Sept 30, 2011 (Calcutta Tube): Arindam Das, a dormant and promising talent in the musical arena of Bengal launches his first audio CD inaugurated by veteran Bengali singer Nirmala Mishra amid cheers of his well wishers. Read Calcutta Tube’s exclusive coverage of the event and learn more about those talents in Kolkata who are mentally challenged and initiatives by the South Calcutta Ananda Niketan Home that offers support and courage to those in need of it to face the world.
Arindam’s ‘Swapna Sambhab’:Music With a Hope
At 1811hr on the evening of 18th September, Kolkata was shocked with an earthquake originating from the far off Sikkim and measuring 6.9 on the richter scale. But another revelation – not at all devastating, rather welcoming – awaited a handful of citizens right on her very own soils. It was at Uttam Mancha where a humble but brave venture was witnessing its culminations. After years of endurance, months of tireless work, days of anxiety and a gift nurtured for 36 long years – Arindam Das reached out to the audience with his lyrical voice etched in the CD titled Swapna Sambhab released by none other than Nirmala Mishra, one of the living legends of the Bengali music world.
In Bengali, Swapna Sambhab translates to dream fulfilled and literally speaking, it is really a dream come true – not only for Arindam – but for all those near and dear to him whose patience, endurance and comforting support have accomplished this apparently impossible feat.
But what made this CD so special and why are we claiming this to be an unimaginable if not an impossible effort? In the days, when recording and launching of a CD doesn’t appeal so much as it did a few decades back, why are we at all bothered about the one that documents the voice of Arindam? Well the answer is very simple but a painful one to the bearer. The 36 year old Arindam, effusing vivacity at the stage as his melodious voice echoes through the auditorium is, alas, far less healthy than he looks. According to Prasanta Kr. Ray, Asst. Professor, Dept. of Clinical Psychology, Inst. of Psychiatry, Kolkata, Arindam suffers from 50% mental disability. And here lies the success of him as well as that of his well wishers who supported this determined boy to carry on with his dream forward.
The CD launching ceremony was actually a part of the 19th Foundation Day celebration function of South Calcutta Ananda Niketan Home (SCANH), a school for the mentally challenged, motivated to further the cause for persons suffering from developmental problems.
During the inaugural session, the dignitaries present at the stage – Retd. Chief Justice Shri Chittotosh Mukherjee, Chairman Borough VIII Shri Anil Mukherjee and Smt. Maya Biswas, founder and current principal of Divine Smile, Behala and the recipient of this year’s 24 Ghanta Ananya Samman – showered their blessings on Arindam and his friends at SCANH and encouraged the noble cause that SCANH promotes. Both Shri Chittotosh Mukherjee and Shri Anil Mukheree, being the patrons of SCANH and Smt. Maya Biswas, another leading personnel to the humanitarian cause, illustrated the need for this philanthropic endeavor in their short but concise speeches.
The session also included the inaugural song and a dance programme organized with students of SCANH that hinted at the proficiency of the organization who had so dexterously conducted a synchronized effort with persons with varying degrees of mental coordination.
As the opening session concluded, Smt. Nirmala Mishra was invited to stage along with the other dignitaries for releasing Swapna Sambhab. With the blessing of everybody present on and off the stage, Arindam witnessed his debut CD being launched amid joyful cheers and intermittent flashing of cameras. On the persistent request of the audience, Smt. Mishra sang an inspirational verse encouraging Arindam and as she came to a close the audience waited with baited breath for the main attraction of the evening – Arindam’s performance.
