FOR THE past 30 years, the first class ladies compartments of the 7.40 am Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) fast local from Dombivali and the 6.10 pm ladies special from CST have been witness to a group of ladies singing ragas as guided by their master. In the limited span of their journey, the strict master ensures they get their surs right as she is very particular about the training offered.
Their sangeet guru is Anita Agashe (60) — Chief Superintendent Officer in the mechanical department, Western Railway — who has been turning the two-hour journey in local every day into music lessons for her female co-commuters. The lessons, which started from an interest to a daily commitment, marked her name in the Limca Book of Records for the feat.
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“I have been trained in the Kirana gharana style of music and thus honesty with surs and taal in any song is my priority. During one of my journeys then, I happened to correct one of the female commuters who was singing songs along with her other friends in the compartment. She was going wrong on her sur and upon my intervention, she urged me to teach her how to sing in a proper manner. What started from then became a tradition in the later years,” Agashe said.
Each local journey after that day was marked with a teaching of various styles of singing to the women. It ranged from abhangs, natya geet to music from Hindi films that remained a popular choice.
“If it was actor Dev Anand’s birthday, we would dedicate our trip songs to his collection. However, I ensured they learn the songs with complete dedication. Females would actually take down notes as learning the right way of doing it assumed more importance. I ensured they learn different styles of the taranas and raags,” she added.
Agashe also began taking music lessons for her office colleagues in the railways during lunch hours upon insistence. During festivals and other occasions, colleagues look up to her singing and getting some lessons in return.
“During this year Navaratri, we arranged singing programs in our railway office so that I could sing and give lessons to my colleagues. We also organise theme-based sessions where
I ask them to prepare songs and come for the occasion. Almost all offices in Churchgate or Nariman point would have my students, I guess,” she added.
With popularity, her audience grew. Agashe recalls how she would be asked to share details of her journey so that women could board the same local as hers.
In the last three years, her health dissuaded her to be in touch with her student commuter group or locals. Battling a serious medical condition, she was forced to take a long-term leave from work and also face the most difficult challenges in her life.
“I did not keep well for very long. My commuter group started to wonder where I was. Though it was the most difficult time for me in my life, my music brought me back. During my recovery days, I started practising my songs again to feel better. Even doctors advised me to sing and continue to give lessons in order to lead a very normal life,” she added.
On the verge of retirement, her earnings have been the good wishes of her colleagues, friendship with the student group and memories she recalled. An expression to expand the plans of her music lessons could be a possibility, if her health permits.
“My students became part of my journey and also remained keen on drawing me out of my personal problems in life. I will always remain thankful to the railways for giving me another family on the wheels,” she added.