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Girija Devi: The Queen and Stalwart of Thumri

This Throwback Thursday is dedicated to the legendary classical singer, Girija Devi and her rich life and legacy.

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Girja Devi

One of the most important exponents of the classical Benaras Gharana of thumri, Girija Devi was born on 8 May 1929 in the rich cultural currents of Varanasi. Her father, Ramdeo Rai, a zamindar who himself used to play harmonium, wanted her to learn music and appointed a teacher for her. At the age of 6 then, Girija Devi was taking lessons from vocalist and sarangi player, Sarju Prasad Misra. Later, she would also learn under Srichand Misra of the Seniya Gharana. 

However, in those years, a high-born woman such as her indulging in the craft of music was not a suitable image to be digested by society. Her mother and grandmother had their qualms about Girija devoting herself to music, when caring for domesticity and the household was the expectations reserved for women. Only her father wanted her to carry on with her music, so he found her a husband, at the age of 15, in an already married, art-loving businessman, who promised to not put a stop to her music. 

Credit: YouTube (SurTaal)

While Madhusudan Jain, her husband, supported her, Girija Devi wasn’t allowed to perform in private mehfils held in courts and rich households. And the demands of domestic life constantly came in the way of her practice. Soon, however, Jain set up a house for her in Sarnath where she would live with her infant daughter and was visited by Srichand Misra for her lessons. Mastering the purab ang thumri, Girija Devi also learnt other sub-genres like dadra, tappa, chaiti, kajri, hori, and others.

Her first performance happened for All India Radio two years after the Independence of India when she was just 20. Then, the vocalist’s first successful public concert happened in 1951 in Ara. Later, she also gave a performance at the AIR conference in 1952. By then, Girija Devi was on the rise to become a popular performer, helping her earn through her exceptional talent.

After the death of her husband in 1975, there was a break in her music career. But a few years after the tragedy, she made a return to the stage and came to be widely recognised as an important figure for the propagation and popularization of thumri. She became a recipient of a number of prestigious awards for her contributions to the field of classical music, including the Padma Shri (1972), Padma Bhushan (1989), Padma Vibhushan (2016), and the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1977). 

Credit: YouTube (swarutsav)

Leading a life of many challenges that came in the way of her devotion to music, Girija Devi crossed them all to make a name for herself as a very important and revered figure in the field of Hindustani classical music. And at the age of 88, the vocalist breathed her last on 24 October 2017 in Kolkata.

Editor's Pick

Reliving the 70s with Kishore Kumar’s voice on his Birth Anniversary

Kishore Kumar, the multitalented artist who still rules Bollywood with his stupefying voice and evergreen songs

khushiithapa09@gmail.com'

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Kishore Kumar

Kishore Kumar, the multitalented Indian legend with a dynamic voice, who gave Bollywood some of the most iconic songs and movies, would have been 93 today. He might not be with us anymore but his songs have kept him alive in the hearts of the millenials and the youth who discover him.  The versatile Bollywood artist was a successful lyricist, composer, actor, singer, screenplay writer and scriptwriter.  His songs have a way of revealing all the concealed emotions.

Kishore Da is still one of the few people to have crushed the vanity of the phrase “generation gap.” Some of his songs that still make us groove are “Khaike Paan Banaraswala” “Pal Pal Dil Ke Pas” “Ek Ladki Bhaeegi Bhaagi Si” “Ye Shaam Mastani” “Roop Tera Mastana” and many more. His voice expressed compassion without losing his masculinity.

Kumar was famous for his eccentricities which included driving off to Mussoorie after seeing masoor dal on the street side and putting up a signboard saying ‘Beware of Kishore’ on the door of his Warden Road flat.

