It was a serene day of practising Rabindra Sangeet in class. She had grown up with these melodies since childhood. One day, in a session like this, a boy started singing the second verse of 'Majhe Majhe Tobo Dekha Pai.' The girl, furious by the boy's unorthodox and 'unacceptable' singing style, vowed not to listen to him ever again!
The girl we are talking about is Sunidhi Nayek, a name that will probably remind Bengali music lovers of the sound of a cool rainy breeze. Her enchanting calming poise drenches the listeners with melody. Now she is a bride of Bangladesh married to Shayan Chowdhury Arnab, the famous Bangladeshi musician. On an evening full of lively words, she shared her love for Bangladesh from Kolkata with the writer.
Where Arnab-Sunidhi story began
And the story of that furious girl jumped seven years in the timeline. One day she was singing on stage, and the same rule-breaker boy came up to the stage and congratulated her, saying, "You did great!" What happened then? Love! A story of two hearts coming closer happened; the tale of Arnob-Sunidhi happened; the tale of how love went beyond borders happened.
Sunidhi came to Bangladesh as Arnob's bride. A new place, without any friends. But Arnob's friends became hers too. And then, slowly, she got friends in music, acting, and even in professors at Dhaka University. She now feels at home in Bangladesh.
"Our start was unexpected. In those days, I was immersed in my work. I didn't even know Arnob, which he refuses to believe even now," she said.
Biriyani to Cox’s Bazar, everything she prefers in Bangladesh
Sunidhi had to walk a long way to find a home in her newfound habitat. Now, she has two homes. When she goes to Kolkata, she misses her friends in Dhaka, along with Khichuri and Biryani. "The Biriyani in Bangladesh is better than Kolkata's – you just have to accept it," she said.
But when she is in Dhaka, she misses her father. Her mother passed away two years back, and while reminiscing about her, she went back to her childhood.
She started to learn music at only three, on a harmonium. She could only play the reed as she couldn't reach the bellow, but her mother was there to save the day and play the bellow. Along with her, she also missed her college friends initially.
The sea is dear to Sunidhi, and thus a visit to Cox's Bazar has become a regular affair. Besides that, she has also been to Khulna, Mymensingh, and different locations in Dhaka to perform.
Sunidhi entered a new phase in her career in Dhaka as she learnt new genres of music. She has met new colleagues and made new friends. "There are great musicians in Bangladesh. When I first came to Dhaka, I missed my friends from Shantiniketan. But now, I have embarked on a new journey with Shuvo, Saad, and Imran. You can say that we are now a band," she said.
Among Bangladeshi artists, Animesh Roy and Ripan Kumar (Boga Taleb) are very dear to her. "Animesh is a wonderful person," she said. She knew Boga from Shantiniketan, where he was Sunidhi's junior. And it was she who proposed Arnob to feature Boga on Coke Studio.
The focus on work life
The most significant part of Sunidhi's work-life is keeping her personal life away and focusing only on her job. She praised the guitarists from Bangladesh, saying, "The artists in Bangladesh produce jazz and blues songs in a different manner, something that I haven't witnessed in Kolkata."
Since she started her career with Rabindra Sangeet, people often think that she is only good at that. But Sunidhi denied saying that her connection with Rabindra Sangeet has been for five to six years. She has been studying classical music for 17 years and learned the trade from Pandit Ajay Chakrabarty. "If anyone learns classical music once, they will be able to sing any song," Sunidhi refuted the prejudice.
Behind Coke Studio Bangla
The Sunidhi and Arnob duo had a big part to play in Coke Studio Bangla. She rolled back the clock to reminisce about the fusion franchise's start in October 2021. Several meetings with the Coke Studio teams in India and Pakistan went on for around two months. It was decided then that there would be ten songs in the first season.
Coke Studio's identity is the fusion of modern and traditional music in a new way breaking the barriers of seriousness. But this different presentation has brought in criticisms. Sunidhi answered that with care, saying that the idea behind fusion music came from Coca-Cola, the parent company of Coke Studio.
If a song is done following its traditional origin, it loses a big chunk of its younger listeners because their interest lies in modern music. That's why you need to mix it up with modernity, which is actually prioritising the present by keeping its preference in mind. Also, it is an attempt to keep two songs from two different time periods alive with the need of the hour. There has been extensive research to figure out which music, instruments, and presentation the younger generation will accept. And all that resulted in the songs of Coke Studio Bangla.
Since Sunidhi's arrival in Bangladesh, her fans have been eagerly waiting for her new album. She started working on it in October last year when Coke Studio was not even in hindsight. She was thinking about fusing jazz music with Rabindra Sangeet and creating something different with Imran Ahmed and Shuvendu Das Shuvo.
According to the plan, the album would have had six songs, all of which are Sunidhi's favourites. They had already recorded three songs and were practising the fourth, but just then, Arnob took up the project for Coke Studio Bangla. So, Imran, Shuvo, and Sunidhi- all dived into the project and kept working on that, which halted the work for her album. But Sunidhi is hopeful that once she finds some time, she will start working on it again.
Due to the pressure at work, Sunidhi can't currently commit to working on a music video with Arnob. But she indicated that she would move forward this way once the pressure goes down.
During her learning days, Sunidhi loved to sing classical songs the most. Her favourite instruments were esraj and tanpura, but she likes guitar among the modern ones. In addition, the singer has a piano by her bed and plays it at night before going to sleep. This is a piece of mental peace for Sunidhi in her new home.
Currently, Sunidhi is spending her days learning jazz music, which Imran is helping her with. She wants to bring new songs in this genre. "I have listened to this genre a lot but couldn't work on it. Thus, I'm trying to see if I can do some sort of fusion with it," she concluded the conversation with a notion for the fans that they can expect something new from her soon.
Interviewed and written by Sushmita Roy, Translated from Bangla by Tahseen Nower Prachi.