Kolkata: Days after the passing of Lata Mangeshkar, Bengal and India have lost one of their last surviving legends with the passing of Sandhya Mukherjee, the 91-year-old singer who died in Kolkata today from age and Covid-related complications, having spent the last few days of her life in hospital.
Born on October 4, 1931 in the Dhakuria area of Kolkata, Sandhya Mukherjee was the youngest of six sisters. Her father Narendranath Mukherjee was employed with the Indian Railways, and grandfather a senior a police officer. Attracted to music as a child, she had her initial training under Pandit Santosh Kumar Bose and Chinmoy Lahiri. Then came a period of training under the legendary Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and his son Munawar Ali Khan, giving her a rock solid base in Hindustani classical music.
Having debuted as a playback singer in 1948, she became a household name thanks to such smash hits as ‘E Sudhu Gaaner Din’ (Pothe Holo Deri, 1957), ‘Ei Poth Jodi Na Shesh Hoy’ (Saptapadi, 1961), ”E Gaane Prajapati’ (Deya Neya, 1971) and countless others. Her duets with the late Hemanta Mukherjee in particular were the mainstay of the Bengali film industry from the 1950s to the ’70s, when she sang for the principal female leads, Suchitra Sen prominent among them, and he sang for Uttam Kumar.
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The veteran singer was admitted to a Kolkata hospital on January 27 with Covid-19 and other health complications. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, currently on a tour of North Bengal, spoke to a local TV channel to express deep sorrow over Mukherjee’s demise. “She was recovering well and we thought of appointing a senior specialist to look after her. But she left us all. I consider her a true Bharat Ratna and her loss cannot be fulfilled. This is a loss to Bengal’s culture,” Mamata said.
Mukherjee’s remains will be kept for viewing at Kolkata’s Rabindra Sadan from 12 noon onwards on Wednesday, and she will be given a funeral with full state honours once the West Bengal CM returns from North Bengal in the evening.
Mukherjee was in the news recently when, on January 25, she refused to accept the Padma Shri award from the Central government, saying “the award was more deserving of a junior artist” and not someone of her stature. She received the Banga Bibhushan, the highest civilian honour of West Bengal, in 2011.
She also won the National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer for her songs in the films Jay Jayanti and Nishi Padma in the year 1970.