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Minoti Khaund: Creating a Legacy of Music

Recording with daughter Sunita Bhuyan Khaund

Minoti Khaund with daughter Sunita Bhuyan Khaund

A musical career spanning 50 years.. a single-minded devotion to Hindustani Classical music and its science and art… an instrument called the violin… one of the most difficult instruments to master… and weaving with the bow and strings a magical power to induce both happiness and tears with the same notes. That is the virtuosity of Minoti Khaund, the veteran violinist from Assam who has spent a lifetime in the pursuit of Hindustani classic music and its promotion in the region.

A musician who has established her mettle as a specialist amongst her craft globally, she has been a staunch guide and supporter to hundreds of musicians who have come under her tutelage and who have carved a name of themselves in their own right. But she perhaps takes pride in the fact that she has managed to groom and lay a strong foundation for her own daughter Sunita Khaund Bhuyan, who is presently earning critical acclaim across the globe through her mastery with the bow and fiddle.

Born in 1940, Minoti started playing the violin at the tender age of 10 years. Born to a musically enriched family in the music loving town of Jorhat in Upper Assam, she first expressed her desire to play with the fiddle to her maternal grandfather, Mr. Biswa Sarma, a noted connoisseur of the fine arts himself. Her grandfather could sense the passion in the girl child’s eyes and bought her a violin. This is when Minoti’s ethereal journey started with the violin and classical music began to encompass a rich musical career which has spanned more than 50 years now.

Initial Days

Reminiscing about those early days, she recounts, “My grandfather was the President of All Assam Music Conference – Jorhat chapter. Everyone in my family had a huge inclination towards music. We were exposed to a lot of music shows where maestros used to come and perform. That atmosphere helped me a lot in my career. I must have been eight or nine years old when I started my career in music. There was a music school in Jorhat run by Late Lokanath Sarma where children from well-established families used to come to learn music. We learned under the guidance of Indreswar Sarma.”

Her family’s deep rooted interest in music also helped her develop as a musician. As she says, “My mother wasn’t a musician, though, but she stood by me through thick and thin, to become my source of inspiration to pursue music. At that time, learning music wasn’t easy as teachers were not available and there weren’t many institutions as well. But my sister, Pronoti Khaund is a singer. My brother (who is no more) used to play tabla, flawlessly. The All Assam Music conference played a pivotal role in our lives for giving us abundant opportunities of performing in different platforms, and at the same time meeting the experts and learning from them. I can recall many instances when in the December month’s chilly nights, people used to sit all night long clad with their blankets to listen to music, until 6 am in the morning, with a lot of patience. It was highly motivational for us. I was already performing before marriage, for I was the only lady violinist in the town, perhaps in the whole of Assam. I got married at the age of eighteen.”

The turning point in her life came when she was performing at the All Assam Music Conference in 1972 and violin maestro Pt. V.G.Jog heard her on stage and offered to impart his art to Minoti.

Minoti, already a mother of two and the daughter-in-law of then Deputy Commissioner Rabindra Ram Khaund, agreed to this god sent opportunity and started her apprenticeship under Pt. Jog. Her husband Kabindra Ram Khaund and her family supported her completely in her journey seeing her thirst for music and devotion towards the violin.

Fifty Glorious Years in Music

Thereafter started the traditional Gururshisya Parampara between Minoti and Padma Vibhusahan Pt Jog. Minoti bloomed as a musician under Jog’s able guidance and the exposure of performing on live shows besides him. For Indian Classical Music this is the best way that a student of music can imbibe the nuances and intricacies of the science and the art of classical music, accompanying the guru and simultaneously building a rapport with the audience.

Acknowledging the huge role of her guruji in her life, Minoti says, “Getting opportunities of seeing the performances of noted violinists, and also performing with them, has played an integral role in my learning. When I used to go to Calcutta to learn under my guruji, he used to take me to various music conferences, and to meet various other gurus, to see and learn from them. I met A T Kana, vocalist (a maestro). We played vocal music, not in words, but with our fingers. Pt. Budhadeb Dasgupta, another noted musician, also shared his knowledge, and I could learn a lot from him and his gharaana. He was a very liberal person. And, he is the one who inspired me to learn from everything. He said that I should grab a piece of learning from everyone and everywhere, wherever there is something good to learn.”

