(Gandharvi: Life of a Musician, by the Sahitya Akademi Award-winning novelist Bani Basu, tells the story of Apala, a gifted singer of Hindustani classical music. She was born into an old, middle-class family of limited means in north Calcutta. To her family, her music meant little, as it did not fit their idea of ‘respectability’. Her husband ‘chose’ her after hearing her sing at a public concert, yet her marital life proved loveless. Her in-laws were insensitive and exploitative. Her children grew up learning to ignore their mother’s music. Shorn of freedom, love and, above all, music, Apala’s life moved towards a tragic end. Surrounding Apala’s story are the interlinked lives of other practitioners of music and classical art, like Soham, Mitul, Rameshwar Thakur, Dipali and Shekharan. These lives intersected with Apala’s in ways that profoundly affected all of them. Written in a lilting prose that draws on the idioms of Hindustani classical music, Gandharvi is also musical in its form, where in the end the movement of music and the life story of Apala become one and the same. A thinly veiled depiction of the classical music scene of Calcutta in the 1960s, it is also a celebration of the indomitable spirit of music. Gandharvi, translated by English scholar Jayita Sengupta, will interest students of literature, gender studies and translation studies, departments of music and all lovers of literature. )
'Shibnath woke up suddenly in the middle of the night. His wristwatch was close at hand. He picked it up and found that it was three past five or six minutes. Soon after, he noticed that Apala was not in bed. He got up with a start. Walked to the terrace and called out, “Apu! Apu!” It was an April sky. A strong wind was blowing. A starlit sky. His words were blown away with the wind from one corner of the terrace to the other, “Apu! Apu!” Once he felt that somebody was standing at the dark corner to the right, close to the terrace railing. Was Apu standing there, enjoying the breeze? Did she get up because her sleep got broken? Highly possible! She never slept soundly these days. Moving closer he found that it was only the light and shade close to the parapet that had created the illusion. Shibnath madly rushed along the parapet from one end to another. He tried to lean over and look at the street below. Was there any squashed body of a woman down there? His heart beat loudly in terror. No, there was nothing. Absolute silence. All the rooms were closed from inside. Only the curtain in Rano’s room was blowing. He could not sleep with his doors shut. Shibnath entered his son’s room. Did Apu feel like coming down to be with her son? Was she there by his side? No! Rano was sleeping with a pillow under his head and another between his legs peacefully. Shibnath going downstairs sensed at once that the light was on, in the music room. The light from the room had lit up the courtyard. Shibnath could see from outside that Apala was bending over the long, low stool on which tanpura was usually placed and doing something! He could see her from behind. The tanpura was lying by her side on its buffer. Shibnath entered the room silently. Apala didn’t notice. She was bending over and doing something minutely. Shibnath saw that she had placed Bonnie’s chart papers side by side on the stool. Paperweights were put on them to keep them in place. Apala had a brush in her hand and a palate by her side. She had joined two or three chart papers together to paint a single big picture with full concentration! Shibnath saw that there were waves of colours moving from right to left. Sometimes the colours blended; sometimes separated …again sometimes the waves were wrinkled or were curled and rotating. It was as if the waves were wrenching themselves, with fine tremulous strokes separating out. Shibnath called out, “Apu! Apu! What are you doing?” His voice was trembling. Apala turned around startled. Shibnath had never seen such a strange smile on her face before! “Can’t you understand? Can’t you really?” She whispered. “I am singing the alap of Darbari! Look these are the meends! Here! This is a long one from the komal nishaad in the lower octave to the komal gandhar or the third minor of the higher pitch. See, I am swaying in the komal gandhar for quite sometime, subtly touching the rishabh and then back to shadja. Now I am rising … look! … Ma, Pa, komal Dha, komal Ni and Sa of the higher pitch! But I cannot separate the bandish from the alap at all. That’s the problem! Look how the tans have come and gone! These … small bunches of speed tans! After four revolutions of tans, see, how I have come back to the keynote. I am going to start another now.” With tears in his eyes, Shibnath fondly caressed her head and said, “Apu, you’ll get back your voice! It will come back to you! Why are you acting crazy? Soham and I will take you to the best hospital in the world! Aren’t we there with you?” Apala continued in her broken, whispering voice, “I am almost stifling, not being able to sing. So I sat down to do that! Look! Look from a distance, and see that through this entire alap … that’s me Apala, a woman singing! This too is there! … I mean it is not really I, but the singer in me and who sings! My inside …” Shibnath had to. It was a fact that after Apala had pointed it out, he could detect an elegant form cradled in the waves of colours, … heavy bottomed, yet slender like tanpura, an engrossed figure of a woman or an image or a feminine figure. No eyes or limbs. Only a wavy rhythmic posture! Apala explained, “I am not done yet! Once complete, you’ll be able to understand better.” Shibnath sat numbed. The night whispered to him, “I, … I can’t love anything more than music!” The essence of these words spoken long back seemed like a long night sigh! Apala refused to get up till she was done with the last stroke. She had the habit of sitting at a stretch for long four or five hours! When at last the last stroke was done, it was past nine in the morning! There was a crowd before the room! Titu, Bonnie, Rano and their grandparents! Parulbala suddenly started crying loudly, “ Oh God! Why did you do this? Ma Bhabotarini, I’ll give you whatever you ask for! Please give back my daughter-in-law’s voice! If she continues this way, she’ll go mad!” Titu closed her palm over her grandma’s mouth and said, “Thamma, keep quiet! Please! This is not the time for crying like this.” For, only she could feel that this was a rare moment! A divine moment! '