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The Legends Who Formed the Choir

The Legends Who Formed the Choir

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Salil Choudhury and Ruma Guha Thakurta - The legends behind the Cacutta Youth Choir

We share this story as a tribute to Salil Chawdhury and Ruma Guha Thakurta whose birth anniversary was on 19th and 3rd of November.

By Somashis Gupta

It was pleasant to Boren to find himself once more in the small room of the first floor in Prince Anwar Shah Road, which had been the starting point of so many remarkable concerts with the maestro. He looked around at the musical instruments which lay on the floor and the table and the wall, some known some unknown to him. Finally his eyes came around to the fresh and smiling face of the maestro who was deep in thoughts. It was 7 in the evening of a lovely day in the year 1958 and Boren was sufficiently familiar with the ways of the great man and felt no surprise. That means another project he thought and quietly approached the vacant chair at the corner.

Later in the same year, somewhere in the city of Calcutta a performance of music considerably excited the city to a great extant. In the stage were legendary musician Salil Chaudhury, Ruma Guha Thakurta and many more from a group named ‘Calcutta youth Choir’. These songs led to a complete change from the period of inaction to a one which made the city ever active. The songs were revolutionary in nature and set an aura for the turbulent course of history of people’s movements that largely shaped Bengal for the upcoming years, both socially and politically.

The Choir was not just into music, the members were ever active to support the suffering people weather it was drought or floods, political insecurity or natural disasters, said Ruma Guha Thakurta in a concert in 1990.  The songs they sung were of distinct protest against the oppression of the ruling class and also spoke about unity of all faiths and world peace. Songs like  ‘Amar Protibader Bhasha’ , Amader nana mote, O alor Potho Jatri’ are just to name a few.

Long days have passed since then, our country has reached artistic sophistication in the genre of choir music, and there is no doubt that it is because of the long and dedicated efforts of one woman – Ruma Guha Thakurta, who birth anniversary was on 3rd of November.

Many know her as the first wife of Kishore Kumar and mother of Amit Kumar, but she was definitely much more than that. Belonging to a musical family she was familiar with music since early childhood. She undertook dance lesions from Uday Shankar Academy. She was actively involved with the Bombay film industry since childhood. She acted as a 10 year old kid in the film Jwar Bhata and also was involved in IPTA (Indian People Theatre Association). Continuing her lesions under Ustad Rehman Khan she soon sung and acted in various Hindi movies as a teenager.

It was in the year 1958 when she formed The Calcutta Youth Choir along with her maternal uncle the Humdinger Satyajit Ray and the genius musician Salil Chowdhury. As Vinayak Lohani writes in The Wire about the formation, it was because of the hectic schedule of Salil he passed on the baton to young Ruma to organize his disciples into a choir. Thus the Calcutta Youth Choir was started with Ruma Guha Thakurta, Salil Chowdhury and Satyajit Ray as the founders, and Ray as its first President.

It is an interesting fortuity that Salil Chowdhury was born in this moth as well, 19th of November to be precise. We have already shared a story on the great man on this platform. So in order to avoid repetition let us look at the some other interesting aspects about his music.

Recently Sourendra and Soumyojit posted a video on Salil Chowdhury’s music where they showed us 10 different composition of Salil Chowdhury in 10 different Ragas. They also highlighted that the maestro was not restricted to a singular form and his music just had shades of the Ragas in his compositions. For example Raag Yaman Kalyan in ‘Kahin Dur Jab Din Dhal Jaya’ or Raag Bageshri in the song ‘Main toh kabh se khari iss paar’. You can find out more in this video.

The greatness of Salil Chowdhury is his usage of notes. As Kobir Suman described the song ‘Rannar’ in a programe, it was a song in B flat which was scaled in Indian style. The song’s first stanza was with pure notes but then suddenly the notes changes to minor note and gives a new dimension to the song as he includes Raag Bhairav. We are sharing the video for the readers to understand in a better way.

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Both Salil Chowdhury and Ruma Guha Thakurta are no longer with us, but there music lives on and on for now and for days to come.


“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.”

Ludwig van Beethoven

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