#WomenInCulture Profile: Babita Basu – 1st Lady of Harmonica

#MCMexclusive #CultureWorkers #India

Tell us a bit about yourself…

I was born in a middle class business family in the early seventies. I grew up in a very conservative Bengali environment.  At every point of my life during my childhood I was taught how to grow up to a dignified lady in future. Although I was a little girl but I was a sensitive one and could distinguish the differences in my upbringing compared to the male cousins in my family.

From my very childhood it was imbibed in my head that whatever my qualifications might be my primary duty was to get married to a respectable Bengali family and make my in laws happy. Yes, in India in those time we were married to families) .

But my parents never compromised with my good education. All these gender discrimination and conservative mindset of my family members made me very much argumentative and revolutionary in nature and I was very determined to change the system in future. On the other hand my parent’s constant worry was that perhaps I would be a total failure in my married life.

You play the harmonica. What attracted you to this instrument?

As I told before that duties in our family had gender discrimination . Boys were supposed to learn instrumental music and girls vocal. I was sent to Geetobitan Institution for my musical (vocal) education although I myself always wanted to learn instrumental music. During that period my father gifted me with a very cheap quality Harmonica which I started playing always missing a few notes as they were not present over there. I kept on complaining about this when my father promised that he will buy me a better one if I could clear JEE exam .

So I cleared both engineering and medical entrance exam and opted for the medical profession. It was then I got a better Harmonica worth RS 100. It was Harmonica that came to me first, not piano or sitar or sarod or violin so I tried it first. My parents were adamant not to waste money on anything other than my education although a huge number of my relatives were looked after by my father financially all throughout the year .

You play songs across different languages and genres. How do you decide to pick a song to play on the harmonica?

While performing my priority always remain how to interact with my audience and keep them involved. So I select my music according to the audience profile. I always love to experiment and I’m the first one in the world to stage drama with Harmonica , sawal – jawab on Harmonica , Indian classical renditions , western , Spanish, different sounds effects (train moving , cricket’s call , conch sound , cat’s call etc ) , kirtan , devotional , patriotic and what not on Harmonica .

I’ve a strong team directed by my guru Mr Rana Dutta named THE HARMONIZERS to support me. I have totally changed the concept of Harmonica rendition in India from only Bollywood songs to music of innovation and improvisation with a cerebral touch. I feel no difficulty in doing so since I can read, write and compose music. Our live performance is a treat for the eye worldwide not only because of harmonica playing but because of its totality as a full-fledged cerebral orchestration.

How has music impacted you as a person?

Music gave me a meaningful life . I vent out all my emotional feelings through music . It had made me more tolerant to my surroundings and the greatest reward I got from it is the scope to interact with a large number of people . It’s a great feeling when some of my audience come to me and say that he or she has found her peace in my music .

You are a doctor and a musician. Do you find any cross influences of each field into the other?

They actually complement each other. As a doctor I need to reach out to my patient’s emotions and as a musician I do the same job for my audience. I enjoy both the professions. I choose my job in both the fields in such a way so that it will not put any obstacle to the other. But as a matter of fact the doctors always think that a musician cannot be a doctor and a musician always thinks that a doctor can never be a proper musician. I had to work very hard to prove this wrong especially being a lady I already had some social prejudices to deal with.

Who are your role models?

As a matter of fact, I have learned lessons of life from each and every person I have met in the path of my life.  To name a few, my mother Mrs. Achena Bhadra, my father Mr Biswa Pada Bhadra, my teachers at my school and college. But the greatest of all was my Maths teacher whom I called Neeloo uncle and my musical guruji Mr Rana Dutta.

What role if any does your gender play in your musical endeavors?

I had to face many difficulties from my fellow male Harmonica players to establish myself as a musician. For example last year I had arranged for a National Harmonica Meet at Kalamandir Kolkata. The programme was a grand success with about 15 participants from all over India and Bangladesh. My students and I also played a symphony orchestra live on Harmonica, the first of it’s kind in India. The programme got wide newspaper as well as electronic media coverage. But prior to the programme I had to deal with some threats of sabotage, vandalism from fellow male players from the State. Since I love challenges, such incidents actually push me to work harder, give my performance and continue to write my success story.

What advice would you give future musicians in your field?

First and the most important one is to find a good music guru – a very difficult job indeed. Secondly, have the perseverance to learn the skill. Thirdly apply your brain to experiment. Lastly leverage the great knowledge and its application to create a great audience. You are not supposed to experiment unless your knowledge is sound else you risk make a laughing stock of yourself. Name and fame pour in automatically if you really work hard and know your subject well.

Anything I did not ask but you feel it is important to share?

Lastly through this interview I wish to convey my heartfelt gratitude to innumerable organizers, my journalist friends and most significantly to my beloved audience who have always stayed by our side i.e. THE HARMONIZERS and inspired us to write our success story. With all your best wishes we promise to gift you with many more beautiful Harmonica compositions in near future.


  1. Excellent life story of a brave lady who has lived life as she felt was right. Had opportunity to meet this talented Dr last year in Kalamandir show which she organised. My sincere best wishes for her future endeveiours in music and medicine.

  2. Madam Always listen to your playing being myself a mouth organist.I like your playing very much.keep on playing and give us music thanking you Madam.I am from Hubli Karnatak

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