Interview with Suchismita Chatterjee–a flutist

Debopriya and Suchismita

Suchismita was born at Allahabad. Her parents, Robin and Krishna Chatterjee are well known musicians and have imparted early training of vocal music to them. Under the guidance of Lt. Pandit Bholanath Prasanna, she received their initial flute training at Allahabad. Belonging to a family of musicians she was later inspired to, and have had the privilege of being disciples of the great flautist Padmavibhushan Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia.

She completed her D.M. (Docenten Musicus) and U.M. (Uitvoerend Musicus) with distinction from the “Rotterdam’s World Music Conservatory”, (Holland)  in the year 1997-1998. She also studied western classical music apart from their main subject flute.

She completed her “Sangeet Prabhakar” (Bachelor of music)  from Prayag Sangeet Samiti – Allahabad, in the year 2000-2001, in both Vocal and Flute. She completed the “Sangeet Pravin” (master of music) from Prayag Sangeet Samiti – Allahabad, in the year 2004-2005, in both Vocal and Flute and topped the list of successful candidates. She is graded artists of “Aakashwani” (Mumbai Kendra).

Suchismita was awarded a scholarship from “Nuffic” through the Indian Embassy (Holland) for the year 1996-1998, while she was studying there. She also received a scholarship from “Vrindaban Gurukul” for the year 2000-2001. She has performed in The Dover Lane Music Conference, Kolkata (Jan99 & Jan03); Savai Gandharva Music Festival, Pune (Dec99); and Saptak music festival, Ahmedabad (Dec 99, Jan 04). She also has performed individually at various music conferences and soirees, in Delhi, Allahabad, Kolkata, Varanasi, Haryana, Pune, Bombay as well as in America, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, London, Dubai, Sri Lanka and Muscat.

We had an email interview with Suchismita.

Q1. Tell us something about your early life. How and where you grew up and how you got inclined towards music?

I was born in Allahabad and belong to a family of musicians. My parents are both vocalists, so I am from a musical background and it comes naturally to me. As a small kid, I remember my parents practicing for hours together……sometimes, I used to fall asleep listening to them.

While I used to be playing in the sand pit or in the garden with my little sister Debopriya , my mother used to be teaching other kids and grown up students. So my childhood memories are just filled with music. After a class my mother used to call us and teach us sa re ga ma….or songs……and we used to happily learn from her.

ALLAHABAD though a small city but culturally is very rich and has produced some great artists, musicians, writers as well as politicians. From time to time our parents took us to Prayag Sangeet Samiti, or other halls to listen to some great concerts.

Q2. How it anyhow came that you picked bamboo flute as your instrument?

We used to see our mother doing the pooja in the morning and there were idols of many gods and goddess in the pooja room.  There was one thing that fascinated both of us……….we used to look at lord krishna’s idol (playing the flute)in the pooja room…….occasionally we used to ask our mother what he was playing or doing. Our mom explained that he is Lord Krishna and plays the flute, so beautifully and the sound is so divine that all the chattels and gopi’s used to come to him, getting attracted to the sound of his flute. Probably that stayed very deep in our minds for years. We were about 16 or 17 years old when we expressed our desire to play the flute as a hobby to our father…..because by then we were already learning vocal from them. Our parents being open minded encouraged us and took us to his friend…Pt Bholanath Prasanna. He was a great flautist and lived very close to our house in Allahabad. He again was very happy and enthusiastic to teach us. Probably that is how we slowly got inclined into it.

Initially, many people didn’t take it in a very positive way, because never they had seen any girls or women playing the Indian bamboo flute……and always told my parents that it wasn’t a great idea, and girls look good singing or dancing or even playing a sitar……certainly not playing the flute.

Q3. Taking direct instructions from Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, what the experience has been like?

Suchismita, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia (Guruji), Debopriya

In the early 90’s, my parents shifted base to Mumbai, to find better music opportunities, and also give us better opportunities in our lives. I was in 10th standard when our parents  took us to Pt Hari prasad Chaurasia, to carry on our flute lessons. As Pandit Ji also belongs to Allahabad, my father and Pandit Ji were childhood friends. He again was very happy and positive about teaching us flute. Learning from him has been so wonderful……..we were amazed at his dedication towards music and teaching. No matter how tired or sleepy he was, he always used to come to the class and spent time teaching his students. Sometimes he used to come to the class directly from the airport, and teach us….then go home. Such kind of dedication was unbelievable. Being very closely associated with him, we got to understand what means to surrender yourself completely to music.

Q4. Tell us something about Debopriya. How do you feel having someone so close pursuing same music helped you?

