Pandit Bhimsen Joshi described Kaushiki Chakraborty as one of the few classical vocalists who will leave their mark in the 21’st century. She recently visited Boston and sat down for an in-depth interview with Chai with Manju and talked about various subjects including her family, hobbies, philosophy, music and on a lighter note about her passion for fashion.
Kaushiki Chakraborty was born in 1980 in Kolkata and is the daughter of two well-known musicians: Chandana Chakraborty and the renowned Indian classical singer Ajoy Chakraborty. At age seven, she started learning Indian classical music at the academy of Pandit Jnan Prakash Ghosh, later joining ITC Sangeet Research Academy. Although her repertoire is predominantly of Patiala Gharana, she has also studied the Carnatic music of South India and from time to time has incorporated aspects of contemporary Indian pop music, thus considerably widening her audience.
She has received numerous awards for her music including Jadu Bhatta (1995), Outstanding Young Person (2000) and BBC Award (2005). Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
QUESTION: Your dad Ajay Chakraborty is a well-known classical singer as well as your Guru. How do you separate the boundaries between father and guru?
Kaushiki Chakraborty: I was conscious about him being my father around the time I started learning from him. so it was simultaneous. I think that when someone is your guru then any other relation takes a backseat. The bond between a guru and a shishya is so strong and you start worshiping your guru like God.
Q: Did you get angry with him or have any differences with him while growing up?
KC: The concept of me fighting with him was not there. I had so much respect toward him. As a teen though, you want to have some fun. I wanted to watch movies and be with my friends. He did not want me to get in the habit of that every weekend because I would have taken too much time from my music which was considered the topmost priority.
Q: I heard an interesting story related to that. You really wanted to go to college and your dad wanted you to study music and you borrowed money from your uncle to pay admission fee.
KC: I was already performing as a teen. My first tour to this country (United States) happened the year when I was 16 and taking my boards. He was worried that going to college would take time from my music. He said to do a correspondence course, nowadays there are so many online things. He felt that I could do it at home at my own convenience studying, but I wanted the college experience. I wanted to be a true college girl. I went to Jogamaya College to get a bachelors in philosophy and my masters at Jadavpur University, a prime university for philosophy. I had to wake up at five and balance between what my dad wanted and what I wanted. I wanted to go to college so I could come for my music classes at home at 1130. It definitely paid off. I could not go to late night movies and parties, but I am so thankful for being in a family where focus on music is so valued. It is very easy to get diverted. Talent is not enough in classical music. It is the enormous grind and hard work that the musicians have to go through.
Q: Is your style any different from your dad?
KC: It is very different. Well, let us start with why my style is different from my dad. When we were training, he would tell all students to compliment the phrases he would sing rather than just repeat. He encouraged us to do our own phrases, our own music and that is the key as to why our music is so different from one another
He was giving us the guidelines. He would show us but he wanted us to be original. A girl learning from a male always has its limitations because you lose the little grace and subtleties from being a girl in music. In any event, Patiala gharana is known to be more masculine.
Q: How did you meet your husband, Parthasarathi Desikan? How did you know that he was the one for you?
KC: It is the story of my life because I met him when I was just three years old and he was eight years old and I married him at the age of at 25. He came to learn from my father. We shared our childhood. He would stay with us over school vacation, we would play together, we were friends which is the best thing because we were not trying to be anybody else. What better than a companion than one who knows you at your core. He knows about all my craziness.
Q: So tell is about some of the craziest thing you have ever done?
CK: I cannot swim, I never learned, but I did paragliding in Bali alone. All I could see was water. I felt like a bird, fantasizing but I wondered what would happen if I just dropped. Then after that I called home and told my mom but she did not know what paragliding is. So she was like what is that? After I explained to her, she started screaming as mothers would react. I told her that I am alive and the fact that I am calling you should relieve all your stress.
Q: How you bring your fun side and creativity into your music?
CK: I am always myself in my music. I think the creative process has to be lonely, not in a cluttered space. We try to create that pseudo space of silence where we can go into a journey within. Without creating this journey within, you cannot really create art. Anything that comes out of this journey is the best work of a creative artist.