As his gifted voice rang through the hall with the opening number Aaj Ei Dintake (music: Bappi Lahiri and originally sung by Kishore Kumar and also included in the CD Swapna Sambhab), the eagerly anticipating audience was at once captivated by the charming melody emanating from his voice, but for me the initial reaction was that of amazement. Earlier while speaking to Arindam, I was apprehensive about his performance as I found him to falter often while replying to my queries. So it was wondrous seeing him singing like a pro. The second song Benche Thakar Gaan (music: Anupam Roy and Debojyoti Mishra, lovingly dubbed as the national anthem of Bengalees) swayed the audience by its sheer popularity, let aside the excellent voice modulation that Arindam exhibited. Surprises and appreciations continued with the third one O Bolo Ki Aache Go, an R.D. Burman hit and a more difficult endeavor than the previous ones – but Arindam didn’t fail to delight the audience at all. In this context, it may be mentioned that the same song is also included in Swapna Sambhabh and I leave it for the listeners to judge the quality of Arindam’s musicals for themselves. With the measured voice of the specialist, Arindam next revealed his versatility with Jagjit Singh’s Ghazal, Tumko Dekha To Yeh Khayal Aya, a refreshing diversion that not only enchanted the listeners but heightened the evening’s charm even more. As the loud applauses cheered Arindam each time a song was completed, it was his fifth number Aamar Berongin E Jibon (lyrics: Rupankar) that prompted none other than the special chief artist Shri Manomoy Bhattacharyay, in whose voice the original version is recorded, to leave his seat and cheer the prolific singer with words of praise and encouragement. Promising further entertainment, Arindam’s final two picks were Hindi numbers, Tum Se Yun Milenge and Fateh Ali Khan’s Takte Rehte Tujhko Saanjh Savere. The final piece, believe me, was as mesmerizing as the original track and listening him maneuvering the musical scales as he adroitly pitched his voice through the high and low keys, it seemed that to correctly express my feelings no word is more appropriate than a line of the song itself – Hum Bhi Deewane Tere Hone Laage Hain (I too have become your admirer).
With that, the curtains were drawn and Arindam was introduced once more as he was led to the proscenium to be greeted by the spectators. This wonderful person, radiating confidence at the stage, was at the same time so very innocent as evident from his foremost and sincerest query to the audience – “Did you enjoy it? Was my singing good?” The response to this can be summed up in the immediate remark of Smt. Mishra who approved of the performance by declaring, “Arindam’s voice is so very tuned!” In the same breath she also congratulated the supporting musical team – Shri Anjan Bose on guitar, Shri Gautam Chowdhury on Keyboards, Shri Seemanta Raj Chowdhury on Octopad, Smt. Rita Mitra on Harmonium and a special note of praise to Shri Debasish Sarkar (Tabla) whose humming aptly harmonized the melodies wherever necessary. A modest Smt. Mitra, who is incidentally the singing teacher of SCANH, requested Smt. Kanika Basu (Arindam’s music teacher at home) to share the stage at the auspicious moment.
Amid all-round applauses, the chief architect of the evening was next introduced. Ms. Tanaya Roychowdhury, a Post Graduate (CU) in Psychology, first spotted Arindam in a chance meeting during a SCANH seminar. Ushered in to fill up the interval with his singing, Arindam’s talent was at once noted by the enthusiastic Ms. Chowdhury. Soon she envisaged the project and promptly acted upon it. She convinced everybody she felt necessary, arranged for sponsors, searched up the recording studio and finally brought out the master copy. SCANH supported her wholeheartedly with their limited resources. As this philanthropic individual was called on to the stage to share her emotions, she simply put in, “there are many like Arindam who, in spite of the fact that they are unable to lead a normal life, have special qualities which instill in them a hope for the future, a dream for being recognized. For these extra-ordinary persons we plan to set up an organization dedicated to further their cause.”
Privileged to behold the onset of this noble endeavor, the audience remained witness to yet another assurance by the ever charismatic Manomoy Bhattacharya, who, during his lively performance offered his support to Arindam whenever required.
Persons, near and dear to Arindam, while interviewed separately, revealed his character more prominently and shed light to the organization SCANH even more.
When asked about her views to Arindam’s forte, his mother, Smt. Lakhhi Das recalls, “Music is a hobby for Arindam. During his early childhood he used to learn Tabla. Though he didn’t continue with it, but he can play it now all the same. His grandmother Smt. Shefali Das – herself a renowned singer – used to teach singing to my daughter and Arindam would listen attentively. Soon he was seen picking up the tunes faster than his younger sibling. My mother-in-law spotted the natural talent in Arindam and started coaching him as well.”
Though Arindam was meant to learn the Tabla, the aged Smt. Das gradually mentored her grandson to singing – an art that would distinguish him among others in the years to come.
It was while he was studying in class V, that the initial symptoms of developmental problems surfaced gradually and at class VII it worsened still. As he was diagnosed with the inevitable, his parents decided to shift their son to school meant to guide special children. Initially admitted to a different home, Arindam finally came to South Calcutta Ananda Niketan Home (SCANH) – an NGO established way back in 1992 by the sincere efforts of Smt. Ranjana Mukherjee, Smt. Ratna Bhattacharjee and Shri Barisan Kundu.
