Tuesday, 21 August 2007


She has been gem of a voice for decades. “I am like a bridge over generations”, Haimanti Shukla says from Calcutta (India). From Pandit Ravishankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Hemanta Mukherjee, Salil Chowdhury, Naushad, Manna Dey to the younger composers of today, Shukla has been “privileged to continue the musical journey” with all.

The singer, who navigates between classical to modern, devotional to film music, with élan, has sung in several Indian languages, besides Bengali. “I never had a problem in adjusting with the composers and directors, irrespective of the language”, she says with her usual sweetness. “The younger composers who now I work with - grew up listening to my songs. They compose keeping in mind what suits me best”, Shukla adds. But she admits: “Music has changed a lot. I try my best to keep pace with changing times”.
However, she has a mild complain about the attitude of the fresh talents who have been trying hard to make a mark in the music scene. “Many of them think they can sing without learning the music. Many of them cite Kishore Kumar as an example. But Kishore Kumar was a genius, an exception. To be a good singer, one must learn the music properly”, the singer affirms her stand. And learning classical music “certainly helps to solidify the musical foundation”. Shukla elaborates: “The reason behind my musical flexibility is my classical foundation. One can take any course in music, but classical base is a must”.
Over the years, Shukla has given numerous hits. A major break came when she recorded the Bengali song Amar Bawlar Kichu Chilona (I had nothing to say). Manna Dey was supposed to record the song. But somehow Shukla got a chance and music lovers took notice of a fresh voice that had all the traits of a musical tradition.
Indeed, she carries a musical heritage from her father Late Pandit Harihar Shukla. “My father was mainly a classical singer. But he kept his windows open and listened to all types of music. He even recorded few Nazrul Geeti (songs of poet Nazrul Islam). He made us listen to different music as well. So you would hear me singing Rabindra Sangeet (songs of poet Rabindranath Tagore) and Nazrul Geeti also”, she says.
One person who has been “like god” to Shukla, is Pandit Ravishankar. “He trained me for seven consecutive days and explained everything in simple words – he sounded like the beautiful moves on a sitar”, the disciple-like respect is evident in Shukla’s voice.
Referring to the music competitions on television she says: “Most of them are good platform for promoting talents. While judging one such show on ZEE Bangla channel (in India), I admitted that these young singers are well-trained. I couldn’t have sung so well in front of the judges, under the lights and facing several cameras at that age”.
Among the recent singers, she affectionately mentions Nachiketa, Shrikanta Acharya and Rupankar. But for all she has a warning: “Do not run after songs that won’t stay. Instant popularity should not be your goal”. She mentions singer Shilajit in this context. “I said the same thing to him”, she says, adding: “I do not like all these current songs they air on the radio nowadays. For me, it is still good old All India Radio that soothes my ears. I wait for those golden tracks of yesteryears”.
Like her, the Indian expatriates across the globe wait for a taste of India. “When I perform at venues abroad, many people come up to me and say the songs make them cry. I can understand their nostalgia – they are so far away from their roots”, Shukla sounds little carried away too.
Appreciation from the audience has been the “best accolade” for Shukla. “I have achieved all that I could. I am content and happy. My only wish is to sing well as long as I can”, the veteran says before she wishes all of us well.