Gandharvi: Life of a Musician, by the Sahitya Akademi Award-winning novelist Bani Basu (and translated by English scholar Jayita Sengupta), tells the story of Apala, a gifted singer of Hindustani classical music. She was born into an old, middle-class family of limited means in north Calcutta. To her family, her music meant little, as it did not fit their idea of ‘respectability’. Her husband ‘chose’ her after hearing her sing at a public concert, yet her marital life proved loveless. Her in-laws were insensitive and exploitative. Her children grew up learning to ignore their mother’s music. Shorn of freedom, love and, above all, music, Apala’s life moved towards a tragic end.
Surrounding Apala’s story are the interlinked lives of other practitioners of music and classical art, like Soham, Mitul, Rameshwar Thakur, Dipali and Shekharan. Their lives intersected with Apala’s in ways that profoundly affected all of them. Written in lilting prose that draws on the idioms of Hindustani classical music, Gandharvi is also musical in its form, where in the end the movement of music and the life story of Apala become one and the same. A thinly veiled depiction of the classical music scene of Calcutta in the 1960s, this modern Bengali classic is also a celebration of the indomitable spirit of music.
Bani Basu (b. 1940) is a Sahitya Akademi Award-winning author of contemporary Bengali fiction. A prolific writer, her novels have been regularly published by Desh, the premier literary journal of Bengal. Her major works include Shwet Pathorer Thala, Ekushe Paa, Maitreya Jataka, Gaandhorbee, Pancham Purush and Ashtam Garva. She was awarded the Tarashankar Award for Antarghat (1991) and the Ananda Puraskar for Maitreya Jataka (1996). She is also the recipient of the Sushila Devi Birla Memorial Award and the Sahitya Setu Puraskar. She received the Sahitya Akedemi Award in the year 2010. Her novel Antarghat has been published in translation by Orient BlackSwan as The Enemy Within (2002). She lives in Kolkata.
Jayita Sengupta is an academic. She has taught at various colleges in Delhi, Kolkata and the Sikkim University. She was a Senior Fulbright Teaching Fellow at Stanford University, and Fellow to other universities in the United States and Taiwan. Jayita Sengupta is the Managing and Chief Editor of Caesurae: Poetics of Cultural Translation, a multimedia interdisciplinary e-journal, associated with the non-profit organisation Caesurae Collective Society, of which she is one of the founder members.
Preface by Meena Banerjee
Gandharvi (Chapter 1–27; Epilogue)