Geeta Dutt (Roy’s) niece Tapati Dutta recounts her fond memories of her ‘Geetu Pishi’ in a heartfelt tribute to the Queen of Bhaav Gayaki.
Stardom comes to people who deserve it and have the talent. But taking stardom in stride and not letting it affect you, your attitude, approach or behavior is more challenging.
To the world, Geeta Roy was the famed playback singer, a shining star of Hindi film industry. To us kids, she was our “Geetu Pishi” (Pishi is paternal aunt in Bengali). My father was Geeta Roy’s first cousin – he was the son of her Pishi (in Bengali we would say, she was my father’s aapon Mamato bon or Mama’s daughter). She called him “Sundor da” and he fondly called her “Geetu”. She would have the typical two curly locks of hair across her forehead, a bunch of bangles on one arm, lovely sarees and hand-picked jewellery. Her steady companion would be her batua bag (a little pouch) in which she carried her favourite zarda paan. Her brothers Ranjit Roy (Lakhu Kaku) and Mukul Roy (Mukul Kaku) also enjoyed their paan and the family tradition continued.
Whenever she called up our home to speak to her ‘Sundor da’ (my father), they would speak in the East Bengal Faridpur dialect. She was never the star when she came home. She was just the simple girl who loved to talk to her family in her mother language, making the dialect sound extra sweet. When her parents (Devendranath and Amiya Devi) had relocated to Calcutta from their native place in Bangladesh, one of her brothers Lokhu Kaku (Ranjit) stayed in our home and Mukul Kaku stayed with our Mejo Kaka (my father’s younger brother). Later on, when Geetu Pishi and her parents moved to Bombay and when the young Geeta Roy shot into limelight following her success in playback in the Hindi film industry, she became the one who was supporting the family. Till she got married to Guru Dutt, whenever she would come to Calcutta for some shows or recordings she would stay with us in our house.
Despite her phenomenal popularity and stardom, Geetu Pishi at home remained the simple homely girl. She was fond of the regular Bengali dishes – the puin shaak and all kinds of shaak (saag as we know in Hindi) and koi maachh (a traditional fish preparation). Among the dishes she loved to make herself was pudding. When she had guests over, she would make the pudding herself. And she loved the dishes my mother prepared.
My father (a doctor by profession) was the president of a local club. Once the club members came to know that Geeta Roy was staying with us. They requested my father to persuade her to sing a few songs at the club function. When my father conveyed this to Geetu Pishi she immediately agreed. Without hesitation or any thoughts about money, she went with my father at 12 in the night and sang 3-4 songs at the night-long club function (it is a usual practice for clubs and cultural organisations in Calcutta to hold raat-bhor jalsa or musical events that start in the evening and continue till dawn).
When Geetu Pishi would stay with us, the entire atmosphere of the house would turn musical. We would have a steady stream of visitors that included musical greats such as singer Talat Mahmood, music director Robin Chatterjee, singer Subir Sen and others. They would rehearse with Geetu Pishi and we would listen in rapt attention.
Subir Sen was close to the family and used to visit often. When Mukul Roy was composing music for Kayahiner Kahini (the Uttam Kumar-Aparna Sen starrer, produced by Mukul Roy and directed by Ajoy Kar), Subir Sen used to visit our house and sing many songs, playing the harmonium. These memories are so crystal clear that even after all these years one can never forget them.
Whenever we visited her in Bombay, we would be treated royally. When she was shooting for Badhubaran (1967) in Calcutta, she took us to the studios to watch the shooting of the film, treated us to great food and dropped us back home.
Her house in the late 60s and early 70s was home to a lot of people who lived comfortable lives under her hospitality. Among actors who we know of who lived in her house are Tuntun and Jayant (Amjad Khan’s father).
There was an extensive household staff, the cook, the driver and his family and then her support staff including her cousin Hiroo, who managed her shows and payments, etc and the tabla player Debu Chakravarty. When my younger sister had dropped in to visit Geetu Pishi in 1971, she was amazed to see that in the kitchen, in a huge wok, egg curry was being prepared which was sufficient to feed 25-30 people.
Being an emotional and large-hearted person, Geetu Pishi freely spent her money on feeding and looking after people who came to her for help or stayed in her home. Once the music director Kanu Roy (the music composer of Anubhav and Grihapravesh) appreciated the lovely and expensive watch she was wearing. Without a moment’s thought she took off her watch and gave it to the hugely surprised music director.
Her love for her husband Guru Dutt was deeper than perhaps even she understood. It is well-known that the marriage went through stormy waters that forced her to leave her home and stay separately in her Pali Hill residence with her children. However, despite that, somewhere deeper down she perhaps could not overcome the trauma of not being able to prevent her husband from his untimely death.
On the personal front, she was sinking deeper into depression. Emotionally drained, Geetu Pishi had slowly cut herself away from her immediate family, even her brothers, leaving herself vulnerable to vested interests and so-called ‘friends’ who tried to influence her for their own gains. She was always ready to help others but did not spare a thought about getting her finances or assets organized. It was as if she had completely lost her will to live.
After she passed away, her boys Arun and Tarun were looked after by Guru Dutt ji’s brother Atmaram while Geetu Pishi’s sister Lakshmi Chakraborty took charge of daughter Nina. When I used to visit Lakshmi (Lokkhi) Pishi’s house, I marveled at how well she was taking care of Nina. She had her separate room, with matching furniture and every comfort. It was only after she had grown into her teens that she moved out as her brothers were now older.
It is very rare to find a person who is talented beyond measure, exquisitely beautiful, graceful and dignified and fortunate enough to meet with phenomenal success so early in life and yet never let stardom affect her. She loved deeply and truly. Her large heart was big enough to forgive and hold sympathy and care for anyone who sought her help. She gave everything away but what did she receive in return? Today when I see her fans and admirers leave no stone unturned to dig out her lost music, my heart fills with delight and sadness – if only she had lived and known how much she is loved.
Tumi je amar (Harano Sur, 1957)
More to read on Geeta Dutt
Eternal Wait: The Story Of The Dark Girl By The Meghna (Geeta Dutt)
Geeta Dutt – The Skylark Who Sang From The Heart
The Hummingbird, Lingering, Living
The Incomparable Music Of S D Burman Transcends Generations
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