Chhaya Ganguli’s self-effacing manner has robbed the ghazal of one of its most sublime voices. She worked as a programmer in broadcasting for All India Radio and Doordarshan for 35 years in Mumbai until her retirement in 2012. In between sitting behind a desk, Ganguli delivered a coruscating version of the Makdoom Mohiuddin written ghazal “Aap Ki Yaar Aati Rahi” for the film Gaman. She won the National Award for Best Playback Singer in 1979, and instead of making a career out of her achievement, she chose to stay in the shadows.In a 2014 interview, Ganguli spoke about her heady start. “This song was like encouragement for me, telling me to strive harder, to learn more and widen my horizon,” she said. Here is a rare television performance of one of her best-loved songs.
Ganguli trained with ghazal singer Madhurani, whom she met through Jaidev, who composed Gaman’s score. She also sang the ballad “Piya Piya” for Jaidev in Trikon Ka Chauttha Kon (1983).
Ganguli took a long break from films, returning in 1990 for the Amol Palekar film Thodasa Roomani Ho Jaayen. The title track, composed by Bhaskar Chandavarkar, captures a great return to form. The composition tests her bass voice and her range, hitting both the high and the low notes with equal finesse.
Her songs in non-film albums have had a longer shelf life. Ganguli has worked with filmmaker and composer Muzaffar Ali on the albums Husn-e-Jaana (1997) and Paigham-e-Mohabbat (2000). She sang the poems of Ahmad Faraz, Ibn-E-Insha, Nazeer Akbarabadi and Mir Taqi Mir. One of her most popular Sufi songs is “Zihaal-e-Miskin” from the album Husn-e-Jaana. She sings the poetry of Amir Khusro to plaintive music.
The conventional trope of wine in the ghazal form turns up in her rendition of one of the finest poems by Mir Taqi Mir, “Yaaron Mujhe Muaff Rakho.”
Should Ganguli be pardoned for such a minuscule body of work in music? Her alibi has been, “I have not been performing extensively because my job kept me busy.” Her retirement is music to the ears of aficionados. “I have heard so many greats that I believe I need to learn more to be able to perform,” said the self-effacing singer. Fans have their ears glued to the ground in anticipation.