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Tabla player sowing the ‘seeds of music’ in war-torn Afghanistan

Born in Kolkata, Chatterjee is based in New York, giving tabla lessons to hundreds of Americans in Yale University, Manhattan School of Music, Rutgers University and the University of Pittsburgh.

lucknow Updated: Jan 30, 2019 10:14 IST
Anupam Srivastava
Anupam Srivastava
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
Samir Chatterjee,tabla player,afghanistan
Samir Chatterjee, a tabla player

Samir Chatterjee, a tabla player of international repute, has been a musician on a mission. Since 2008, he is sowing the ‘seeds of music’ in war-torn Afghanistan despite threats from the Taliban.

Born in Kolkata, Chatterjee is based in New York, giving tabla lessons to hundreds of Americans in Yale University, Manhattan School of Music, Rutgers University and the University of Pittsburgh.

But his biggest contribution to the world of music is his effort to revive music culture in Afghanistan.

“I have trained more than 300 Afghan students during my frequent visits to that country. My disciple, Faisal is also taking my work forward. He is also teaching music to youngsters who have been misguided. Today, it’s nice to see Afghan youths talking about music instead of violence in their neighbourhood. Now, these students are my ambassadors there…they are teaching other kids,” said Chatterjee.

Chatterjee was in Lucknow to attend a seminar organised by Bhatkhande Sangeet Sansthan where Hindustan Times caught up with him to talk about his tryst with Afghanistan, the land he rejuvenated with music after the Taliban was ousted from there by the US forces in 2008.

“The day I landed in Jalalabad in December 2008, I received a text message that read, ‘Those hands that play the tabla will become the devil’s hands’,” he said.

“I was surprised at the hate that was injected into the minds of youths by the Taliban against music, which is part of every home. I immediately texted back, ‘I understand what will happen to those hands, which are killing so many people every day’,” said Chatterjee.

On how he landed in Afghanistan, he said, “There was an Afghani student, Faisal Arsalah, who was learning tabla from me in New York. He told me how music was part of every Afghan’s life before the Taliban took over the country.”

“But the Talibans used to kill the musicians during their regime and said music is anti-Islamic. Faisal asked me to do something for the kids through music, but didn’t have any blueprint. I told him to return to Afghanistan and arrange for my visit to that country,” said Chatterjee.

Samir Chatterjee went to Afghanistan in 2008 and met the minister of education, higher education and culture. They promised him all the support. “They arranged for my stay and I expressed my desire to teach youths who lost everything in war, those who had no families or roamed on streets,” he said.

“The Afghans have a lot of respect for Indians and this evident when a group of misguided youths held me at point-blank range mistaking me as a Pakistani, but when they saw my passport (Indian) they let me off and said sorry,” said Chatterjee.

From 1994 to 2001, music was totally prohibited in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. Anyone even caught listening to music would have his face painted black and paraded all over the city. Kharabad in Kabul, a place for musicians there, was also destroyed, he added.

“Most of the musicians fled to Pakistan, USA or India. They returned when I went to Afghanistan. Hundreds of Afghans became my students,” claimed Chatterjee.

Chatterjee’s wife, Sanghamitra, sings and teaches music while his 26- year-old son Dibyarka, is also a brilliant tabla player.

Belonging to the Farukkhabad Gharana, Chatterjee has played tabla with noted Sitar maestro Pandit Ravishankar, classical singer Pandit Jasraj, flute master Raghunath Seth, etc.

First Published: Jan 30, 2019 10:13 IST