By Bappaditya Paul
“When the news rang in, it felt like the earth beneath my feet had vanished, and I was falling into a bottomless abyss of darkness,” says Mon, from the ancestral house of noted folk singer Kalika Prasad Bhattacharya at Silchar in Barak Valley.
Mon, in her mid-20’s, is the cousin sister of Kalika, who passed away today morning in a terrible road accident at Gurap in Hooghly in West Bengal. They grew up under the same roof of the illustrious Bhattacharya family located at Silchar’s Central Road: albeit when Kalika was in college, Mon was barely a toddler.
Like Mon, no member of the large joint family could at first believe that Prasad (family and friends called him by this name) was actually no more.
“How could one come to terms with a crude reality like this? He was only 47, and yet had to take leave in such a terrible way,” wailed Prasad’s octogenarian uncle Madhusudhan Bhattacharya.
“He has been the brightest star of our family,” he adds. The statement could not have been more apt, given that the Bhattacharya family has a legacy to boast of. Silchar Sangeet Vidyalaya, one of the oldest institutes of Barak Valley, was set up by this family before Independence.
Kalika’s father Ram Bhattacharya was a known cultural organiser of Silchar; his uncle Mukundadas Bhattacharya was a famous danseur mostly known for his rendering of Sukanta Bhattacharya’s Ranar, and another uncle Ananta Bhattacharya had dedicated his entire life to collect and preserve the folk music of Barak Valley.
Kalika was born in Silchar in 1970, and just about the time he had started to drift away from breast milk to solid food, his mother gave birth to a daughter. This robbed him of the care that a kid is entitled to get from his mother as she was now engrossed in taking care of the new-born.
“But this, turned out to be a blessing for Prasad. His spinster paternal aunt, Anandamoyee Bhattacharya, took charge of him. She has all along been a very good singer (has been the principal of Silchar Sangeet Vidyalaya) and thus, started imparting music lessons to Prasad from a very tender age,” recalls Madhusudhan.
By the time, Kalika enrolled at Narsing Higher Secondary School in the town, his uncle Mukundadas Bhattacharya, had earned kudos as a danseur. Kalika would often play tabla as his uncle performed in Silchar and elsewhere.
Mukundadas was also an activist of the Communist Party’s Indian People’s Theatre Association, and this made several Communist leaders visit the family quite often. This introduced Kalika to the Left politics.
It did not take long for him to become an active member of CPI-M’s student wing SFI and in due course, its unit secretary in Silchar. At Guru Charan College, where Kalika studied BA, he was elected the general secretary of the SFI-led student union in 1989.
Just as Kalika was finishing college, his folk music collector uncle, Ananta Bhattacharya, passed away, leaving behind a treasure trove that he had accumulated over two decades. Kalika eventually took charge of the collection and started dusting them off. Until then, he was hardly into singing.
In 1996, Kalika came over to Kolkata to study master’s in Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University. He found accommodation at his elder cousin sister Bhabhani Chakraborty’s house at Santoshpur in south Kolkata.
By 1999, when Kalika completed his master’s by securing a gold medal, the popular music in Bengal had been taken over by music bands. With music in his blood, how could he not become a party to this? He did, but with a difference.
“Prasad decided to form a group to take the Bengali folk music from the periphery like Barak Valley to the centre stage in Bengal. He gathered a few others hailing from Barak Valley who lived in Kolkata due to professional obligations, and then went to a teacher of his at Jadavpur University requesting him to suggest a name for the group. Thus was born Dohar in 1999,” Madhusudhan tells.
Over the next few years, Kalika went on performing folk music in different parts of Bengal, many a times in fusion with other singing forms. In this, he largely benefited from the collection he had inherited from uncle Ananta Bhattacharya.
Dohar was yet to click the way it did a few years later, that in 2006, Kalika married Ritacheta Goswami, a JU junior from the Bengali department. Ritacheta, a native of Raiganj in north Bengal, is a school teacher by profession.
To run the family, Kalika took job with an FM radio channel in Kolkata in 2007. He quit the job in 2010, as this was affecting his music. Subsequently, he dedicated himself completely for Dohar, not only ending up earning the legendary status as a proponent of Bengali folk music in the recent times, but also got some commercial success.
He bought a flat at Santoshpur and lived there with wife and five-year-old daughter Ashabhari until today morning. Around 07 this morning, he went out in a hired Innova car with his team to perform at a college in Birbhum’s Suri.
Around 08.50 am, the speeding car hit the railing of Durgapur Expressway at Gurap in Hooghly and then onto a culvert. The car was then flung into the air several feet below into a ditch and got almost twisted. Apart from Kalika, his team members Rajib Das, Sudipto Chakraborty (Kalika’s nephew), Niladri Roy, Sandipan Pal, and driver Arnab Rao were in the car.
Residents of the area rescued them and with the help of cops from Gurap police station, rushed to the Burdwan Medical College and Hospital. Kalika was declared brought dead; others are still under treatment.
Kalika’s demise has brought down a pall of gloom over Bengal. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee paid her last tribute at Nabanna when his mortal remains were transported to Kolkata from Burdwan around 4 pm.
The mortal remains were then kept at Rabindra Sadan, where, who’s who of Bengal’s music fraternity, offered their tribute. From there, the body has been taken to Keoratola Crematorium in the city for cremation with full state honours this evening.
Kalika’s younger singer Indrani Bhattacharya has flown down from Silchar to attend the cremation far away from his place of birth ~ a land that has given blood for Bengali language, more than once.