Debjani Chaliha celebrates her 82nd birthday
- Tapati Chowdurie

June 6, 2016

Admirers of Debjani Chaliha had gathered in Debjani Chaliha's school named 'Meitei Jagoi' to pay their respects to her on her birthday eve. Stutis and praises flowed like the water of the Ganges so to say. On request Manjula, Minakshi's 'balya sakhi' sang from Rabindranath Tagore's Bhanusingher Padabali, "Gahana kusuma kunja majhe..." while she danced in pristine Manipuri dance style as she had learnt under Guru Maisnam Amubi Singh style at Imphal. Age did not wither her charm. Both the singer and the dancer did it impromptu, without making it look obvious. Her fans looked on with awe.

Release of book

Debjani Chaliha

Manjula Dutta and Minakshi Bose or Debjani Chaliha, have been pals since they were seven years old. They were together in Santiniketan from 1942, barely after the philosopher / poet / educationist Rabindranath Tagore had passed away. Recipient of Tagore Samman during the poet's 150th birth anniversary, Debjani Chaliha, as the world knows her today, was launched as a performer overnight by Kulada Kumar Bhattacharya, known to her from her publishing days. (Debjani is also an avid writer).

Though an accomplished Manipuri dancer, the fact that dance could be her lifelong profession had never crossed her mind. Her grandmother had rued that she had never seen her 'Ayjoni' (as little girls are called in the Assamese language) dance. Debjani was named Minakshi at birth - after one of the girls who always accompanied Mahatma Gandhi. However, in an informal gathering in her brother's place at Sunny Park in Calcutta, Minakshi danced in honour of her grandmother. It was here that Kulada Kumar Bhattacharya along with artist O.C. Ganguly and Sashanka Shome launched her professionally as a dancer. It was Kulada Kumar Bhattacharya's idea that she take a befitting name that would be taken easily by the public. After much thought, the name Debjani which featured in her horoscope was taken. Chaliha is of course a title more well known than Basu, so the name Debjani Chaliha.

In her life's journey she has gathered only friends, which is something very rare and therein lies the source of her beauty. Though she has been a college professor teaching philosophy, her love of dance has taken her where she is today.

Bangladeshi writer and professor Abul Ahsan Choudhury who teaches in the Bangla Department of Islamic Viswa Vidyalay, has written her biography 'Antaranga Debjani' and had come all the way from Kushtia in Bangla Desh for the release of his book on her 82nd birthday.

This was on the 10th of May, celebrated grandly at Birla Academy by Assam Socio Literary Club. The Governor of Tripura, Tathagata Roy, chaired as the Chief Guest. Abul Ahsan Chaudhury was the chief speaker who paid glowing tributes to her before formally the book was released by the Governor of Tripura.

The evening's tone was set with the rendition of a Borgeet from the works of the 16th century bhakti saint and socio-religious reformer Srimant Sankaradeva in raga Dhanasri. Rabindranath Tagore's Gitabita is a kind of ready reckoner. There are songs in it to suit every event. Debjani's disciples chose the lyric "Tumi asana tale, oi asana tale" to offer their guru their pranam, which they danced gracefully in the style taught to them. They were greatly facilitated at every point both by the lyric's tune and its words as well as the elegance and poise which are the hallmarks of the form.

In a very innovative choreography, her disciples of varied age groups presented themselves, in what seemed to be a single dance with soothing music. They entered and left the stage in a continuous way without breaking the rhythm. It was an aesthetic experience. Members of Assam Socio Literary Club presented a Bihu dance, which was quite a surprise.

Tapati Chowdurie learnt dance for almost 10 years from Guru Gopinath in his dance institution Natana Niketan in Madras. For a brief period, she was with International Centre for Kathakali in New Delhi. Tapati has a Master's degree in English Literature and Bachelor's degree in Education. Presently, she is a freelance writer.