Girija Devi’s daughter: Appa ji never forced me to take up classical music
Sudha Datta, daughter of late Girija Devi — Thumri exponent — gives an insight into the legend’s life, her caring attitude towards her close ones, and love for old Hindi movies.art and culture Updated: Nov 19, 2017 15:12 IST
Girija Devi passed away on 24 October 2017 leaving the lovers of classical music in a state of shock. When her daughter Sudha Datta recently collected the Sumitra Charat Ram Award for Lifetime Achievement — conferred on Girija Devi on November 17 — Sudha couldn’t hold her emotions. “Appa ji [as Girija Devi is fondly referred to as] was Benares personified. Benares ran through her veins,” says Datta.
Datta grew closer to her mother post her father’s death in 1975, and says that is was “discipline” that made Girija Devi the Queen of Thumri. Recollecting her childhood memories from Varanasi’s Kabir Chaura — where the two lived -— Datta says, “During her teen years, she lived in solitude for almost a year at Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, for sur sadhana (meditation on music). The secret behind her long active life was her discipline. Just a day before her death, she mesmerised everyone by singing the bhajan (devotional song) Govind Guna, at the Sangeet Research Academy in Kolkata. Her energy was contagious, and we were all surprised when she suddenly left us a day after.”
For Datta, her mother was both strict and liberal. “She never forced me to take up classical music. I was free to pursue anything,” says Datta.
The childlike smile of Girija Devi is one that has stayed with her audience. But, behind this innocence was a teacher and classical maestro who was venerated by other artists, in all seriousness. “Once, a doyen of Indian classical music, Pt Bhimsen Joshi visited Appaji before his concert in Kolkata. He was a heavy drinker, and locked himself up in the bathroom, to [be able to] drink as he didn’t want to do it in front of Appaji,” says Datta, as the memory makes her laugh.
“Both Lata ji and my mother were born in 1929. She often stated her dislike for the new Hindi film songs because they lacked soulful lyrics. Her all-time favourite movies were Pakeezah (1972) and Umrao Jaan (1981)” — Sudha Datta, Girija Devi’s daughter
Gradually Datta reveals the camaraderie between her mother and the stalwarts of Indian film music industry. “Appa ji liked the voice of Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle, and was good friends with Lata ji. Both Lata ji and my mother were born in 1929. She often stated her dislike for the new Hindi film songs because they lacked soulful lyrics. Her all-time favourite movies were Pakeezah (1972) and Umrao Jaan (1981); and was fond of actors Meena Kumari and Vyjayanthimala. The last movie she enjoyed was Baahubali (2015)”
Not many know about Girija Devi’s love for light-hearted cinema. “She loved watching comedy movies, and films based on historical subjects, and hated violent action movies. Appa ji had great sense of humour. But what concerned her was the growing violence [in society] and she got extremely upset after the Panchkula violence following the conviction of Dera Sacha Sauda’s chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, and even the nuclear weapon testing by North Korea!”
Apart from the love for peace, it was cooking that provided solace to her. “She would cook halwa even at midnight, if she wanted. Even on the morning of recording with HMV — for her first album — she was busy cooking poori sabzi for almost 50 people. She wanted everyone in the studio to have meal, cooked by her. I use to tease her saying that she must be a Devi (goddess) for she cared for everyone like her own children. And Appa ji used to joke that she would live for a ninety years, and would leave this world singing. She truly lived like a queen and died like one, on her own terms.”
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