in private functions in Jodhpur and Shantiniketan.  

Reba Muhuri loved singing from very early age. Her father Amiyanath Sanyal was an exponent of classical music too. Hence, she grew up amid music which remained with Reba forever. Surprisingly, Reba never had the opportunity to concentrate on her formal training switching off from her family responsibilities. She could only manage some uninterrupted years to dedicate to music only after her two sons grown up. Political unrest and heat of the Second World War had never let Reba and her Army-physician husband to settle down. 

They were traveling constantly from one corner of the country to another. But that could not affect Reba’s thirst for music. She used even the slightest opportunity available to train herself. Somehow, the character Bitthan, too, reflects that eternal thirst for excellence, for life. Hence, Bitthanbai is not merely a story but also a description of several historic rise and fall. Music played a pivotal role to shape up lives narrated in it. 

Bitthanbai is a must read for not only the classical music lovers but also the general people to rediscover Reba Muhuri as a complete artist. The writing style is realistic yet professional. Its a journey that we all should accompany Reba and enjoy together. The adventures of life, the deaths and sorrows would embrace us with their glorious uncertainties.         

Bitthanbai by Reba Muhuri 
Edited by Ritaprava Bandhopadhyay
Dey's Publishing
₹ 180

The writer is an editor of WebPressClub

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