Chandranath Das Baul
interviewed at Oberoi Grand Hotel, Kolkata
December 18, 2017
- Chandranath, your father passed away...
- Yes! It has been quite a few months now since he passed away! In fact, it is about to be one year within a couple of months! My uncle too is under constant stress. He has not been keeping well either! He feels helpless after my father’s demise. Now he is the head of the family. Coming Wednesday, he is travelling to Hyderabad for treatment. None of the doctors here are able to diagnose his ailment. So all the members of our family are quite tensed!
- You began learning music while your father was still alive. Are you planning to continue it?
- Yes, I started performing while my father was still alive. I love singing and want to continue it! However, I do not possess the knowledge about Baul music that my father and my uncle had as they were initiated into this world at a very young age. I am trying to acquire this knowledge. But it is difficult in the absence of my father. The experience and knowledge that my father possessed I lack! He also possessed a certain quality of affect that I do not have! I am trying to learn some of these from my uncle. Maybe, I cannot perform as well as them. But I am gradually trying to do so.
- You are also pursuing your education right?
- Yes, I am studying. Nowadays, the demand for Baul music has reduced. Baul music is still popular, but people prefer fusion. Composers are blending Western music with Baul songs and creating a kind of fusion music which sells. This sort of fusion music has created a large market for itself in West Bengal. Unlike other years, when we were called for performing at various venues, this year the demand was much less. Baul music is part of my family tradition; it is in my blood and I need to take it forward! At the same time, however, I need to have a professional job. I am learning computers as well as taking my academics forward for this very reason. We do not receive invitations to perform every month. Some months, there is just one invitation, other months, there are ten, and some months we do not receive any invitation at all! It is not a fixed source of income. My family is always under financial stress. Thus, I have decided to pursue a professional career while continuing music on the side.
- What kind of jobs are you looking for?
- I am about to complete my graduation. I also like data entry and data tallying on computers. I prefer any job that relates to computers. I have a fascination for computers. I am also capable of video editing, photo editing, etc. A professional job in this field would be very welcome.
- How is your mother doing after your father passed away?
- She was initially shattered. But I am the only son. For my sake, she has pulled herself together. She has had to bury her grief. In the absence of my father, my mother and I have become more dependent on each other! We console each other. If I weep she consoles me and tells me, “Even if your father is gone, I am there! And you need to look after me!” I console here similarly. Then, there is my uncle! He, too, is under immense stress. The burden of running the whole family is now on his shoulders.
- After your father’s demise, have you been performing on stage with your uncle?
- Yes! I remember on the first such occasion, I couldn’t perform as there were tears in my eyes! I couldn’t help but remember that since the very first time I appeared on stage, my father was always there beside me. He would correct me if I sang a line wrongly. He would show me the correct way of rendering that line! He would tell me about the philosophy of the body (deha-tattva). He taught me a lot of things. I was constantly reminded of all that the first time I appeared on stage with my uncle after my father passed away. There were tears in my eyes, when I realised that the space beside me that had been occupied by my father was now empty! I have not completely been able to get over his absence.
- Are you learning the songs from your uncle?
- Yes! I am slowly learning the songs from the uncle. The songs that my father and uncle sang are melody-based. It is not enough to simply learn the song. I need to understand the complex philosophy that lies at the heart of the song. I am taking my time with these songs; learning one at a time while constantly quizzing my uncle about its inner philosophical content.
- Are you in contact with other Bauls outside your immediate family?
- Yes, ours is a family which is steeped within Baul tradition. As such, almost automatically, many other Bauls are in touch with our family. Some of these Bauls I look up to as my elder brother. I and my uncle have also performed with them on several occasions. But I never perform anywhere without my uncle! There are differences between the songs which have been passed down to us and their renditions of Baul songs. The songs performed by my father and my uncle have been composed by our forefathers and passed down to us. These do not bear much resemblance to the songs performed by the other Bauls. I am slowly learning these songs. My father and my uncle always sing songs which revolve around the philosophy of the body. While I have been learning these songs, I also try and learn other kinds of songs which seem to be popular now amongst the present generation of listeners. I have picked up some of these folk songs that are now popular. My uncle keeps singing the songs of our family gharana. However, the audience nowadays are not always capable of comprehending or receiving such songs. Hence, I have tried to keep up with the times, and along with these songs, have also learnt some popular folk numbers. I first try and gauge the mindset of an audience and then choose which song to perform.
- Do your uncle’s daughters, your cousin sisters, sing as well?
- My cousin sisters are not so much into Baul music. They prefer newer kinds of music. They are very good in academics. They are shy to perform on stage and haven’t yet been able to overcome their shyness. The two elder daughters of my uncle are not inclined towards Baul music. But the youngest one has an inclination. Whenever we rehearse at home, she comes to the room, tries to play the harmonium and dances with her anklets on. She has some sort of an inclination. Let us see whether, by the time she grows up, this develops into a full-fledged passion!
- Don’t you ask the two older sisters to sing?
- I have told them, we have told them repeatedly. But they lack a passion for Baul music. Nothing can be forcibly enforced unless one has a passion for it! They are inclined towards other kinds of songs which they hear on television. But they are not interested in Baul music as such! They lack the passion! It may develop ten years later, who knows? They may be taken by one particular song and this might engender an interest. I learnt music by constantly listening to my father and my uncle. I love folk songs. I listen to them on my mobile phone and pick them up. During my first stage performance, I sang folk songs. It was in Mednagar, Mallarpur, near our ancestral village home. Maybe, one song I performed well, the other I couldn’t sing as well as I was tensed! My sisters too may develop a passion for Baul music later in their lives.
- The tradition of your family needs to be continued by your uncle and you.
- Yes! I could never imagine that my father would pass away so soon and this responsibility would come on my shoulders! My relationship with my uncle now is no longer like an uncle and a nephew. We are more like brothers now! My uncle is all alone now! Besides, he has not been keeping well! It is my responsibility now to ensure that no further trouble befalls him and the family. I try my best to ensure this! That is also why I am searching for a job. The demand for professional performance is on the decline these days. Our family is big. There are financial constraints. I, being educated, need to think of an alternate source of income for the family! That is why I am looking for a job! I can continue singing on the side! But I want to ease the financial burden on my uncle. There shall be no uncertainty if there is a constant source of income!?
Recorded at the Oberoi Grand Hotel on Dec 18, 2017
Director and Interviewer: Aditi Sicar
Cameras: Jesse Alk, Shubra Dutta
Sound: Koustav Sinha
Edited by Rhonda Granger
Translated by Parjanya Sen