The Rising Talent Conference at Kalamandir Calcutta in 1978 introduced Minoti as a talented artiste in front of the knowledgeable gurus and music hungry audience of Kolkata. There has been no looking back since then. The Amir Khan Music Conference at Rabindra Sadan Calcutta, Benaras, Burdwan, Cuttack, Bhubaneshwar, Tatanagar, Rabindra Natya Mandir Mumbai, India International Center Delhi, Mehta Memorial Hall Allahabad, IIT Festival, Shankardev Kalakshetra Guwahati, National Gallery of Modern Art Mumbai, India Habitat Centre Delhi, Women’s International Forum Goa, Kala Ghoda Fest, Mumbai, Nehru Centre London, Glasgow, Nehru Centre Mumbai, Madhusudhan Manch Kolkatta, Kameshwari festival, SAWF Sri Lanka, Ganga Mahotsav Varanasi, Sangeet Natak Academi, ITC SRA series, etc were some of the platforms that Minoti performed in and enthralled the audience and press alike. She became the foremost violinist of Assam and did her motherland proud, earning accolades by blending the tantrakari style of Pt Jog with her own inherent melody.

Innovations and Awards Galore

Minoti continued her parallel studies in the field of music and attained Sangeet Nipune from Prayag Sangeet Samitti, Allahabad, in 1986, bagging a gold medal for her Sangeet Visharad. During this period, she also got associated with vocalist Pt. A.T, Kanan of the Sangeet Research Academy, Kolkatta and imbibed the “gayaki ang” in her style. She also underwent music studies in the field of raga improvisations and rhythmic patterns of “tala” from sarod maestro and musicologist Pt. Buddhadev Dasgupta. She became an empaneled Artist of ICCR, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India in 1990.

Minoti’s new composition on Durga Shakti with her daughter Sunita Khaund Bhuyan, “Invocation of Ma” has taken the mother daughter duo across the country and abroad. She was conferred the title of Sangeet Jyoti and was recently conferred the Shilpi Award by the Assam government for having completed 50 years as a violinist and music teacher. She also received the Lifetime Achievement in Music recently by the Paschim Guwahati Durga Mandir Trust recently. Besides, she brought glory to Assam when she received the Exceptional woman: Creating a Better World Award at the Women’s Economic Forum in 2018 and the R. G. Baruah Award for Excellence in her Craft in 2017.

Contribution to the Field of Music

All through her musical career, Minoti has been contributing towards society by propagating Classical Music amongst the youth and teaching the violin to the young and old alike. Her vast experience in the performing art and musical studies gives her the edge to impart music lessons on the violin with technically accurate systems and methods.

Pt Jog was so impressed with the way Minoti had groomed Sunita into the intricacies of the instrument that he also offered to train Sunita under him and thus carried on the “guru shisya parampara” across two generations of violinists. The mother and daughter have been currently performing jugalbandis together

Minoti currently is the visiting faculty of a reputed music college of Guwahati and is a panel examiner for music courses at the State College of Music and Art. She is currently focused on spreading the knowledge of music as a sublime recreation and frequently speaks in music forums and conducts workshops and seminars. She has also retained her penchant for writing and is a prolific writer of music columns and articles in journals and newspapers. Her endeavor has been to propagate music among today’s generation and make music a medium of achieving inner peace and harmony and thus spreading positive energy and harmony throughout the society.

When asked if she felt that her achievements in the field of music have not been acknowledged at par, Minoti Khaund, as a true musician, says that her inner satisfaction is paramount and that “no external titles” can deter her from her passion. “I have spent an entire lifetime in pursuit of music which has brought happiness to me from within. I am well aware of my own capabilities and I have crossed the stage when I have to look to others for approval.”

Encouraging Fusion, But a Purist at Heart

A purist at heart, Minoti Khaund has strived to keep the flag of classical music flying high. But she is also aware of the need for cultural evolution. She encourages today’s youth to experiment with different kinds of music as she believes that all melodies in the world centers around the 7 notes of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni. However, she maintains that mastery in any kind of music can be attained only through the pursuit of classical music. This has been the content of many of her speeches and columns, which has inspired a large number of young people to learn classical music.

As she says, “We all have to evolve with the changing times. During my jugalbandi performances along with my daughter, while I encourage her daughter to go ahead and experiment with other genres, I myself stop after a certain point,” she says.

 

ROUND-UP

Group exhibition

Call of Brahmaputra – a group show of painting, graphics and sculpture by six young artistes from Assam was held in New Delhi recently. The artistes whose works were exhibited were Kareem Khan, Manoj Priyam, Ranjit Rabha, Nabakash, Harekrishna Talukdar, Bijoy Deori and Rajib Kalita. The exhibition was held at the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society in Rafi Marg. The show was inaugurated by Colonel Kapoor.

Music for Healing

Testifying to the immense healing power of music, ace violinist Sunita Khaund recently conducted her famed healing music model, Life enrichment through music, in the auditorium of B Barooah Cancer Institute of the city. Sunita was welcomed in traditional Assamese style by noted academician, poet and translator Surajit Barooah who is also a founder member of the B Barooah Cancer Institute. The workshop was held to basically supplement the institute’s efforts to provide alternative therapies to help patients suffering from cancer recover and enrich their lives.
While the Life enrichment through music model was initially conceived by the artist just as a means to enrich life and increase productivity of employees in office, the model harnesses the healing power of music to a tremendous extent. This was aptly demonstrated during Sunita’s performance in B Barooah Cancer Institute the other day.

The audience mostly comprised of patients affected by cancer and their family members who are going through a tough ordeal in life. While very few of them had any knowledge of Raagas as such, Sunita’s module had a soothing effect on them and it was indeed a pleasure to see the patients singing along with her.

Workshop on culture

A Kalamitra Workshop programme will be held in Shilpgram from May 26 to 29. The workshop is being organized by Sanskar Bharati, North East as part of its Project Vision 2020. The main objective behind organizing this event is to introduce children to the grandeur and beauty of Indian art, music, dance and drama. The various resource persons in the workshop are Sharadi Saikia, Sailen Saikia, Sabita Saikia, Jollymoni Saikia, Ranjumoni Saikia, Tarun Kalita, Santanu Biswas, Pragyan Baruah, Manish Bordoloi, Arup Chakraborty, Jyoti Prasad Das, amongst others.

Sarod Performance

A performance by noted Sarod artist Tarun Kalita was held at the auditorium of Shilpgram recently. The concert was organized by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) as part of its Horizon series programme. A senior disciple of Pt Buddhadev Dasgupta, Tarun Kalita is acclaimed for his command over the instrument and soulful rendering and elucidation of the sound, smell and colours of the Raag he plays.

Young brigade rocks Assam Convention 2010

The brave young face of Assam recently rocked the US, literally if you were thinking just in case, and that too with a bang!

Sunita, Papon and Abhishruti being felicitated

Abhishruti

I am talking about the Assam Convention held at Nashville, Tennessee last month where three representatives of the State’s cultural brigade – Angarag ‘Papon’ Mahanta, Abhishruti Bezboruah and Sunita Khaund – gave the attending Non-Resident Assamese (NRA) and their guests and second-generation children a taste of Assam’s youth power, besides overwhelming them with glittering presentations of Assamese and Indian culture alongside American folk culture.

I have always been amazed by the amount of influence roots have in our lives. While for long I have searched for the most appropriate definition for the same, I realised in the end that a person is simply incomplete without it. After all, how else would you define something that makes people go all out to preserve his or her heritage, even after moving far away from his native place to a land where this is no trace of his ancestry? Weird, if we come to think about it but a glaring truth nonetheless. And the Assam Convention celebrated in the US where people of Assamese origin gather together with their friends and well-wishers to celebrate the spirit of Assam is one of the best examples.

The first Assam Convention was held in Houston, Texas in 1980. It was a humble beginning and although there were not many participants, it was the first representation of a united Assamese Diaspora from various regions. The 31st Assam Convention 2010 – sponsored by the Assam Association of North America (AANA), the Assam Foundation of North America Inc (AFNA), and the Assam Sahitya Sabha’s North America chapter (ASSNA) – was hosted by the Assam origin residents of the lower mid-West of the US living in the states of Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama with the help and support of some of the residents of the neighbouring States. The venue of the celebration was the Marriott Hotel and Resort at America’s Civil war heritage city, Franklin, Tennessee in the suburb of Nashville, the nucleus of America’s folk culture.

Talking about the convention, Assam convention 2010 host committee cultural secretary Ajanta Phookan tells me, “The theme for this year’s convention was ‘Bridging the Assamese Generations’. The focus was on encouraging talents of the Assamese diaspora across all age groups, and to promote events and activities that will facilitate in bridging the Generation Gap.”

Mukoli Bihu

The exhibition


The convention, which kicked off with the performance of the national anthems of both India and the US, had impressive cultural items lined up throughout. If Assam was represented by three of its brightest stars, the West too was represented by three celebrities. Nashville singing sensation Jennie Williamson performed the US anthem to mark the beginning of the convention, while Nashville Opryland celebrity duo, Becca Hadzor and Michael Krejci, performed an enthralling session of country music for almost an hour. The opening number of the inaugural day’s performance, however, was the rendition of a traditional Borgeet by Ranjana Dutta, which was followed by a Xatriya dance recital by Lalita Kalita of Illinois.

And if you thought, the remaining of the event was devoted to plain rhetoric you better think again. In the words of host committee chairman Atul Sharma, “The hotel and the resort was transformed into a hub of Assamese culture and performances with abundance of authentic Assamese food and the famed Asomiya hospitality for the participants from Canada, the US, UK, a few from India and Assam, and the ever-curious American guests. Credit goes to the food committee, led by Anee Deka, Eva Sarma and Gina Barua, which coordinated and mobilized the entire host committee and neighboring families to pitch in with a variety of Assamese pithas and snacks that could not be finished even after the convention. The sumptuous dinners, the décor, the presentation with a very personal touch will be remembered for a long time to come.”

Not only the guest artistes and Assamese cuisine, the first and second generation artistic talents of Assamese origin also added the flavour and colour of Assamese culture to the remaining sessions that were divided into three sections – adult, youth and children programmes. “Canadian resident Mitali Sarma, US residents Ranjana Datta, Krishanu Kaushik, Chitralehka Deka, Shrilekha Deka and many others provided breaks to Papon, Abhishruti and Sunita’s entertainment. Tablist Babul Borah and young guitarist Chiranjit Bordoloi accompanied most of the artists tirelessly at all times. Rekha Kalita, Sneha Hazarika, Swapnalee Sarma, Babita Baruwati and Piyalee Das-Sarma presented various traditional Assamese and Indian classical dances. Parvez Hussain and his daughter Neeshan from Minnesota thrilled the gathering with their fusion dance, whereas American youth, Wes Newell, aroused the crowd with his bollywood dancing,” said host committee vice-chairman Ranjan Deka. He further added, “The highlights of the dancing segment would have to be the flawless presentations of two second generation sisters who have been born, brought up and trained in the US. While Megha and Devika Kataki performed Bharatyam, Elina and Raina Sarmah’s fusion of Indian classical dances were enchanting memories of the convention.

The children cultural program under the leadership of Joyee Dutta and the glittering fashion show encouraging three generation participation were other popular events that were attended by
all. The cultural program for children, held under the leadership of Joyee Dutta, and the glittering fashion show coordinated by Sneha Dutta also encouraged wide participation, says Phookan.

Atul Sarma said, “Every night there were ‘Assamese National’ events, Bihu singing and massive community dancing. The Michigan group won the ‘Annual Anima Bhattacharjya-Chakravarty Memorial Trophy’ for chorus competition of the year. The leadership for the cultural show was borne by Ajanta Phookan with enduring support from Khira Barua, who organized the thrilling events for two colourful evenings.” An exhibition on the Assamese way of life was another added attraction of the convention. Coordinated by Lalita D Kalita, Bandana Sharma and Sharmistha Bhattacharya, the exhibition saw original paintings, photographs, tea gift baskets, crafts work of various communities being displayed. The exhibits also included a hundred-year old kingkhapor mekhela, brass utensils, old Assamese books, etc.

But it was event – ‘Bridging of the Assamese generations’ that brought the entire convention to its feet. As Atul Sarma says, “Our young guest artistes from Assam are giving a new aura to Assamese music by building on the foundation laid by our maestros. The age-old Assamese culture is truly dynamic and the same finds representation in the music of Abhishruti, Sunita and Papon. From tenor and tune to the vocabulary and composition, the evolving jingle was mesmerizing – keeping all, young and adult alike, spellbound. Like the musicians, the Assamese DJ Samantha too kept everyone – the young and old alike – hesitant to move away from the dance floors.” Reminiscing about the event, Abhishruti says, “My experience in the Assam Convention was simply fabulous. The people were extremely warm, encouraging and more importantly, participative. Since they had invited me for the second time, I felt I had to live up to their expectations and I hope I was able to fulfil that. I thoroughly enjoyed performing amongst the Assamese people of America.”

Ajanta Phookan adds, “The children, teens and the young adults were all excited and energized. For them it was great fun and they did not want to leave the auditorium till the wee hours of the morning. They loved hanging out with the DJ and our overseas artists. For the first time they could connect with artistes from Assam! Likewise, the older folks were also excited. ‘We like the new age music, we love the new face of ASSAM,’ was the view many heard. It is now clear that there is an unbroken tie of continuity exists between the different generations. We are rest assured that our next generation will keep our dreams alive.”

Moving away from the cultural arena, the ASSNA published its annual publication‘Luitor pora Mississippi’, during its routine annual meeting. This issue of the magazine was edited by Mrs Gayatri Siddhanta Sharma and Dr Chandra Sekhar Sharma. AANA and AFNA also paid rich tributes to illustrious economist and reputed community leader Dr. Jitendra Gopal Borpujari who passed away last year in Washington DC. In addition, the gathering recalled and mourned the recent demise of two members of the community, Madhab Deka of Texas and Indrajit Goswami of Vancouver, Canada.

At the end of it all, the message was loud and clear. The 31st Assam convention was one of the finest ever, as can be gauged from the comments of most of the participants. And also the fact that Assam’s cultural legacy is safe in the hands of its young brigade!

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Mother-daughter duo weave magic

One is a symbol of experienced maturity while the other portrays youthful exuberance. And when these two join hands together, the result is bound to captivate anyone in the immediate vicinity. And so it happened when pioneer Assamese violinist Minoti Khaund and daughter Sunita Khaund took the stage at Rabindra Bhavan recently in a show held to pay tribute to Minoti Khaund as she completes 50 years of her tryst with the violin.

Minoti, a disciple of Late Pandit V.G. jog has been the foremost violinist of Assam for the last five decades. Her story has been a single-minded pursuit of music despite being thoroughly entrenched in traditional family life. A gold medallist from Prayag Sangeet Samiti, Allahabad with a Master’s degree in Music, Minoti has been playing the violin in prestigious concerts and festivals in India and abroad. Minoti went through a traditional ‘guru-sishya parampara’ with Pandit Jog and has carried on the tradition by grooming her daughter into a fine fiddler, who absorbed the finer nuances of the violin literally at her mother’s knee. Sunita, on the other hand, is a recipient of the Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Award for excellence in music, besides a Masters’ degree in music. She likes to experiment with light classical and folk fusion to reach out to a diverse spectrum of audiences.

The show began with ‘Guru-e-Namah’ by Minoti’s disciples, who had gathered at Rabindra Bhavan to offer her the customary guru-dakshina. Pranati Khaund then kicked off the musical proceedings with a ‘Devi Bhajan’. She was accompanied by Dibyajyoti Changmai on the Tabla, Nitul Bhagabati and Pankaj Sarma with the guitar. The Bhajan was followed by a violin recital of Swar Sadhana by Minoti’s younger disciples.

Anjumala and Sanjana Phukan then put the evening’s proceedings in fourth gear by a beautiful rendition of ‘Shyam tumi nokoriba hridoy horon’. They, along with Mitra Phukan, gave the audience a glimpse of what to expect later in the evening, with their beautiful performances. A popular writer and a very professional vocalist, Mitra Phukan gave a perfect rendition of Raag Khamaj, based on the Dadra taal, along with the Assamese Raag Pradhan. Known more for her prolific writings, Phukan showed the audience that she excels in music, as well as she does with her writings.

The highlight of the evening, however, was a jugalbandi by the mother and daughter duo of Minoti and Sunita Khaund. It was sheer pleasure watching both of them on stage, complimenting each other and at the same time, keeping the audience spellbound. The duo performed the Raag-e-Bandish based on the Rupak taal. What brought the audience to its feet, however, was their performance of ‘Bharat Darshan’. Bharat Darshan was composed by their guru Pt. V.G. Jog on the 40th anniversary of the country’s independence; it is special for it assimilates all the regional and folk tunes of the country. Minoti and Sunita played with special emphasis on our very own Bihu that evening which brought rounds of applause from the audience. They were accompanied by tablist, Dibyajyoti Changmai who added to the mesmerising effect with his playing and on-stage presence.

Minoti and Sunita Khaund have carved a niche for themselves in the field of classical music in India. The duo’s performance was notable for their performing with uninhibited mannerisms and utmost truthfulness. The recital was marked for the total involvement of their musical insight and the profound handling of their instruments. However, I got the impression that the whole show was more of a family affair than a classical music show which calls for a certain degree of sobriety and decorum. And as I said before as well, Minoti Khaund is a frontrunner of the violin in Assam and her daughter too, is an accomplished musician. As such, it is very sad to note that none of these pioneering violinists have tried and experimented with our rich regional musical heritage, something which would have put them in an entirely different league altogether.

All in all, a great show which showed that the state has quite a few talented upcoming musicians. Special mention must be made of Mitra Phukan and Dibyojyoti Changmai who added life to the evening. Minoti Khaund has ensured that her legacy is left in safe hands in the state.