Twenty working women and housewives dressed in a mix of jeans and salwar kameez huddle together on the floor of Shagota Chakrabarty’s living room and chatter about Sex and the City.
They giggle and gossip till Shagota begins playing the harmonium to a background of the tabla and tanpura. Almost immediately, the women start singing shlokas (hymns).
Every week, women gather at Shagota’s home in Mumbai to learn Hindi film songs like Yeh Ishq Hai and Chhaliya Chhaliya, as well as ghazals and bhajans.
Singing apart, they also end up making friends, plan picnics and swing it at the discos together.
The name of the game: unwind and leave all your worries behind. The academy’s USP: it is dramatically different from others. There are very few schools that enroll mature women. The driving force of other academies: catch them young and insist on a voice test. So what about those who aspire to sing but are not able to? Or those who cannot sing anywhere except the bathroom? Simple: turn to Shagota, who prefers mature beginners and trains them in singing Bollywood style without a voice test.
Many in Shagota’s class are those who have never sung before and hers seems to be the only “professional” academy that runs out of a living room.
Ask Shagota and she will tell you the need for such an informal institution to impart formal training in music: “Many of my students are housewives. They had to put aside their interest in music because domestic chores took priority over their talent.”
At 55, Priya Deshpande is one such “student”. She had a passion for music but marriage and children demanded her time. “Music took a backseat. But once the kids were settled, I decided to return to music.” Too old to enrol as a student, when she met Shagota and found a living room academy, she decided “this is it”.
Shagota’s academy is not only about music. It is also about getting together. It is an ideal place for those who want to escape from their worries. Be it Veena Borse, whose son has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or Uma Shethia, whose child has Down’s Syndrome, they flock to Shagota’s. If Veena ended up learning Hindi pop while she was hooked to bhajans, Uma describes the time spent at Shagota’s as a “spirit lift”.
For some, it has been learning for fun. If it helped Namrata Shah sing at her own wedding, Vrinda Daryani’s training helped her sing a birthday song for her husband.
Shagota’s own life has been tough. After her husband’s death, she decided to teach music, given that her mother had started her music training when she was barely two. She went around music shops to see if they knew of any potential pupils.
She started off by teaching one-to-one in people’s houses till word spread. And once it did, there was no looking back.
Now, her classes are choc-a-block with 150 students. Could be more but for the living room.