Bratati Bandyopadhyay is a name held in high esteem by lovers of Bengali poetry, and the journey of her life is an inspiration to younger generations of performing artists who look up to her. It has been a journey measured not so much in length of time, but counted in milestones set up by her dedication, perseverance, skills and a unique equation with her Muse.
Her parents Maya and Manjul Kumar Bandyopadhyay in recalling Bratati’s infancy and early childhood marvel at her phenomenal memory even at the age of three, by which time she had learnt by heart and could recite upwards of 300 nursery rhymes and short poems. She had made her first stage appearance with a difficult poem by Kazi Nazrul Islam. What was evident even at that tender age was Bratati’s fascination for sound and rhyme, images and tunes and her own effort at interpreting them in a manner rare in one so young..
Bratati started her schooling at Bethune Collegiate School, a premier educational institution in Kolkata. At school she seized every opportunity to polish her inborn talent as an elocutionist, and participated in inter school competitions with distinction. The very first time that she represented her school at an All Bengal Inter School Elocution Contest, she won the First Prize for her Alma Mater.
She graduated from the Bethune College, the first women’s college in India, established in 1879. From school to college and then onto the Calcutta University for her post graduate studies were but normal stages of her academic pursuit. Here too Bratati came out with flying colours, securing First Class in her Master’s degree in Economics.
During her college days she moved to Hridaypur, a suburb in Kolkata, with her parents and younger brother. There she lived in a sprawling house surrounded by a lush green garden. The closeness of nature fascinated her and she developed a deep interest in literature and music.
Her formal education increased her forays into the world of letters in which she was always much at home, and her creative bent of mind helped her in her quest for new horizons of expression through poems, dramas, audio features – all built around her first love, elocution – and culminating in that single word which expresses her philosophy best – “perfection”.
Bratati was deeply inspired by the stalwarts and masters of the performing arts of her younger days – Suchitra Mitra (from whom she took music lessons from some time), Sambhu Mitra, Kazi Sabyasachi and their likes, each of whom has a special niche in Bratati’s mind, along with some of our greatest contemporary poets and authors – Nirendra Nath Chakraborty, Sankha Ghosh, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Purnendu Patrea, Dibyendu Palit and younger generation poets like Mallika Sengupta, Subodh Sarkar, Subho Das Gupta, Srojato, to name a few. But above all, the colossus that engulfs and pervades Bratati’s entire psyche is none other than Rabindranath Tagore. While in respect of everyone else Bratati imbibes and synthesizes their individual genius with the alchemy of her own creativity, it is to Rabindranath that she totally surrenders herself.
After university, Bratati began along the common path. She was selected, among other students, by her teacher Dr. Biplab Dasgupta as a Research Associate in the task force of a project named ‘Perspective Plan for Calcutta’. But she was not destined for this life. Inevitably, her love of poetry drew her to the vibrant world of art and culture, and her identity began to build not an economist, but as the new face of Bengali elocution. She got associated with Abritti Parishad and Sarathi , two prominent elocution institutes of Kolkata
Once, Bratati was aboard the Darjeeling Mail with a party of artistes, going to Siliguri for a program. She was reading a book that she had bought recently -‘A Diary of a Young Girl’. The memoirs of Anne Frank had reached out to her. After a time she laid down the book and tried to sleep, but sleep would not come to her that momentous night. Lying wide awake, unable to put her mind to rest, she began to recite to herself the poems she knew, as an effort to while away the time. One poem after another flowed from the unmapped depths, and slowly she found herself on a singular ride with her Soul, carried on the viewless wings of poetry, as poems came by to her gates throughout the night. Hours later, she watched the first rays of dawn kiss the mountain peaks in the distance, and as day broke across the sky a dream had awakened in her heart. It was a dream that drove her to arrange her first solo program on stage, which was titled Ek Sandhyay Eka Bratati .
On the evening of 7th December, 1996, Rabindra Sadan was packed to capacity as Bratati stepped onto the stage alone. Emotions and ecstasies charged the audience as she put forth every brilliant poem in all its exquisite beauty and appeal. Bratati’s dream culminated in that evening. The event created a milestone.
Landmarks were created one after another as days went by. In 1997, the album Ami-i Shei Meye was released. Her name became synonymous with the title of the album. Standing as one of the torch-bearers of contemporary Bengali culture, she put forth assortments like Shudhu Kabitar Janya, Bhalo Theko, Asthir Somoyer Kobita, Aay Re Bhola, Anjali, Chirosakha, to name a few, delighting thousands over the years. She also worked with other eminent personas in collaborative projects - Mondo Meye – Bhabna with Taslima Nasrin; Jayjayanti’ – a collection of Joy Goswami’s poems - with the poet himself, accompanied by Srikanto Acharya and Pratyush Bandyopadhyay; Chhinnopatro – Atma with Rezwana Choudhuri Bonya; Shesher Kabita with Debshankar Haldar, Chitra Sen, Srilekha Mitra, Dhritiman Chowdhury and others.
As Bratati puts it, her passion and her profession are one and the same. New experiments, innovations, innovative projects are the key words of her work. She has been a key factor in sparking interest in poetry among the younger generations. Her efforts to popularize this form of art have taken form in ‘Kabyayan’, a school where learners can find guidance and ideas about elocution, getting to know poems better in the process. In her classes, Bratati brings into play her vast experience in performing arts and her interactions with many eminent leaders of this field.
Apart from recitation of poetry, Bratati is also associated with Doordarshan as a newscaster since 1989. Her news reading is just as much an example of her unerring brilliance; ‘She can completely lay aside the elocutionist in her when she takes up the role of a newscaster’ – says Pankaj Saha, former director of Doordarshan Kendra, Kolkata. Bratati is associated with HMV as a regular artist since 1996, - which has brought out many of her albums. As of 2013, Bratati has about 60 albums to her credit. She has also performed overseas time and again, catering to the needs of her audiences in foreign lands.
Bratati has never put herself away from the mundane world in order to enjoy ivory-tower seclusion. She remains a sincere humanist, relentless activist and staunch altruist using her assets to make the world a better place. She along with her senior students conducted a workshop with the inmates of the Presidency Correctional Home. This is one of the first moves of the culture-therapy, a unique project taken up by the West Bengal Correctional Home Services.
Breaking new paths is never without challenges. Pioneers are always questioned, criticized, and debated upon. Bratati has been no exception. But it is this ever-stirring intellectual commotion that keeps her going. New views and ideas refresh her and let her reinvent and rejuvenate her work.
And her journey is far from over.
A poet's work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep. - Salman Rushdie
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