Early Life and Career

Abhas Kumar Ganguly was born in a simple family in Khandwa, Central Province, Madhya Pradesh. He changed his name to “Kishore Kumar” and started his career singing in Bombay Talkies. Kumar’s career gradually escalated when he was offered to sing “Marne ki Duaye Kyon Mangu” for the film Ziddi (1948) by music director Khemchand Prakash. In the 1950s, he was at his wildest, travelling between studios and working numerous shifts as a part-comedian, part-hero in movies that would be successful at the box office but were largely overlooked by reviewers as being of little importance. Kishore Kumar eventually tasted success and fame in the 1970s after battling for two years. 

Step into Filmmaking

Additionally, he experimented with filmmaking and produces some of the most intriguing movies in hindi cinema. He paid homage to his debut Hindi film “Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi” (1958) with the sequel “Badhti Ka Naam Dadhi” (1974). The 1960s reversed the tables when his movies started failing and the comic inside him was no longer saleable. The only option left was to return to his first love — singing. His career was relaunched when he became the voice of Guide (1965) and from Teen Deviyan (1965), he was back on track. And in 1969, Aradhana happened which became the most iconic work of his life. The elusive hit “ Mere Sapno ki Rani” became the early 1970s bike-riding anthem.

After major hits like Aradhana (1969), Do Raaste (1969), Khamoshi (1969), Safar (1970), Kati Patang (1970), Amar Prem (1971), Haathi mere Saathi (1971), Dushman (1971), Apna Desh (1972) he was coined as “superstar.” 

Kishore Kumar was undoubtedly an Indian phenomenon who enchanted the audiences with his bewitching voice and wonderful lyrics. His comedy has always made us fall about the place. He was a Bollywood icon who will always be remembered and adored by us. 

Credits: YouTube (Bollywood Classics)
Credits: YouTube (YRF)

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Editor's Pick

Throwback Thursday: Remembering Anand Bakshi’s Poetry and Lyricism

Remembering the lyricist and poet Anand Bakshi’s inspirational journey of songwriting and singing in Bollywood.

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Anand Bakshi

Today is the 92nd birth anniversary of Anand Bakshi, the great Indian poet and lyricist. His words have left an indelible mark on Indian arts and movies. What started as a private hobby he did in the closed doors of his room became the reason for his popularity and reverence. The unstoppable poet and lyricist has more than 3000 recorded songs to his discography, which successfully topped for a continuing five decades, from the 1950s till the early 2000s. 

Early Life 

Anand Bakshi was born on 21st July, 1930 in the city of Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Some of his relatives also lived in Kashmir. At the fragile age of five, Anand lost his mother. Under his father’s guidance and love, Anand pursued his school and college education. Pursuing his higher studies in Cambridge College, Rawalpindi, Anand had to drop off in between as he got selected to join the Royal Indian Navy as a postboy in 1944.

The major reason for joining the Indian Navy was guided by Bakshi’s true dreams—Bombay. He wanted to become a singer, and Bombay, being the land of dreams, was Anand’s first step towards making his dreams true. Assuming that the ship will halt at the shores of Bombay, Bakshi boarded the H M I S Dilawar and H M I S Bahadur Ship after his appointment in the navy. Unfortunately, the ship didn’t stop at his desired place. He worked in the Navy for two years before he was expelled when he was found conspiring against the British army. 

Later Years 

After his expulsion from the Navy, Anand joined the Indian army. During his service of almost six years in the army, he kept trying his singing luck in Bombay. It was also reported that Anand would sing his own self composed songs to the other soldiers and keep them entertained. 

After India’s independence, Anand’s family left Rawalpindi and made some other locational changes, and finally settled in Delhi. Amidst these changes, Anand Bakshi kept trying his luck in Bombay. Countless tries, but nothing came out of it. He had 60 self-written and self-composed songs with him, but no luck knocked on his door.

The Break Through As a Lyricist, Poet and Singer

At the end of 1956, the big breakthrough finally shone. He was offered to write songs for the movie, ‘Bhala Aadmi.’ He penned four songs, and this is how his first song, ‘Dharti Ke Laal Na Kar Itna Malaal’ was recorded and released in Bollywood. 

