Born and brought up in the culturally rich Dhubri district of Assam, Vidushi Puloma Das Joshi has been one of the highly acclaimed Hindustani singers from Assam who has created an identity of her own over the past four decades. In conversation, the legendary singer speaks at length about her journey so far.
She was around 8-year-old when young Puloma’s tryst with the world of music began. Her father (Krishna Das) was a trained ‘khol’ (a type of drum, an Assamese musical instrument) player and her mother (Satyavati Das) was a skilled borgeet (a form of devotional Assamese song which was founded by Srimanta Sankardeva and is sung mostly in praise of Lord Vishnu and his incarnations) singer.
"My father was a trained khol player and mother used to sing borgeet and you can say that there was a musical atmosphere already in our family. Moreover, my elder sisters then used to learn music and at times I also sang with them, but on most occasions, it was noise and less rhythm," recalls Das while speaking about her initial days.
"Once my father said that I should also be taking music lessons. 'Even when she shouts, she does it in a tune. Maybe it is a god gifted talent and we should explore it more', I remember my father telling this to my mother. And then he approached me and asked me to concentrate on my music and start taking lessons along with my elder sisters. I was young then and I enjoyed dancing and was taking classes on Manipuri dance. I especially enjoyed the Krishna dance. But as per my father's wish, I began taking music lessons as well and gradually began enjoying it," she further says, adding that she was lucky to have Guru Bihari Lal as her guru.
"Guru Bihari Lal taught and treated me like his own child and he used to make me rehearse for hours. His lessons were invaluable and even till date I recall fondly my initial days I had spent with him. He was a musical stalwart in his own regards and I am immensely indebted to him," recalls Das.
However, before the gradual liking came, there were a lot of disliking as well.
"What was annoying was that continuous and repeated emphasis on one particular svara. Every day I was made to sing just one svara and no new song was taught and this was really annoying. However, when my teacher explained to me the importance of riyaz and why should I focus and concentrate on one svara, I understood his point of view and accordingly I worked hard and dedicated myself to the directions of my guru," adds Das who is also one of the senior examiners of Bhatkhande Sangeet Vidyapeeth with an experience of over 25 years.
The Journey Continues
Vidushi Puloma Das Joshi always wanted to be a doctor. But as her love and devotion for music evolved and developed gradually, after completing her Higher Secondary in science streams, she opted for Assamese honours in her graduations.
"My mother always wanted me to be a doctor and I also loved the Biology subject a lot. But since I wanted to pursue a career in music, after my Higher Secondary I opted to study Assamese and decided to continue my pursuit for a career in music. However, my mother made me promise that I at least complete my masters, which I eventually did," recalled Das who also worked as a lecturer in vocal music at Bhatkhande Sangeet Mahavidyalaya and at the Golokganj College in the Department of Assamese; but eventually left the jobs to concentrate fully into her singing.
"Apart from my first guru, I was also fortunate enough to learn under the mentorship of Professor Prem Singh Kinot and under his guidance, I underwent training for three years," recalls Das Joshi, who is also often called as 'Daughter of Assam and Daughter-in-law of Rajasthan'.
She completed her 'Sangeet Nipun' degree with specialisation and evaluating her competency, the Government of India awarded her with a scholarship for higher studies in music in 1983. She supplemented the vocal aspect of Khayal and Thumri under Taan Samrat Ustaad Naseer Ahmed Khan Saheb of Delhi Gharana.
One Memorable Moment
"I was quite young then when I met Praveen Sultana baido for the first time when she had gone to Dhubri for some purpose. I was mesmerised by her voice quality and her throw of the voice. I also had a dream to sing like her someday and when I met her in person, my happiness knew no limits. I talked to her and asked her what should I do to improve my vocal quality and sing better. 'Keep rehearsing', I remember, she said and this gave me a lot of impetus to march ahead with confidence. When she heard me, she praised my voice and she told me to not to think about immediate goals but concentrate on bigger dreams. Her humility touched my heart and it made a lot of impact in my life. This small encounter is truly memorable for me and when I recall it even today, I feel like it was just yesterday when I had met her," recalls Joshi while talking about the most memorable incident of her life from her childhood days.
On Assam's Current Music Scenario
"We do see a sea of change in the way today music is created. Today it is more about remixes and I personally don't like it. There is no creativity of own. One should always try to create their own music and should not touch the classics and destroy it in the name of remix," says the melody queen while sharing her thoughts on the current music scenario of Assam.
"From Goalpariya folk songs to the modern Assamese songs, today everything has felt the touch of remix in the name of fusion. Fusion, I feel is unnecessary. Hope the Indian classical music is left out of this trend and people don't destroy it in the name of modernisation," says Das Joshi.
She further feels that in Assam when it comes to music, everything is moving at a rapid pace. She feels that most of the musicians these days in Assam are following the Western trend blindly.
"The Bihugeets of the older days were much melodious than the songs these days. The Bihugeets these days have lost its charm and aura," she further said, adding, "We should not touch the creations of stalwarts in the name of giving a modern outlook. Let the origin remain origin, let's not play with those."
Message For Aspiring Singers
"If one wishes to do well in the world of music, then one must first learn under a good guide and secondly one must be devoted towards one's work. If one practices hard masters the skills, then there is no stopping and the name and fame will just come along. One must not only think about the name and fame," concludes the talend Puloma Das Joshi.
Partha Prawal (Goswami) is a Guwahati-based journalist who loves to write about entertainment, sports, and social and civic issues among others. He is also a published author.