Q: Tell us about your top three favorite pieces of music?
KC: Wow, I love Thumri. That always comes first because even as a child I loved it and the love has become stronger with years. My most favorite are: 1-Jiya mora na lage, bairi balamwa, 2-Shaam bhaye ghanshaym na aeye, and third-Laage laage raina was at the Coke Studio with Shantanu Moitra where unlike classical music I wanted everyone to sing along with me. The songs that I sung for movies like Water also be my favorites because this entire area of playback singing taught me a lot.
Q: Which life experience has changed you as a musician the most?
KC: Definitely, being a mom.
Q: How has motherhood changed your music?
CK: My music is who I am. If my perception, views, ideas change then so does music changes.
Q: You are such an inspiration for all the young singers. How do you connect with other young musicians? You also have a group called SVA-Soul Voice Aspiration.
KC: Yes, I totally love to connect with them. I don’t want to change classical music from it’s original form to connect with the youth. I want to express the original music. In school, you love the subject later, you love the teacher first. If I can connect with a student, then it is rewarding. When you learn, you get the feeling that you can do it. Then again, the platform is shrinking every day for independent musicians. Even on a smaller scale,it is rewarding , if you can give youngsters inspiration and treat them like they are mature. They love to interact with musicians and understand from musicians, this is the best platform for young artists, interacting with musicians that they aspire to be like.
Q: Your generation is also the torch bearer, kids of famous musicians like Amjad Ali khan as well.
KC: Yes, I am glad that this group is growing like Rakesh, Anushka, Niladri we are a group of young passionate musicians who want to connect, talk and share our craft, our treasure with our youth, a craft that has so much potential.
Q: Tell us about your group Sakhi.
KC: It will be my first collaboration that I am starting. It is a special group of six girls. Indians classical music has never had an all-girls group. I have been planning for the past year and a half. When you are very passionate about something, it comes to place. Sakhi is very different in that within the same band, we have vocal, instrumental, percussion flutist and dance
Q: You always dress so well, Is fashion a passion for you?
KC: No, but I have learned how to dress up, much better than six years back. I never really work at it. I don’t need a stylist, I just do it myself. I take it as a compliment when people praise my clothes. As you grow up, with exposure, you see style and change it to your own way.
Q: Has fame and fortune changed you in any way?
KC: No, I try to run away from it. I love my music but I don’t love everything that comes with it. Yes, my family keeps me grounded, the moment I go back home, I’m going out, grocery shopping. I like to cook, i play scrabble, paint, be with my kids. You have to switch between everything. I love my audience and their feedback and their way of loving me.
Q: What is going through your mind at the time of performance?
KC: I don’t see anyone. It is harsh but true. I like to be connected to myself. It is very real, actual at that time but the source is in the music, I can only reach the source if I am within myself. Music flows through you. All you have to do is pray to be that ideal medium so that music can flow because on stage you have to resonate to the music, that is the inspiration.
Q: Is there any actress that you would like to sing for?
KC: I want to sing for Kaajol and Aishwarya Rai.
Q: Any musical directors that you want to work with?
KC: Shankar Mahadevan for sure .
Q: What would you change in your life?
KC: I would love to change the fact that I lost my three-days-old brother when I was five.
Rapid response answers from KC
Favorite food: Thai, green curry, prawn, I can go on and on about it.
Favorite singer: Too hard to say one name but first name coming to my mind is Shobha Gurtu and of course Asha Bhonsle. Ashaji is my God
Favorite book: The Secret, and Many Lives Many Masters. I really believe in past life.
Favorite travel destination: Venice, Hawaii, Bali and I want to go to Alaska. I keep missing Alaska cruise. I love visiting small Indian villages where people don’t know my music.
Your biggest strength: I am happy the way I am.
Weakness: Homesickness. I miss my son.
Biggest wish for your son: I want him to love music as much as I do. He doesn’t have to be a musician, but I want him to enjoy music because it makes you a better person.
Last words on Chai: I loved this chat. It is not easy to have a presenter, a producer, and then an interviewer who are equally passionate and in love with the craft and that is what makes this interview so special. I thank you all for loving music because it is like loving my son, loving something so close to my heart.