The movie, ‘Mome Ki Gudiya,’ presented the unstoppable duo, Anand Bakshi and music director Laxmikant Pyarelal. The movie proved an astounding success for Anand. Along Laxmikant Pyarelal, he released some of the most iconic music ever! Throughout his career, Anand Bakshi kept proving his versatility and skills as a lyricist. The song ‘Dum Maaro Dum,’ from the movie ‘Hare Ram Hare Krishna.’ is a classic proof of that.

The journey was even brighter for him as he finally got the opportunity to sing songs as well. His first duet, ‘Baaghon Mein Bahaar Aayee,’ with Lata Mangeshkar, was loved by fans all across. 

Anand Bakshi worked in almost 300 films with Laxmikant Pyarelal, and other than had around 150 films, he worked with other directors and producers. He has tons of music awards nominations to his name. He won 4 Filmfare Awards for the best lyricist—Aadmi Musafir Hai’ for Apnapan in the year 1977, ‘’Tere Mere Beech’ for Ek Duuje Ke Liye in 1981, ‘’Tujhe Dekha’ for Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge in the year 1995, ‘’Ishq Bina’ for Taal in 1999.

Anand Bakshi breathed his last breaths in 2002. He was a smoker throughout his life which had a negative effect on his body and organs. He succumbed to multiple organ failures, and later passed away. 

Credits: YouTube (Urvik Bhan)

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Humara Spectrum

Pride In Stories: 10 LGBTQ+ Books by Indian Authors

We’ve rounded up some excellent LGBTQ+ books, both fiction and nonfiction, by Indian authors that you must check out.

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Pride Books

The stories and narratives of the queer community and homosexuality have never found a place in mainstream India. Only recently, one can find stacks of queer and LGBTQ+ books amongst the many fiction and nonfiction paperbacks. Especially in India, the fight for gay rights had been extremely difficult. Considering a time of post 2000s in India, it was impossible to write novels and stories on homosexuality, or for gay writers to write their own memoirs freely and openly lest they be charged under obscenity. Since, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and eradicating hetero-normativity continues, we’ve rounded up some LGBTQ+ books, by Indian authors, both fiction and nonfiction, from different eras of India, that you must check out to gain insight, learn, unlearn, introspect, and also identify your own selves. 

Kari by Amruta Patil

Kari is an LGBTQ+ graphic fiction novel by Amruta Patil, India’s first female graphic author. The novel follows the visible and hidden struggles of a lesbian couple – Kari (the protagonist) and Ruth. The events unfold in the metropolitan city of Mumbai, highlighting that even the progressive of the cities are deeply hetero-normative. Amruta Patil has used unapologetically raw and powerful illustrations for the novel, which will speak to you louder than words. 

Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai

Funny Boy is a LGBTQ+ book, narrating the story of Arjie, born in a wealthy Tamil family, who prefers dressing as a girl and playing with his girl cousins rather than play cricket with his brother. His father sends him to a school which would spark the ‘masculine’ in him. The novel consists of six stories, narrating Arjie’s coming of age and his exploration of his sexuality. All this is present against the background of political unrest in Sri Lanka. Shyam Selvadurai gives a poignant vision of the political and the personal, which will offer you a plethora of socio-political insights.

Lihaaf by Ismat Chugtai

Lihaaf was written in 1942, in unpartitioned India, when the norms of the society were stricter, rigid and even more conservative than what we’ve today. Lihaaf is one of many of Ismat Chugtai’s bold and unapologetic stories. This novel even landed Ismat Chughtai in a criminal offence for ‘obscenity.’ This fiction is written from the point of view of a little girl who visits the household of Begum Jaan and his husband Nawab Sahab. Nawab Sahab, however, stays away from home most of the time, engaged in other businesses. Begum Jaan yearns for a relationship of love in her loneliness. This is when she finds it with a female servant. Since the story is told by the pov of a little girl, Ismat Chughtai, very wittingly uses indirect words and actions to convey the homosexual acts which unfold between the two. 