A centre to guide the mentally challenged, the essence of SCANH can be better understood in the statement of one of the founders and the current Principal Smt. Ranjana Mukherjee, “This was a result of our curiosity to understand the mentally challenged individuals. We studied on the subject, got the necessary training and finally established the organization on 14th August 1992. In this regard we were immensely supported by Shri Barisan Kundu, our secretary, without whose help this project would have been unthinkable. Currently our staff comprises of educators, psychologist, physiotherapist and music (both vocal and instrumental) and dance teachers. Our student strength is now 22. We take students throughout the year. The prospective candidates apply against our advertisements but some also contact us as they get information from others. We assess their IQ and finally admit them if the evaluation rates him/her to be mentally challenged. Admission is allowed upto an age limit of 35 years though the lower limit is not so stringent, the only condition is the candidate must be at least toilet-trained and must understand some basic instructions. Today, our youngest student is 5 years old while the oldest is 40.”
Often suffering from severe financial stress, the motivated staff of SCANH tirelessly carries on their effort to tutor the not-so-ordinary with the hope of an extra-ordinary future. Smt. Ratna Bhattacharjee, another co-founder echoes the feelings of Smt. Mukherjee, “We offer our heartfelt gratitude to all our staff and also to Barisan Kundu, our secretary whose co-operation formed the basis of our venture. We had faced several obstacles in our journey but I am happy to say that till now we could soar over each hurdle as thus have continued this far. Financially, we are a bit handicapped, as the only finance come in form of the donations from the guardians. In this regard, again, mention must be made of Shri Kundu who helped us immensely. Also, the building of SCANH is that of our Principal and we are indebted to her too. The token amount that comes from the students is very meager to sustain this type of organization where fees are sometimes waived off for students with stressed economic conditions. During our annual functions, donations come but these are mainly one time contribution and cannot be depended upon.”
But the lack of finance never deterred the staff of SCANH to carry on with their vision of helping the needy. It was a genuine interest and honest concern that drove Smt. Rita Mitra to get involved with SCANH. She lovingly remembers the initial days, “I came six to seven year back here with the then dance teacher of SCANH just to pay a courtesy visit. A rehearsal going on at that time of which I took an instant interest. I wrote down a song for them and gave music to it and within one month it was staged. I was very much impressed at the effort. After that I started visiting three times a week and within another year I was a regular. These days, I even take some academic classes. I didn’t need any training to teach them. I could understand them and adapted to the situation to make them sing.” When asked about musical training at SCANH, she highlights the basis of the training – “Contrary to the traditional process of learning a piece in one or two sessions, in the case of SCANH students, the Sthayi itself might take two to three weeks to learn by heart. Then only we proceed to Antara. Thus a complete song takes at least a month to get memorized. The music comes next and finally regular practice tunes them up. The students are very interested in music. As for Arindam, he just loves to sing. Sometimes, for him, we have session in the second half of the day. Apart from singing, we have classes on Tabla and Dance as well. Some of the students play Tabla very well and understands rhythm (taal) quite correctly. In one of our programmes, six of the students performed in unison. That was another achievement.”
Smt. Sikha Dasgupta summarised on the style of coaching offered at SCANH as she elaborates – “Students are grouped according to their IQ level. If their levels are same they are grouped and trained together. But in case of hyper active students, they are treated on one-to-one basis. In our school we emphasize on extracurricular activities than conventional studies. Actually those who have borderline IQ between 80 to 100, can only complete upto Madhyamik standard and that too after multiple attempts. They suffer mostly in the field of Mathematics. So we give stress to vocational training based on the corresponding assessment. Our psychologist help in planning individualized educational programme for each student. Here, analogous to a normal school the classes are categorized to various levels viz., Pre-Primary, Primary, Secondary, Pre-Vocational, Vocational but unlike a normal school the admission is based, not on age, but on our assessment of the student’s IQ. Arindam, for example, is now a student in the Vocational standard. Apart from Arindam, who has an outstanding singing ability, some of our other students show remarkable progress in various other fields like crafts, knitting, book binding, etc. We have our very own project of packaging of pulses in which we enroll students whom we deem fit though a concrete rehabilitation programme is yet to materialize. Seminars are organized once or twice a year based on mental retardation where professionals, social workers participate along with guardians of SCANH students.”
A noble cause, furthered by the vision of setting up a School-cum-Home for 500 persons with developmental problems and bringing up more Arindams, I offer my prayers for accomplishment of the mission for the sake of our society and humanity as well.
– Reporting by Anirban De / Photo Courtesy: SCANH