A 16 year old girl was to perform a Patiala Gharana style of singing at a concert at the Indian Habitat Centre in Delhi. The audience comprised of not just music aficionados but names like Ustad Alla Rahka Khan, Ustad Sultan Khan, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Ustad Zakir Hussain et al. As the curtains drew, that girl Kaushiki Chakraborty, would face the legends she had worshipped and had no idea of their presence.
“I had no idea who was performing or attending. I was scared at first. But Baba asked me go and seek their blessings before the performance which helped soothen my nerves,” recalls Kaushiki.
Born to Chandana and Ajoy Chakraborty, well known musicians and teachers, Kaushiki seamlessly adapted the Patiala Gharana style of singing. Choosing this style was never a conscious decision but something that she was born into.
“Baba would sing in the Patiala style. My teaching began in that discipline. Before I could know about the other gharanas, I was already settled in this style. It was easy to adapt to it as that was the only style that I came across as a child,” said Kaushiki.
As a child, her only hobby was singing and trying to be comfortable in the public eye. Being a daughter of two of the most sought after exponents of Indian classical music does come with its drawbacks. If it’s not the public gaze, it is the expectations that one has to live up to.
“Unfortunately people do draw parallels at times. They need to understand that I am their disciple so I can never be compared to my gurus,” quipped Kaushiki.
“Musically I was privileged as I had two of the best music teachers at home. As a 4-5 year old I had already learnt the ‘code of conduct’ of behaving on stage and in public eye. How to hold yourself on the stage for 3 hours at a stretch. Before I understood what stage freight is, I was already performing for maybe a 1000 people which later added to my confidence.”
Patiala Gharana style of singing
The doyen of the Patiala Gharana style is Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan who redefined it in his own way. The style we hear before he came in the picture is very different from now. The Patiala style of singing has generally been preferred by males. Kaushiki Chakraborty is one of the few female exponents of this style.
There is a lot of technical expertise and hard work required for this style as it is a very impulsive. The technicalities involved with this unpredictable style of singing is what a musician has to work on. The combination of the sharpness of the faster movements and the openness of the ‘aakar’ is a very uncommon combination. A style which is so deep in using the basic ‘aakar’ of the vowel needs a very broad projection of voice. There are technically vast range of voice projections and expressions one needs to practice and learn.
“This style deals with the deeper ‘raags’ of ‘khayal’ and also expresses some of the most beautiful ‘thumris’ in a subtle manner. One can imagine the kind of versatility needed to handle the range of variations of this style. This is what makes it unique for me. I have figured that this style comprises of the most varied forms of expressions that can come into one style of singing. I never felt that the nuances of a feminine voice got compromised in Patiala gayaki,” asserted Kaushiki.
The Carnatic side of Kaushiki
Carnatic music is not a genre that Kaushiki Chakraborty is alien to. She learnt the discipline from the renowned vocalist Balamurali Krishna. Though her repertoire is limited to some compositions, it is her affinity towards the genre that drew her to it.
“I can never claim to be a trained Carnatic singer. I am predominantly a Hindustani classical singer who had the opportunity to learn the genre. Expressing myself through shorter span of compositions is what is concentrate on, ” stressed Kaushiki.
Recently Kaushiki performed with the Carnatic sister duo Ranjani-Gayatri, where she performed some Carnatic compositions and the sisters performed a part of Hindustani music.
“It is not a conflux of genres as it is projected. This is what Indian classical music is all about,” said Kaushiki Chakraborty
‘Sakhi’ – a Kaushiki Chakraborty ensemble
In the Indian classical music scene the ratio of male to female musicians is highly lopsided towards the former. In a country where women are not encouraged to choose music as a profession, Kaushiki has lived an unfettered life. She wanted a stage to celebrate womanhood as described in our scriptures, history and folklores. She chose music as the language for this expression through her ensemble ‘Sakhi’.
“Many styles of singing like thumris, ghazals, nazms, geet and even Bollywood, came into being through a bunch of ladies who served as courtesans. We have taken their music and included it in our repertoire while rejecting the individuals who gave birth to it. I want to portray their plight through ‘Sakhi’ and thank them for their invaluable contribution to music,” smiled Kaushiki Chakraborty.