Loving Women: Being Lesbian in Underprivileged India by Maya Sharma

This nonfiction LGBTQ+ book is a collection of ten stories based on research. These stories are not from the elitist points of view, but Maya Sharma brings the stories of lesbians from the underprivileged sections of India, particularly rural India. The writer tracks how the women’s movement in India has failed to include female sexuality. This is an exceptionally insightful read on homosexuality, with a different research methodology. 

A life Apart by Neel Mukherjee

A Life Apart by Neel Mukherjee is a fiction, a story within a story. Simply stated, it is a story of two migrants. Ritwik is a young gay Indian man travels from India to UK after the death of his parents and takes up a scholarship to study English literature at Oxford. He wants to build his future far from painful memories of Calcutta. During his stay, Ritwik pens down the story of an educated British woman, Miss Gilby, who joins her bureaucrat brother in Raj era Bengal. Against the backdrop of political and social upheaval in Bengal, she takes English tuitions. 

Me Hijra, Me Laxmi by Laxminarayan Tripathi

Me Hijra, me Laxmi, is a memoir (nonfiction) of Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, the eldest son of an orthodox Brahmin family, who became Laxmi, a hijra. Laxmi was born a male with male organs. At a tender age, she realised her needs as a woman. There was agony and trauma because she felt her body betraying her own self. This first hand perspective educates the readers about the Hijra community, and the anguish and the difficulties they go through. 

The Pregnant King by Devdutt Pattnaik

This LGBTQ+ book by Devdutt Pattanaik has is about king Yavanasha, who accidentally drinks a magic potion that was meant for his wives, and ends up becoming pregnant. The novel poses a question – who is Yavanasha now? The story blurs the line between genders, between woman and man, and explores the question of sexual identities.

Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History by Ruth Vanita & Saleem Kidwai

Same-Sex Love in India presents an array of writings on homosexuality and same-sex love from over 2000 years of Indian literature from a myriad of scriptures and texts from Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and modern fictional traditions. These collections of writings testify to the presence of same-sex love in various forms, depicting the gender and sexual fluidity in ancient India. Through this, it attempts to discard homophobia as a ‘western influence.’ Same Sex Love in India is one of the most revered nonfiction reads on LGBTQ+ community.

Mohanaswamy by Vasudhendra

Mohanaswamy is one of the most bold LGBTQ+ books in the Kannada literary scene. It was released in 2013. The book is semi-autobiographical since this was a coming out of the closet for Vasudhendra, the author, too. Mohanaswamy, is the story of exploration of sexuality, relationships, and life events in the face of being gay. The book highlights the harsh realities of being queer in India. This LGBTQ+ book is divided into short stories.

Our Lives, Our Words: Telling Aravani Stories by A. Revathi

A. Revathi brings the voices of the marginalised communities of trans women in this nonfiction LGBTQ+ book. The Hijra community has been perceived as objects of amusement and metaphors. They lack a concrete history and visibility in society. This documentation of trans women from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu brings forth first hand perspectives and experiences of the Hijra community – the agony, anguish, childhood trauma, and the rejection they have faced from the society. 

The Boy in the Cupboard by Harshala Gupte (Illustrated by Priya Dali)

The Boy in the Cupboard by Harshala Gupte is a LGBTQ+ book for children. It is difficult to find children’s fiction discussing sexuality, inclusivity, homosexuality and queerness in such a refreshing way. It is a heartfelt story of Karan, who, when not in school, is in his cupboard. Even while playing with his friends, he’d come back soon and be in his cupboard. The beautiful illustrations depict a hopefulness for inclusivity and is an amazing way to initiate a conversation with both adults and children on homosexuality.

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Humara Spectrum

Moving Away From The Heteronormative Lens: Examining Queer Art

Queer Art is still in its nascent stage, where the artists channel their efforts into sharing experiences through art.

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Pride

Art has always had a political undertone. When you really look beyond the aspects of form, medium or, even, style, the core idea, behind it all, is intrinsically tied to storytelling. It seems appropriate, then, that the LGBTQIA+ community has been using art to tell their personal stories and drive political movements since time immemorial.

