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Remembering Girija Devi: When Appa Ji Cooked Chholey, Dal and Roti For Her Fans in Paris

While speaking to News18.com, Indian percussionist and Tabla player Subhen Chatterjee shares his journey with Appa ji, whom he used to call ‘Ma’.

Sujit Nath | News18 Specials

Updated:October 26, 2017, 1:27 PM IST
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Remembering Girija Devi: When Appa Ji Cooked Chholey, Dal and Roti For Her Fans in Paris
File photo of Girija Devi, folk singer at Banaras Utsav in Mumbai. (Getty Images)
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Subhen Chatterjee is an Indian percussionist and Tabla player. He has accompanied the ‘Nightingale of Banaras’ Girija Devi fondly known as Appa ji on several recordings including Songs of Varanasi. Subhen played with her in more than 350 concerts in last 36 years across the world. While speaking to News18.com, he shared his journey with Appa ji, whom he used to call ‘Ma’.

It was in 1981, I was playing Tabla table with eminent violinist VG Jog at Kolkata’s Vidya Mandir Hall in Mintu Park. That time I used to study at St. Xavier College. The event was a turning point in my life as Girija Devi herself came to listen Jog ji violin.

After the event, she gave me blessing and appreciated my talent. She asked about my Guru and I told her that I am learning Tabla from Pt Swapan Chaudhuri.

Then I told Appa ji that it’s my dream to play with her and will be grateful if she allow me. She was kind and asked me to play at her music classes at Sangeet Research Academy in Kolkata. I went and played Tabla and she liked it. This is how my journey with Appa ji started and I got a ‘Ma’ in my life. Since then it’s almost 36 years I was associated with Appa Ji and today I feel like the loneliest person on earth.

Today, every time I looked at her face, I cried. This is really painful to lose someone who gave you a new meaning of life. She used to tell me to become a good human being first then only I can become a good musician.

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I played with her in more than 350 concerts across the globe including one event where I played with her in front of Queen Elizabeth.

She was my ‘Mahaguru’ and I used to call her ‘Ma’. Playing Tabla solo and playing with other artists is completely different. She is the first person who taught me how to play with other artists.

I would like to share an interesting experience which I faced in Washington, D.C. Me and Appa ji went for a concert and after the event was over, we decided to roam around the city.

We stayed there (Washington, D.C.) for two days and then the National Cherry Blossom Festival was going on. I was very excited to see the Cheery trees because when it blooms it look like snow. I asked Appa ji that I want to pluck one Cherry plant so that I can show it my family members in Kolkata. Then Appa ji strictly told me not to do so as I will be in jail because of their strict law. I became depressed and whole returning hotel – Appa ji was sitting at left and her daughter Munni (Sudha) and I was sitting on right. She looked at me and inquired why I am so depressed and sad. I told her that it’s because of Cherry plant and also because she scolded me in front of others.

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“Bahut Dukh Ho Raha Hai…Cherry Ka Ped Chahiyye…(Feeling Sad…You want Cherry tree)” Appa ji had told me.

I told her yes I am feeling very sad…That time I was young and I used to behave like a son in front of her. Then, I noticed she pulled a Cherry plant which she hid in her shawl and gave it me. I just jumped out of excitement. Then all of us laughed. She was loving and good human being. I still remember then she had said, “Guru Guru Hi Hota Hai…Chela Chela Hi Hota Hai.”

Once in Paris – before the concert she asked me buy some potato, dal, rice, chickpea and some spices. I was wondering why she is asking me to buy all this thing as we will be staying there for short time. The concert was over by evening and then she cooked food including dal, chholey, roti and other items for her fans and organisers.
She was very down to earth person. She once told me that never show your air while performing or interacting with people. She asked me to be grounded.

There are many such wonderful experience which I shared with her. Today she is no more and it’s my wish to start an archival house of her in Kolkata where all her recordings will be preserved.

Also, it’s my dream start a music festival in her name. Ma you left us, but will always follow your footsteps.

(As told to Sujith Nath)
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