Having grown up in Shantiniketan from the age of five, Sahana Bajpaie was no stranger to the art of making music or singing. She grew up surrounded by melodies and impromptu jam sessions.
Bajpaie is an Indian singer and a contemporary Rabindra Sangeet vocalist. She came out with her debut album in the year 2007, titled Notun Kore Pabo Bole, the soundscape for which was composed and designed by Shayan Chowdhury Arnob, who is a Bangladeshi music producer.
In 2015, she released a new Rabindra Sangeet album titled Ja Bolo Tai Bolo. In the album, three of the songs were arranged by the classical guitarist Oliver Weeks, Jazz pianist Zoe Rahman and jazz clarinettist Idris Rahman. The song was recorded in London, where she now stays with her family.
Suggested Reading: Five Bollywood Songs On Women’s Sexual Desires That Stay Away From Objectification
Her music has been a talking point. Today her music has fans beyond Bengali-speaking individuals.
Bajpaie, who is also a professor, talks about her life and her ideas of what feminism and activism should look like. She discusses her life and choices at a live talk show on Instagram conducted by SheThePeople Bangla. She talks about her life in Shantinektan and her life after leaving her home, while also talking about why her identity matter to her the most.
Sahana Bajpaie On Journey With Music
Shantiniketan is a musical place and the moment people come to know that one comes from here, they ask you to sing irrespective of if you can sing at all. Without even trying to learn songs, Bajpaie says that the place instils music in you.
“This was actually Rabindranath Tagore’s idea about children’s education. He always highlighted that and made it happen,” she says. Learning music was a part and parcel of Bajpaie’s life.
“If you are not singing, then someone else is. It was a beautiful backdrop to have been brought up in.”
“My parents used to listen to music all the time at home. I used to dance as a kid, I was a dancer in school. My love for music became prominent once I started to understand the words of the song. There is a lot to do about the awareness of my language as well,” she says.
She has not done her bachelor’s or master’s in music, she did it in English Literature but has always wanted to learn music. Also, she was not part of the music world in West Bengal particularly Kolkata because at the age of 21 she left for Bangladesh, where she used to teach at a university.
“Music was always around me and then my CD came out in 2007. It came out because I wanted to give something to my father, who taught me music. Everybody loved it. I don’t have ups and downs like someone had asked me not to sing, etc. Although, it is okay to not be liked by everyone,” shares Bajpaie.
Identity And Freedom
Sahana Bajpaie is never hesitant of speaking aloud on women’s rights, their access to freedom and the building of identity. Even when she speaks about her idea of it, she states about her privileges and makes conscious comments on women’s actions to access it.
She feels that “identity and freedom” is the first thing that any woman and any human being needs to opt for. “I am talking from my vantage point, I cannot talk for every woman because I do not have the right to do it. I don’t know their trials and tribulations. But women from my state who are educated and who are working, the women who have gotten the chance to carve their space, I think it is of utmost importance that we fight for our independence and identity as women. It is difficult in our country and then we think it is not that difficult abroad but it is,” says Bajpaie.
She believes that she had a very easy life in terms of her having a mother and father, access to cooked food, space to study and then get a job and falling in love.
But when she went to London to pursue a master’s in South Asian Studies, she never thought that starting a new life and managing household work would be taxing. The first thing that she did when changes like these were taking place, was to call the person who used to work at her house for 20 years and said that she is thankful that they were in her life.
The scholarship that she was getting was paying for her tuition fees and she had to arrange for her food and livelihood. In order to make ends meet, she started doing jobs that she has never done in her life.
In the cold of October and November, she was selling sim cards and bartending at a pub. These jobs are used to pay minimum wages.
“It used to pain me and I used to think why I chose this job, but in hindsight, it made me who I am and made me respect every kind of job that I do. I met so many kinds of people who were very different from me. Those jobs that I did made me realise that I should not take my job for granted,” she says.
What does equality mean to you?
Sexism and patriarchy are rampant in our society. According to her, activism starts at home. It is about how we bring up our children.
“I am a mother and I don’t want to teach gender equality in a way that intimidates my daughter Rohini. I want to teach her by example. To make her understand that she is a woman, she is a girl but that does not make her any less,” she says.
Adding that the way in the UK, they incorporate meanings of gender equality in their notebooks with stories. “My daughter does not even think that same-sex relationship is something extraordinary because it is there in the story–Jack is in love with John,” Bajpaie says.
“I was expected to be something. I always sing wearing a saree because I like doing it. It has nothing to do with politics or performance for that matter. The way Rabindra Sangeet is sung and they equate it with Santiniketan. I was expecting because oh! This lady is from Shantiniketan so she would fit that bill. I think a lot of people were highly disappointed that I did not fit the bill. I still tell people that you put a big bindi on my forehead and bind my hair in a bun with flowers, and make me sit with Tabla or Harmonium, it’s still going to be the same, I will not be singing any different. It’s just that I do not choose to perform this way,” says Bajpaie.
Women and their multitasking skills
Bajpaie shares “I am doing my PhD at the moment, I have to work, I have my family, I have my daughter here, it is difficult and no fun. It might look fun on Instagram or social media but it is not fun. Most of the time, I am imbalanced, I cannot balance at all. But I go for a long walk when I feel very down,” she says, adding, “Someone called it the Chapal Funda, you wear your chapal and walk away from the situation when it’s too much for you.”
“Retain Your Maiden Name”
Bajpaie never thought that she would take somebody else’s last name. Being close to her father, she never wanted that to go away from her name. “I did not want to become a British citizen, I hold an Indian passport because my dad’s name is there and my Shantiniketan’s house address is also there and my mum’s name is there. I am very attached to it. As a woman, I am very attached to my family. I am and I have always been a Bajpaie,” she says.
According to her, being with someone or marrying them, should never change one’s name. She feels it is a good decision on part of women if they choose to keep their own name. “It is just our identity. All our lives we hear a certain name and suddenly we become somebody else. It’s jarring to the ears and I am a musician and I do not like it,” says Bajpaie.