Sandhya Rani Das
interviewed at HMV Studio, Dum Dum, Kolkata, West Bengal
Interviewer: What is your name and where do you live? My name is Sandhya Rani Das, and I live at Bolpur, Shantiniketan in Birbhum district.
How long have you lived there? I have lived there about 21 years.
Where did you live before that? Before that I lived in Chittoronjon in Asansol. I used to sing and dance there from the age of 5. From that time, I have made the dotara my life mate along with Baul songs at saddhu festivals. Since I was little I have followed other Baul singers. I have sung at different temples and festivals since I was little, but the Baul songs are my favorite.
Since you were 5 years old, you have loved Baul songs and the dotara---why not any other types of songs? The reason I started was because my father had financial problems, very bad problems. We had a lot of family members. I had little brothers and sisters and my Dad was elderly. From time to time, I used to go begging. After doing that I used to come back and whatever I made from here and there, I used to come home around 2-3 p.m., and whatever I used to get—lentils, rice, etc.—I gathered all of it and cooked it and ate with my family.
How did you learn about Baul songs? I used to go to many places to visit. And I used to hear many people singing Baul songs. And I used to ask myself, what is Baul? What is Baul? With the hope of learning Baul I used to go to many Jaydeb festivals. I used to go to Lubashon (?) and many other places. And “What is Baul?”, I wanted to learn what it is. That is why I have come along this line since I was little.
Was your father a Baul singer? Yes, he was a Baul singer. My entire family are Baul singers. My brothers and sisters and parents were Baul singers. They all used to sing Baul songs.
Who was your first Baul singing teacher? My first teacher was my father.
What is your father’s name? Nagon Sarkar Baul.
After, how did you become a Baul? I learned the songs from my father, and after learning them, I used to go to many festivals, and to the Jaydeb festival. There were many Baul singers there.
What are their names? Monohor Khepa, Alakhepa, Sudhir Baba, and Bane Madup—they were a ll Baul singers, and I went to them to know how to become a Baul singer. It’s not just singing. I wanted to learn what a Baul singer was. I knew some and I learned some from them.
How did you learn to play the dotara and long have you played it? I learned from my father how to play the dotara. I have been playing it for 25 years. I love to play it. Because my father’s original place was in Bangladesh, that is why I used to see my father play the dotara. That sound is my favorite. In my heart I used to feel that I want to learn how to play. After that I used to see many Baul singers play the dotara and sing. Then I came to like it a lot, and I wanted t learn how to play. I used to beg my father everyday, “Father, Father, I want to learn how to play.” And this is where I am now.
What other instruments can you play? The ektara, the dugduggi, the harmonium, the dotara, drums, and cymbals.
Before you came to Bolpur, did you used to sing? And why did you come to Bolpur? I got married in Bolpur. My husband also sings. My brother-in-law and my father-in-law and the entire family also sing.
What is your father-in-law’s name? My father-in-law’s name is Biswanath Das Baul and my husband’s name is Nityo Gopal Das Baul. That’s why I came to a Baul family, and I am very happy here.
Where did you meet Nityo Gopal? I met Nityo Gopal at the Jaydeb festival. There we both liked each other. And he also sings and I sing, and after that we got married.
How long have you been married? 20 years.
Do you go to Chittoronjon? Yes, I do go, but my father is gone; he died, and my mother is dead, too. Only my little brothers and sisters are there, so I go sometimes. And I go to many places and programs.
Did your father used to do anything else besides singing? No, he didn’t; mother used to sing, too, as well as my brothers and sisters. But they are all married now. They all used to sing. My brothers are still here. Even after, the teachers were still here and Pagla Baba is my husband’s teacher. Also my father-in-law’s teacher, too. Pagla Baba did a program at a school. That day I really wanted to learn from him. I really liked it. One place I went to sing and my father really liked it. He said “I really like to hear you sing. I think in the future you will become a great singer.” I don’t know how far what I can be, everything is up to God. I couldn’t go toward the singing line because I was busy with family life. I loved listening to and singing songs. I really love it. Even when I am at home, and I hear that there is a Baul singer there, I feel like just leaving and going there. I really love it.
Have you gone abroad to sing? Outside of India? Yes, I went outside India in 2004 for the first time to Japan. I liked it. I went to Japan to sing Baul songs. I sang at the Shantiniketan festival, and there were some women from Japan there who heard me sing. They asked me if I wanted to go abroad, and I said ‘yes’, I want to see how much fun it is in Japan. I won’t know until I go. So I went to see abroad to Osaka, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Tokyo. That was the first program I did. And I did other programs in Japan; they very much enjoyed it and so did I. Besides that and India, I’ve done many programs.
Did you go anywhere else, other than Japan? Besides Japan, I went to two more countries but I can’t remember their names.
Did you go to Japan by yourself? I went with one of my brothers, Shiv Shankar Das Baul; he also sings Baul songs. And with another person I know, Nityanando Das Baul. He sings at the Poush Mela and he took us.
How many recordings do you have? 22 albums.
Where did you publish your recordings? In Kolkata. DWM company and some others.
Is there a new album coming out? Yes, there is a new album coming soon, at the Poush Mela , and it will have ten songs in the album.
Do you sing your own songs or what others write for you? I sing my own songs and what others from my village have written. I mostly sing the songs written by the village people. We like to sing the village songs to the city folks to let them know how village folks live.
Okay, well thank you for the interview; it went very well.
Joy guru, joy guru! I enjoyed it. Thank you.
Interviewed by Aditi Sircar