Manisha Bordoloi: Shakira of Assam

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By Vikram Ekka

Name any musical instrument — harmonium, guitar, mouth organ, drum, tukari, thumba, dafli and even the lowly match box – Monisha can handle them with ease. Be it pop, rock, modern, raag, bihu, biya naam, folk, zikir, Western, Hindi, Assamese, Bodo, Goalporiya, you name it and she sings it. From shaking a hip to winning innumerable awards in bihu dance competitions and from dancing the classical Xatriya to living it up in the stage dramas, the one word which best describes Monisha Bordoloi is versatile. With a lineage of culture behind her, what seems to beat all order for any person comes easily to Monisha. Father Ashok Bordoloi, a stage and cine artiste, was among those who choreographed the famous Jhumur dance in the National award winning movie Chameli Memsahab which starred Rex Harrison. Monisha’s initiation into song, dance and music began with watching her father choreograph a bihu number for Girija Baruah with a sarai atop her head. Monisha was about five then. Himself an artist, lyricist and director of dramas besides choreographer, Ashok Bordoloi, a former publicity secretary of Bihu Kristi Sarsa Aru Bikash Samriti, had a hand in formulating of rules for performing bihu on stage in competitions and what comprised a true Bihuwati and Bar Bihuwati. “Ours was the organisation to first publish a booklet on the rules for dancing the bihu on stage along with an organisation in Nagaon. It got an overwhelming response from the people,” Ashok Bordoloi says adding that the rules were flexible and based on hours of research. As founder secretary of All Assam Bhupendra Sangeet Samiti, his greatest contribution was to give the country a new and distinct genre of song called the Bhupendra Sangeet.

“It was at the opening show of Bhupendra Sangeet that 6 year old Monisha danced the Sutradhari which forms a part of the classical Satriya dance of Assam,” Ashok Bordoloi says. With such a rich heritage behind her Monisha could not lag behind. Her discernment of tunes began when she was a toddler and dancing to the rhythm came naturally.

Reiterating her father’s words Monisha says, “Dancing the bihu came naturally to me and I got maximum exposure in the Maina Parijat events where I usually outshone the others,” she says. On many occasions, however, Monisha was not allowed to dance solo, in bihu dance contests where her father was among the panel of judges. Many times she has had to go further afield elsewhere where she was unknown as her father’s daughter by the judges. Despite this she has lifted the Bihuwati and Borbihuwati titles a number of times. Acting and dancing in dramas and films also formed a part of the process of growing up for Monisha. She acted in dramas staged by the Alok Sandhani Moina Parijat and in Nilima Sharma’s drama which was staged in the Janardhan Thakur Memorial Competition. In the Jorhat Theatre Hall, she won accolades for enacting Piyoli Phukan in a mono-act contest and the next step was in the Bhaona Partha Parajay where she essayed the role of Chitrangada, wife of Arjun. In the Assamese film Sewali and in the short film Notun Dinor Babe by Nurul Haque she flashed briefly as a dancer on the screen. The Moina Parijat also fostered her recitation capabilities. Here too the young Monisha was in her element while reciting poems and songs of Bishnu Rabha, Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla, Ambikagiri Raichoudhury with elan. And all the while she was adding value by learning variety of musical instruments and being trained in vocal. “Most of the musical instruments I learnt by ear, especially the mouth organ and guitar,” Monisha avers.

“Tukari and pepa were, however, taught to me by a farmer, Akonti, who worked in our fields. In tabla, Pramode Das, who had learnt under Allah Rakha gave me some valuable lessons.

Under the guidance and tutelage of Dr. Pradip Brahma Monisha acquired Masters in Music degree (vocal) from the Pracheen Kala Kendra, Chandigarh. For Jyoti Sangeet, Tarun Barpuzari took her under his wings and for the khol and Bargeet it was Rameswar Barbayan who showed her the way.

A music teacher in Delhi Public School, Duliajan, Monisha comes across as both bubbly and slightly restrained. Although she is a very good dancer, her forte today is singing and playing a variety of musical instruments. She has even forayed into the state’s rock scene by performing at Dibrugarh with the Luit Friends Rock Band comprising Jitu Das, Dibyajyoti Baruah, John, Ujjal Phukan and band manager Partha.

Monisha has also toured Jamshedpur, Kolkata, Nagpur, Madras, Delhi, Dhanbad and Arunachal Pradesh. Her last programme was in Dubai, UAE where she enthralled the audience with her exceptional talent at the Bohag Bihu Utsav organised by the Assam Society. Out of all the performers, Monisha was singled out for a special gift – the African Zymbai, as recognition of her musical talent and especially for playing the mouth organ which captivated more than a 500 strong crowd. Monisha is the first female singer from Assam to be invited to sing in Dubai. Her patriotism got her the second place for a war song at the National level which was sung by the students at DPS. “I write, compose and sing songs in Hindi, Assamese and English,” Monisha claims.

In Assamese, she has made the album, Upohar, in which she and her brother Dibyajyoti have sung the songs composed mostly by her father. This was followed by Bihu Dise, Jonali and then a children’s album Sun Moina, the songs of the latter, composed by Monisha herself. In the Assamese serial Agneepath and the TV documentary Axomiyar Sanskritit Narir Bhumika, Monisha has lent her voice to the title songs. Her songs were played on NETV’s musical programme, Gun Gun Gane Gane.

A born entertainer Monisha, in one function held at the Jorhat Jorhat District Library kept the audience glued to their seats by singing modern songs to the accomplishment of a khol.  “In Majuli too in a classical song programme where I accompanied by guru Pradip Brahma, I did a similar act singing modern songs with the sound of hundreds of kohl playing in the background. In the same programme, I also sang the Guru Bhatima, a narrative type of religious Vaishnavite hymn in praise of the social and religious reformer Srimanta Shankardev,” she says.

Without disclosing her future plans she says, that her sights are set on international scene of fusion music.

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