Modern history has, of course, borne witness to several works that are central to the queer community. However, it’s bordering on being erroneous to assume that queer art is a contemporary effort. You only have to look at Ancient Greek or Indian literature and art to see the truth in this statement.

The critical point of difference between ancient and modern queer art is that the latter is imbued with a focused intention. While ancient queer artistic works leaned towards the idea of ‘creativity above everything else’, modern artwork, centred around the LGBTQIA+ community, has always attempted to strike a balance between ‘creativity’ and ‘storytelling’.

That’s a crucial point to note before going any further. After all, the entire point of this article is to celebrate the manner in which the LGBTQIA+ community has effectively deployed art as a tool to reform socio-political views.

Going back a century, archaic laws and repressive policies were still in effect, predominantly being used to oppress any minority groups that didn’t adhere to heteronormative ideas. Ever since then, the LGBTQIA+ community has addressed these issues, blatantly or otherwise. From photography to abstract painting, queer art has been consistently working towards giving the community its rightful voice back.

Frida Kahlo has been a prominent figure in this effort. Her 1940 piece, titled ‘Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair’, was an iconic statement at the time. Depicting the artist in a suit, with her freshly chopped hair strewn all about her, the painting was instrumental in driving home the idea that gender was a fluid concept. Back then, it was almost an unimaginable thing for a woman to wear a suit, let alone sport cropped hair.

Fast forward to the roaring 60s, Diane Arbus began to get her photographs published in the leading magazines at the time. Arbus, who was bisexual, spent a lot of time capturing the experiences of marginalized groups. It was, perhaps, a shocking experience for the masses to see pictures celebrating drag queens on the issues of esteemed magazines. That, alone, served as a significant avenue for the general public to get acquainted with what was wholly ‘alien’ to them. The option of just flat out refusing to acknowledge the queer community wasn’t available anymore.

The 60s also marked a shift in the social perception of the LGBTQIA+ community. The Stonewall riots in ’69, for instance, had a massive impact on the queer community’s visibility. Up until that point, comparatively speaking, there hadn’t been such an event that demonstrated the community’s unwillingness to bear the intolerance directed towards them.

Still, it’s interesting to note that there was a certain discrepancy when it came to the queer community itself. For example, Yves Saint-Laurent, the co-founder of the fashion label ‘Saint-Laurent’, never had to deny his sexuality in the first place. Even so, this discrepancy did not translate to complacency. As a matter of fact, Saint-Laurent’s ‘Rive Gauche’ collection was an attempt to even out the playing field when it came heteronormative fashion.

Queer Art, perhaps, had never been more vital than it was during the AIDS pandemic in the 80s. At the time, medical concern devolved into unfounded dogma that eventually lead to the LGBTQIA+ community being unfairly stigmatized. There are plenty of artistic pieces that fought back against this. Even to this day, mainstream entertainment media continues to explore the circumstances surrounding that period.

A notable piece that deserves a mention, in this context, is Keith Vaughan’s ‘Drawing of Two Men Kissing’. While the piece, itself, was finished sometime before ’73, it did hold immense significance to the queer community during that time.

It would, indeed, take more than a simple article to comprehensively examine the LGBTQIA+ community’s relationship with art. It doesn’t, however, take more than a minute to acknowledge the difference it has made over the years.

The one thing that serves as a hopeful beacon is the fact that, considering everything, Queer Art is still in its nascent stage. Think about it. The artists who came before had to exclusively focus on fighting prejudice against the community. Now, with a growing support building behind them, queer artists can also channel their efforts into sharing experiences through their preferred artistic medium.

There is so much that we have yet to see. And, without any doubt whatsoever, all of it is
going to be truly beautiful.

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Editor's Pick

Throwback Thursday: A Tribute to Hemant Kumar on his 102nd Birthday

Celebrating Hemanta Mukherjee’s (also known as Hemant Kumar) 102nd birth anniversary, the renowned hindi and bengali singer of the 1970s.

