The dilemma of Ghulam Hussain, a migrant taxi driver played by actor Farooq Sheikh, as showcased in Muzaffar Ali’s directorial debut Gaman (1979) still remains one of the more unsettling moments in Indian cinema. What makes the unsettling turn into dismay is a ghazal from the film that described the quandary of Hussain’s character when he himself couldn’t.
Aapki yaad aati rahi raat bhar in singer Chhaya Ganguly’s bass voice was not just poignant, but delved into the difficulties of Hussain’s life. It also gives a voice to the thoughts of his wife waiting for him in Uttar Pradesh. The song, that won Ganguly the National Award the following year, still echoes. But the singer was forgotten. So when Ganguly decided to perform as a part of 21st Ustad Chand Khan Music Festival presented by Sursagar Society, after many years, it seemed apt to do a much-needed recap.
“This song was like encouragement for me, telling me to strive harder, to learn more and widen my horizon,” says Ganguly. Growing up in a family of scientists, music was never a career priority, despite being in a middle-class Bengali household.
“But there was something playing in the house all the time. I heard a lot of Rabindrasangeet and film LPs,” says Ganguly. A job of an executive with All India Radio kept her busy and music took a backseat until she met ghazal singer Madhurani at composer Jaidev’s house and decided to learn from her. “Learning from Madhu ji changed my life.
She gave me a nazar, to appreciate good music and to be humble,” says Ganguly, who, after the success of Gaman, released three LPs and sang title songs for a plethora of shows on Doordarshan, including the one for Bharat Ek Khoj.
After her recent retirement, Ganguly has decided to return to music. Her unfathomable quest for learning is what is still goading her on. She now learns from Ustad Iqbal Ahmad Khan, the khalifa of Dilli gharana. At her concert on Friday, she performed two ghazals from the repertoire of the gharana.
The voice has changed a lot, and at moments, even sounds a little jaded and pitchy, the lack of riyaaz evident. But what’s still there is the knowledge of ghazal gayaki, the adaa and pronunciation. The voice, if honed a little more can work better. “I have not been performing extensively not only because my job kept me busy but also because by now I have heard so many greats that I believe I need to learn more to be able to perform,” says Ganguly.
And that is exactly what she is doing. Seeped in the learnings of her past gurus and her present riyaaz, she is striving hard. We are waiting for that honeyed drawl which made the nation sit up once.