Me and my sister are just inseparable…!!! cannot do without each other. Me being elder to her by a year, I am her didi……and everything her didi does…she has to do it. Same went for music and taking up flute seriously. We both playing the same instrument and performing together has helped us strengthening our bonds tremendously. I believe an artist is a human who has his or her ups and downs…and cannot always give his or her best at given point of time. When one is down, or cannot give 100% to a performance, that is where it really helps if the other can put in her efforts and deliver a good concert together. Secondly, each person has his own strengths and weaknesses. One can be good at layakari… (rhythmic pattern), where as the other can be more creative and improvise better. I believe what really matters is giving a great performance together and not sitting on stage and trying to prove who is superior. Such an attitude really can mare a performance or concert.

Q5. How it feels different to be with woman musicians around? Take for example, Rimpa Siva on Tabla. How do you feel it is a different experience?

We are the only woman flautists in north of India, and the Indian bamboo flute has been a male dominated instrument. It has benefitted us being different. Probably people remember us and notice us more easily than male flautists, and people have not seen many woman flautists performing. So we indeed get loads of attention…… in the West, people are very used to see woman playing the silver flute, but in India it is a bit uncommon, though I have to say we get a positive response from the audience.

Q6. What do you like most in bamboo flute in terms of its range, variety, tonal quality, etc?

What I love most about this very simple looking bamboo flute is the tonal quality……the round beautiful sound of the instrument secondly it is has the range of a vocalist… can cover two octaves very easily and beautifully. it is probably the most close instrument to vocal……..which means everything that can be sung can almost be played on the instrument. This is probably the simplest instrument as there are no strings or frets to tune it. As my Guruji Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia says… has to tune himself to be able to play this instrument in tune. Being a natural instrument it can crack due to weather change or pressure… it is very delicate. Lastly, it is light weighted and can be easily transported or carried from one place to another, unlike a piano, or double base, or even other Indian instruments. So indeed it is unique!

Q7. Given that after marriage, Indian ladies get their duties increased and lots of limitations put around, how you manage to pursue your music?

Suchismita with her daughter

Definitely…being women, we do enjoy our share of attention but at the same time have to put up with these issues. Both Debopriya and I got married on the same day…same place, but then settled in different places. Still being able to pursue a carrier in music is due to the incredible support from our husbands and their lovely family’s who never discouraged us, and always let us do what we wanted. We both had our challenges related to motherhood. For a while, we were not able to practice much or perform much, but now gradually our kids are about three years of age, and we are slowly getting back to our music and trying to dedicate ourselves once again as sincerely as possible. Being a daughter, a wife, a mother, and a daughter-in-law is not easy and  we have our share of challenges, but that is life and it is still beautiful and a great feeling being a mother and enjoying our kids, who again are indeed so musical, and love us playing the flute!

Q8. Any experience you would like to share with the readers—your personal life or your life as a musician?

I would like to share a small incidence and probably our best compliment one has ever made. After playing a concert in Mumbai, a boy about 17 years of age walked up to us and said…you know something? This moment onwards my life has changed……and we were wondering what had changed for him. He said: I was a Nastik (the one who doesn’t believe in God) till this moment, but after listening to your flute and see you both performing I feel like in believing that there is a power which is supreme and is probably god! Today onwards, I will believe in god! After ten minutes, he came back to us with two big Cadburys and told us to accept it as a small gift from him…we both were completely amazed. Till date we have not forgotten him.

Q9. How your music shaped your own personality down the years?

I think being a musician, I have become more compassionate, and soft as person. I have learnt that to achieve something is not easy and it comes only after hard work and patience. Being into music, I am happy to be in touch and associated with so many wonderful musical people. Being into music, I am a much refined person, and understand that probably the hours of riyaaz or practice that I put in is the only thing that I would carry to my next life, and will stay with me forever.

Q10. Any advice to the young and budding flutists and our readers?

For anyone who wants to pursue a career in music I would advice that one should firstly complete his or her studies and be well educated. I would advice to have another career option as well, because there is no guarantee that one can survive and be successful in this field. Music is not that you complete a course of five to eight years, get a job, and make a career out of it. It is a lifetime learning process.

Then, one  has to have the patience to learn first, and dedicate oneself to the feet of his Guru, and have faith in him. It requires sincere dedication, and passion. One should not get into music keeping concerts and glamor in mind. One needs to do it for himself first, and as we say “sangeet ki sewa karo” …which means, serve to music first. The rest might just follow. One should utilize time to its maximum, because it never comes back, and above all be a good human being.

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