Commemorating the legendary singer Sandhya Mukhopadhyay

Sandhya Ji’s sunlight is everywhere, glittering gold off the bright green leaves of the garden. As we speak, a warm spring breeze caused rose petals to swirl about the courtyard. 

by Anwar A. Khan

This is a sad poem if you appreciate the beauty and innocence of a lovely song-bird - the legendary singer Gitashree Sandhya Mukhopadhyay. The oriole entered the capital of dawn. The tune of her song was closed at the sad bed. Everything is not forever ended.  Her demise is also not ‘the End of the Road.’

She had a great voice. Not like mine, not like our sisters, not like our near and dear ones—a high soprano voice, but like a bird. We mean, her tuneful voice is really sweet and pleasing.

The culture of West Bengal is an Indian Culture which has its roots in the Bengali literature, music, fine arts, drama and cinema. People of West Bengal share their cultural heritage with the neighboring Bangladesh. The Bengalis together form the historical and geographical region of Bengal, with common linguistic and ethnic backgrounds.

As soon as the news broke of the passing away of Gitashree Sandhya Mukhopadhyay on 15 February last, condolences started pouring in for the late legendary singer. Tributes flooded the social, electric and print media. Condolence messages to his family and friends are filled by people of all classes quickly beyond capacity.

Caring heart, affection spoke loud as brighter, she made the decision: she would be a singer! The range of her talent was truly amazing. Sandhya Mukhopadhyay was also known as the 'Nightingale of India.’ She was one of the most beloved singers of India and Bangladesh.

Death takes us by surprise, and stays our hurrying feet; the great design unfinished lies, our lives are incomplete, but in the dark unknown, perfect their circles seem, even as a bridge's arch of stone is rounded in the stream. Alike are life and death, when life in death survives, and the uninterrupted breath inspires a thousand lives, where a star quenched on high for ages would its light, still traveling downward from the sky, shine on our mortal sight. So, when a great singer dies, beyond our ken, the light she left behind her lies upon the paths of her admirers.

She has worked with almost all the noted musicians across India. She had received National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer in 1970, and felt humiliated when she was offered a Padma Shri about a month ago — at 90 years. The Himalayan legend then has said, "I am the disciple of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. I have shared the stage with him. That's the best award in my life. Also, I have received so much love from my listeners and that's enough for me. That's the best award I can get in my lifetime. I have no regrets.”

The passing away of Gitashree Sandhya Mukhopadhyay Ji leaves us all extremely saddened. The cultural world is a lot poorer. Her melodious renditions will continue to enthrall the coming generations. From Bangladesh, our thoughts are with her family and admirers in this sad hour. 

Veteran singer passed away at the age of 90 after battling prolong illness. Heartbroken! The vacuum due to this colossal loss can never be filled. She lived an extraordinary life. Her Music lives on and will continue to cast a spell until Music is there!

During her career spanning over seven decades, Sandhya has sung so many songs and worked with stalwart music directors including Kalipada Sen, Jnanprakash Ghosh, Manabendra Mukhopadhyay, Pankaj Kumar Mullick, Nachiketa Ghosh, Rabin Chattopadhyay, Salil Chowdhury, Raichand Boral, Anil Biswas, Anupam Ghatak, Hemanta Mukherjee.

We lost a star from the world of music. Her melodies have mesmerized the heart of millions across generations. If heaven is full of scars and life is filled with stars, then death is a homage for those who felt love by her adorers.

In January 1972, when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh, fondly called ‘Bangabandhu’, returned from Pakistani prison to a newly independent nation, he was greeted by the song “Bangabandhu phire elo tomar, swopner swadhin Banglai…(Bangabandhu has returned to his dream – an independent nation of Bengal)” on Swadhin Bangla Betar (Free Bengal Radio). This grand song will be a befitting tribute to her from us.

Written by Abidur Rahaman and composed by Sudhin Dasgupta, one of the most prolific composers from West Bengal, the gentle yet powerful song was made all the more memorable by the effervescent voice of Sandhya Mukherjee.

The song was a tranquil and emotional reminder of the suffering and sacrifices of a large number of people, just like many others Mukherjee sang as radio music played a significant role during Bangladesh’s liberation war. Her songs not only motivated Mukti Bahini (the liberation army) soldiers but also played a crucial role in mobilising the common man by creating a patriotic fervour in people’s hearts and minds.

She dispersed widely the fascination of music in the subcontinent and her contribution in Bangladesh’s great war of liberation will be remembered.

Her tuneful songs captivated several generations of people. Sandhya Mukhopadhyay is the image of a superstar - a world-class performer. When she opened her mouth, angels fly out.

With the voice of an angel, she sang every day. She sang everywhere we went. She looked up at the jewelled night sky wondering how far she could go.  She could see herself singing around us. She appeared on TV, even made it into a film; She climbed each rung of the ladder; sometimes taking several steps at a time. She was riding on the crest of a wave - nothing could stop her. Fans grew and grew as her star shone bright. 

The parties still raged until one fateful day. No one could recall exactly what went wrong. Only that in the morning her voice was without a song. The doctors they all shook their heads; they pronounced she would never sing again. One day, she looked around and everything was gone

Friends, fans, record contracts and songs broken and beaten she headed for home.  As the train pulled into the station, she looked out for crowds to welcome her home. As she quested for fortune and fame moved away and never came.

We can now challenge the birds; for who sang the sweetest songs, she was gone. She had more in her life now than an empty stage in the fields and the meadows where she once sang before so tunefully.

Love can mend most anything even a voice that has been broken. As we walk towards our sunset, nothing can tear us apart. We walk as one with love and song in our heart.

We will paint the dawn with our lost song, and cry to the moon that we've moved along. We will sit beneath her all night long, and tell her our story. We will sing to her softly, a sweet birdsong, about a love story meant to be lifelong. We will tell her we were strong, but couldn't hold on. 

We remember her eyes tearing with goodbyes, as we sang the last note of our loving little song through this write-up. We watched you walk away feet scraping along, and that was the end of our loving melodious birdsong.

The twilight of the day draws near, the blazing sun is laid to rest, and dimming skies let stars appear that twinkle in the bloodstained west. The once warm air turns cold and still, long drawn-out shadows gently fade, while birdsong that before was shrill fell silent in a soft cascade. Until the end when all too soon is bade farewell by the new moon who cannot help but smile away.

Every spring, we hear the thrush singing in the glowing woods; she is only passing through. Her voice is deep, then she lifted it until it seemed to fall from the sky. We were thrilled. We were grateful. Then, by the end of morning, she's gone, nothing but silence out of the tree where she rested for a night.

Sandhya Ji’s sunlight is everywhere, glittering gold off the bright green leaves of the garden. As we speak, a warm spring breeze caused rose petals to swirl about the courtyard. The fountain gurgled, and birdsong filled the air, as the song-bird flew over the courtyard.

To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and the flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shorebirds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be. And this iconic songster - Gitashree Sandhya Mukhopadhyay is powered by her own life and by her motivation.

The songs of crooner Sandhya Ji’s birdcalls are the only sound we want to hear again and again. “The human bird shall take his first flight, filling the world with amazement, all writings with his/her fame, and bringing eternal glory to the nest whence he/she sprang.” – Leonardo da Vinci

-The End –

The writer is an independent political analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs