The HMV studio in Kolkata has a long and storied history. Located in the Dumdum area of Kolkata, the studio hosted music legends from across the nation and holds a special place in the hearts of the Assamese people too, especially those who follow arts and music.

In 1935, one Assamese walked into the studio to perform and record a song. Unbeknownst to him at that time, it was to turn into a pivotal moment in his and Assam’s cultural history. The teenager was the Late Charoo Bordoloye, a music lover, gramophone artiste, dramatist, actor and Assam’s first and greatest Kathak exponent.

EARLY DAYS

Born in December 1921 to Anandi Bordolye and Debabala Bordoloye of Silpukhuri, Guwahati, Charoo was raised differently from other kids of the early 20th century. A music and art enthusiast since childhood, he was inspired by his father who was also a music lover. He was fortunate enough to grow around the leading writers and composers of the time and learn modern songs based on Ragas.

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By 1935, his talents became visible to people beyond his family and two people requested his father Anandi Bordoloye to allow little Charoo to record Assamese songs in the Senola Musical Products Co. Calcutta. Accordingly, Charoo received his father’s consent and was finally selected by the head of the company to record six songs for them. 

Charoo’s first recorded songs were ‘Golapi Sakhir Aji Mon Hol Hol Uchaton‘ and ‘Jurili Batahor Aage Oi Faguni‘. With these, he became an established Gramophone artist, but in this field, he was not the first. A handful of artists from Assam had also recorded songs at the famous HMV studio. 

A few years later, Charoo joined college, where he was given a chance to play the major role of ‘Marjiana‘ by noted dramatist, actor and director Lakshyadhar Choudhury in his directorial drama ‘Alibaba’.

In those days, girls dancing or acting on stage was extremely rare in Assamese society. So, in those days, teenagers with a good amiable figure had to take the role of female characters. A similar thing happened with Charoo as well, and he was selected for the difficult female character of ‘Marjiana’, the maidservant of Alibaba, a young beautiful, nimble-footed dancer and music singer of melodious sweet voice. Charoo sportingly grabbed the opportunity.

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Alibaba’s success marked Charoo’s entry into the field of acting. After that he not only performed in various dramas across the state, but soon got offers to act in films. Subsequently, in 1941, he acted in Assamese classic Rupohi, a film directed and produced by noted poet and lyricist Parvati Prasad Barua. In 1947, he played the role of Ahom King Swargeodeo Chandrakanta Singha in Badan Borphukan, directed by Kamal Narayan Choudhury. Much later in 1961, he worked as dance director in the film Lachit Barphukan.

DANCE JOURNEY

Charoo Bordolyee was not a man who could be tied to one profession. As a person with unlimited talent and a never-ending thirst for the arts and music, his journey took him to Lucknow, the city of enchanting tunes. He joined the famous Marris College of Music, now renowned Bhatkhande Sangeet Mahavidyalaya, under the guidance of Shrikrishna Narayan Ratanjankar, a well-known musician and college principal.

As he started watching live performances of famous dancers of those days like Uday Shankar, Ramgopal, Mrinalini Sarabhai, Damayanti Joshi, Manjulika Bhaduri, Rukmini Devi, Balasaraswati and especially Guru Gopinath from the South and Sri Shambhu Maharaj – the wizard exponent of the Lucknow Kathak Gharana, Sunder Prasad of the Jaipur Gharana and Nrittyacharya Mohan Rao Charoo, he started taking a keen interest in classical dance forms.

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After learning the intricacies of Kathak, he started getting inquisitive towards classical dances of South India. In 1949, he went to Madras to learn Kathakali under renowned Guru Gopinath.

Classical dance was a devotion for Charoo, something he couldn’t live without. Such was his talent that even though he was learning Indian classical, he also simultaneously received a foreign scholarship to learn Western Ballet at Trinity College of Music, London. However, he refused the offer.

Continuing with his mission, in 1952, he returned to Assam and reached Majuli- the home of Vaishnavite culture-to learn Sattriya dance and its different presentation styles. However, his love of Kathak again took him to Lucknow, and in 1969, he started his post-graduation degree in Kathak. With sheer dedication and devotion over the next two years, he completed the course and became the 1st Kathak exponent (Nritya Nripun) of Assam.

On August 20, 1979, he took over the post of Principal at the newly-established State College of Music, now renamed as Luit Konwar Rudra Barua State Music College in Guwahati. He also established Nartana Niketan, one of Assam’s oldest dance schools, to train the upcoming generations.

His book ‘Nartana Kala Manjari’ continues to guide dancers across the state and outside and is still used as a textbook at the Luit Konwar Rudra Barua State Music College.

A FAMILY MAN

His son Chandan Bordoloye, relieving the memories of his father, says, “He was an incredibly disciplined person who woke up early to do Riyaz sessions of Kathak. He never allowed financial difficulties to come in the way of his children’s education. Both my sister (Late Chanda Bordoloi) & I were admitted to the Playway School in Lucknow. It was an English medium school, and he cycled 7 km daily to drop us off and pick us up from the school.”

“In Lucknow, alongside pursuing PG studies, he was also working as an assistant to other dance gurus. His daily schedule was incredibly busy, but he never failed in his duties as a father,” adds his son.

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“Sometimes our dinner used to consist of roti and xaak as we did not have enough money to buy other food. Having non-vegetarian food was out of the question, we didn’t have money to even buy eggs. To keep our spirits high, he used to tell us: Guwahati gole koni khaba (eat eggs when we go to Guwahati),” he remembers with a laugh.

EXPERT WRITES

Talking about Charoo, Padmashri Jatin Goswami says, “Having learnt Kathak from Bhatkhande Sangeet Vidyapith, Charoo Da was the first person to introduce the dance form in Assam. During those days, Manipuri dance was immensely popular in Assam and was widely being propagated across the state.” According to Goswami, at that time, Sattriya was confined to the Satras. It didn’t have the national recognition it has today. No other dance form was promoted or was propagated during that time in the state. 

“Alongside Kathak, Charoo Dada also had a basic knowledge of Bharatnatyam, which he learnt by staying in Chennai for some time. With his extensive knowledge, he was a pioneer of dance dramas. The maestro composed several new innovative dance dramas, his dance-dramas were immensely popular and attracted dance aspirants towards Kathak.”

GREAT MENTOR

Noted Kathak dancer Moromi Medhi referred to Charoo as her first Guru. “Late Charoo Bordoloye will always remain special for me as he is my first dance guru. I learnt the basics of Kathak when I was his student for three years,” she tells EastMojo.

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“He was a great teacher who helped me a lot in many ways. I still remember during my Cotton College days, I used to visit his house to practice Kathak,” she recalls, adding, “For anyone to rise and shine, Guruashirwad is very important. He inspired me to carry forward my journey.”

Getting candid, another renowned dancer, Bipul Das adds, “Charoo da, as I think of him, was an epitome of grace, simplicity and dignity. I was not his regular student, as, during that time, I was doing my training in Delhi but my every Guwahati visit was incomplete without attending his classes. He was a man with a golden heart.”

Addressing the gathering on the day of his retirement from Assam State College of Music.

He went on informing, “Around 1979-80 before his retirement, he wrote a letter and requested me to return and join State Music College.

Unfortunately, that could not work out. In 1992, I joined the college as a Kathak lecturer and continued my service till 2012.”  

On the same line, his two other disciples Sabita Saikia and Minu Gogoi share, “Charoo Bordolyee was less of a guru, more of a father to us, he always treated us as his daughters. A man with a great vision and true follower of art he encouraged his students in every aspect.”

Charoo passed away at the age of 69 on December 2, 1990. With his birth centenary coming up in a few days, there are plans to release a book on him under the aegis of the Charoo Bordolyee Foundation founded by his family members. It would be a fitting way to honour one of Assam’s most precious treasures.

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