Amita Sen—affectionately called Khuku by Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore. Life of Khuku, too was short like her name. She was born in Dhaka (now in Bangladesh) on 19 May 1914 and died on 24 May 1940, at the age of 26, just over a year earlier than Tagore. She joined Shantiniketan at the age of 9 years in the year 1923. Then there was another Amita Sen who was senior and later became friend of Amita Sen (Khuku). Senior Amita Sen (who is the mother of Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen) recalls Khuku’s arrival at Shantiniketan in 1923, of an unsophisticated but charming nine-year-old girl. Khuku was black complexioned but having sharp features. She possessed a natural, with a clear, open voice. She used to be the one whom Tagore used to try his songs in her voice. She used to sing such songs in open throated in the open of Shantiniketan. শান্তিনিকেতনের মাঠে ঘাটে সে উদ্দাত্ত কন্ঠে খালি গলায় সেই গানগুলি গেয়ে বেড়াত। Keeping her in mind, Tagore composed a song – “আমি তোমার সঙ্গে বেঁধেছি, আমার প্রান, সুরের বাঁধনে…..“I have entwined my life with yours through the bonds of music.” Although Sen was much younger than Tagore—by over half a century—and his acolyte, the emotional bonds between them were strong.
The Shantiniketan’s early-twentieth-century residents described her as a musical genius and an exceptional student—one of Tagore’s favourites. Amita Sen (Khuku) was one of the early stars of Rabindrasangeet and in the 1930s, she was a household name among the intellectual and artistic families that revolved around Shantiniketan. Today she is no more remembered and that’s why her centenary year passed away silently.
She was very close to Tagore. Tagore used to love her for talents and Tagore was dependent on her for organizing songs and other works. Even once Tagore thought, she would be the custodian of his songs in future. Tagore wanted her to live in Shantiniketan and for that he offered her job and requested her to come back to Shantiiniketan when she was busy in Calcutta, pursuing higher studies at Calcutta University.
While in Calcutta, she met and began a relationship with a fellow student, Shambhu Ganguly. Her conservative family was not ready to accept that relationship and that may be the reason she struggled all along to establish her friend.
“I’ll be very pleased if you can come to the Ashram and join us in our work,” Tagore wrote to her in 1938. Tagore further wrote- “because you will collect the songs I have composed, use them and expand them, for which I am eager. You have power, love and a beautiful voice, which is why I have long desired to have you do this work for me. I was worried that your ambition was on a different trajectory. If that is not so, and if you harbour any respect for me and devotion to the ashram, give up whatever work you’re doing and come over.”
She went back to Ashram and worked there for a short period. One day she expressed her willingness to continue there but on one condition – if her friend Shambhu also given a job there. Tagore did not like and took this condition very badly. Still he did not refuse but left to the authorities. Because he wanted Khuku to remain.
Khuku had chosen to be with her love, who she valued most, above her opportunities and close association of Kaviguru. An unfortunate difference between the mentor and his student cropped up. She left the job and never returned to Shantiniketan again. She wrote a bitter letter to Tagore from Calcutta. Tagore retaliated by refusing her permission to record any of his songs, and stopped the publication and reproduction of her earlier albums. Perhaps Tagore was unhappy with the actions of his “Khuku” who was one of the most favorite students, who was showered with his fatherly affection and love.
In January 1940, when she was admitted in a Calcutta Hospital and fighting with the death, Tagore wrote to her with his blessings, saying “worried by the state of your health,” and was praying for a quick recovery. This was the time when Tagore ordered to release those records for publication and sale again. She expired in the same year in Dhaka on 24 May, four days after her 26th Birthday.
In a letter of condolence to her uncle, Tagore wrote “I had great affection for Khuku, but I failed to save her from an evil fate.”
A short obituary in the ashram’s newsletter in July 1940 said, “By her death Bengal has lost one of its most talented daughters … long shall we mourn the abrupt end of a youthful life so rich in possibilities.”
With all these tragic happenings, ill fated khuku left us too early abruptly leaving with those few songs in her magical voice. Though she was a musical genius but today she is a forgotten star. This post is written in memory of the musical genius to mourn the abrupt end of her journey.
To listen few of her songs (Rabindrasangeet) in her magical voice please visit my youtube channel : youtube.com/acm365 or click the links below :
Acknowledgements : http://www.caravanmagazine.in & Anandabazar patrika