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Indian Express - Meta Stories of Strength

‘Saxophone Sisters’ — how this duo from Bengal overcame the digital divide to script a musical journey

With little knowledge about musical notes, Priya and Chumki did face initial hiccups but their grit and determination soon helped them learn a couple of songs.

April 18, 2022 12:48:24 pm

PANAGARH (West Bengal): Even before we found ourselves in its idyllic surroundings, we were aware of the impact that the ‘Saxophone Sisters’ have had in Bengal’s Trilokchandrapur village.

The Facebook profiles of Priya Badyakar and Chumki Badyakar are a perfect ode to their success story. It’s also their window to a world of opportunities. “Amar biyer jonno please play korun” (Please share your contact so that I can invite you to play during my wedding reception), comments one patron at Priya Badyakar’s profile. “Didi apnader dekhe amra inspired” (Sister, we are inspired by your success story), comments a young woman from Kolkata in Chumki’s profile.

Clearly, the ‘Saxophone Sisters’ are now going places, even outside their district (Paschim Bardhaman) and to far off places to enthrall gatherings.

Amidst the chirping of birds, seated beside a pond, as Priya and Chumki work their hands on the keys their respective saxophones to coax out the tune of O Hansini, it’s easy to see how their story found resonance far and wide. It’s not every day you run into female saxophone players in a Bengal village. It’s not every day that glass ceilings are broken in this part of the world.

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The prolonged pandemic, coupled with the lockdowns, had practically paralysed the Badyakar family of Pashchim Bardhaman district economically, like many others in the country. The male members of the Badyakars, who for at least four generations now have been playing various wind instruments such as the clarinet, trumpet, saxophone and flute in band parties — a colloquial term for musical ensembles who play at weddings and other events — suddenly found themselves out of job after a blanket ban was imposed on gatherings.

Seeing the men in distress, Priya and Chumki, the daughters-in-law of Paban Badyakar, approached him and sought to learn how to play the saxophone although the beginning was out of sheer curiosity. “We used to always listen to our husbands and our father-in-law playing them but never got a chance to learn. Initially, we just wanted to try our hands on the instrument since sitting at home the whole day during the lockdowns had soon become boring. But the moment we picked up the first song, an urge set in and we wanted to financially support the family and waited for the lockdown to end,” said Priya, wife of Monoj Badyakar, the elder son of the family.

Two saree-clad women playing saxophones in a village is not something one gets to see often and that’s probably one major reason that still keeps women in rural setups from trying out something out of the box. The constant fear of what will people say. Priya and Chumki had similar misgivings but this is where Paban stepped in.
Speaking to indianexpress.com he said, “I told them not to worry about what others say. After all, engaging in music is not a bad thing. In fact, I feel proud that my daughters-in-law are fast learners and are earning a name for themselves.”

The ‘Saxophone Sisters’ are now going places, even outside their district (Paschim Bardhaman) and to far off places to enthrall gatherings. Express Photo by Shashi Ghosh

The Online Journey

With no knowledge about the basics of music, the duo did face initial hiccups. “Initially, it was tough but these days women are doing so many things across the world so we thought why not us?” added Priya.

As soon as the lockdown was lifted, shows started trickling in and requests to listen to the ‘Saxophone Sisters’ kept increasing.

Overcoming the digital barrier, the duo uses several forms of digital platforms to get bookings. “We have Facebook profiles and many bookings come in through those accounts. Our videos get shared on WhatsApp and people call us after watching those videos,” said Priya.

The Driving Force

Seeing the men in distress, Priya and Chumki, the daughters-in-law of Paban Badyakar, approached him and sought to learn how to play the saxophone although the beginning was out of sheer curiosity. Express Photo by Shashi Ghosh

Both both Priya and Chumki insists that we mention the contribution of their in-laws in their “balancing act”.
“Our mother-in-law is very supportive. Whenever we have shows, she not only takes care of all the work at home but also looks after our kids,” said Chumki.

She added, “There’s more to learn and I want to grab as much as I can and getting support from your in-laws in such a pursuit is something not every woman can think of. We are lucky to have such understanding parents-in-law.”

Priya echoed the sentiment, “Even our parents are happy that our father-in-law supported us to learn something and say that they are grateful that what they could not, our in-laws did.”

While the duo picking up the instruments has helped the family economically, a greater satisfaction for them is the shower of accolades. “It feels really good when people praise us for our talent and it is something greater than the money we earn,” smiled Chumki.

The ‘Saxophone Sisters’ are now going places, even outside their district and to far off places to enthrall gatherings. Apart from their parents-in-law, the two women also speak of their husbands who have not only brushed up their skills but are also supportive of what they do.

Chumki’s husband Tapas said, “No work is small and this is music. I have full support for my wife and in fact, although there are people around us who are jealous, I am extremely happy that my wife is making it big in her life.”

The Fourth Generation

Although Sangita has not left her studies, she performs at various functions alongside her uncles and aunts and already gets thousands of views on her videos uploaded to her YouTube channel. Express Photo by Shashi Ghosh

Paban’s granddaughter, 10-year-old Sangita, is under constant tutelage. “My daughter sent her to our house and asked me to teach her to play the saxophone so that she too can support her family financially,” said Paban. Although Sangita has not left her studies, she performs at various functions alongside her uncles and aunts and already gets thousands of views on her videos uploaded to her YouTube channel.

Indian Express - Meta Stories of Strength