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Hemant Kumar

The playback singer, Hemant Kumar, had etched his existence in the Indian soil through his mellifluous vocals. A born singer, he left a legacy behind. His journey from the Bengali film industry to the Bollywood film industry has been an inspiring one for many aspiring artists. Hemanta Mukherjee has been a profound contribution to the already enriched and thriving culture of India. Mostly known for his rabindra sangeet, he was, however, involved in many other arts and genres. Let’s dive into his journey of hard work and success on his 102nd Birth Anniversary!

Early Life

The legendary singer was born in Varanasi of UP on June 16, 1920. His family was from Jaynagar of West Bengal, but they migrated from Jaynagar to Calcutta (modern day Kolkata) in the early 1900s. Hemant was brought up in Kolkata, and did his schooling from Nasiruddin School and higher studies from Mitra Institution school of Calcutta. There he befriended Subhash Mukhopadhyay who later on became famous for his poetry. Later, Hemant joined Bengal Technical Institute at Jadavpur, Calcutta to pursue a course in Engineering. However, deep in his heart, he felt a knocking for music, so he left engineering to pursue a career in music. His father objected to this decision of his, but Hemant persevered, and went for it nonetheless. 

The Road to Singing

After dropping engineering, Hemant Kumar briefly tried his hand at literature and published a short story in a prestigious Bengali magazine called Desh. However, by the late-1930s he committed himself entirely to music. Subhash Mukhopadhyay helped Hemant Kumar get introduced into the Broadcasting corporation office. It was Subhash Mukhopadhyay’s influence, under which Hemanta recorded his first song for All India Radio in 1933. Next thing we know, he entered the music industry. The musical genius in him made his name famous in the music industry. His music career was primarily mentored and guided by the Bengali musician Sailesh Duttagupta. Moreover, in a television interview, Hemanta mentioned that he had also received classical music training from Ustad Faiyaz Khan. Unfortunately, his tutelage was cut short by Ustad’s untimely death.

He had a deep interest in Rabindranath Tagore’s songs. During his entire music career, Hemant Kumar, chose to sing and perform many of his songs. He cut his first non-film disc in 1937, making his Bengali film debut in Nimai Sanyas in 1941. However, later on, he eventually began focusing on Rabindra Sangeet (also known as Tagore Songs), becoming one of the most revered exponents of the genre.

Step into Bollywood and Cinema Production

Hemanta Mukherjee received a request from director Hemen Gupta. He asked him to compose music for Anand Math. Soon after, Hemant Kumar shifted to Mumbai. The public now recognised him as a playback singer, for singing ‘Yeh raat yeh chandni phir kahan’ for S.D. Burman in the 1952 film Jaal. He also collaborated on some melodies with Lata Mangeshkar, and their voices together did wonders. 

Hemanta Kumar also ventured into movie production. Under the banner of Hemanta-Bela productions, he released his first Bengali movie directed by Mrinal Sen, titled Neel Akasher Neechey (1959). The story of this film was spun around the travels of a Chinese street hawker in Calcutta in the backdrop of India’s freedom struggle. With brilliant success and depth, this movie won the President’s Gold Medal, which is the highest honour for a movie from the Government of India. In the next decade, Hemanta’s production company was renamed Geetanjali productions, and it produced several Hindi movies. 

Achievements and Awards

For his contribution to the music industry, in the genres of rabindra sangeet, and singing in different languages, he was nominated for both padmashree and padmabhushan, but Hemanta Mukherjee refused both of them politely. For completing 50 years in the musical journey, he was publicly felicitated in Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata. Late singer Lata Mangeshkar presented him with the mementoes there. He also won other awards like Filmfare Best Music Director Award (1956), National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer (1971), National Film Award for Best Male Playback (1987), etc.

Credits: YouTube (Bollywood Retro Songs)
Credits: YouTube (Ishtar Music)
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