Legendary singer Sandhya Mukherjee, who recently turned down the Padma award, dies

Sandhya Mukherjee.
Sandhya Mukherjee.

Kolkata: Legendary Bengali singer Sandhya Mukherjee, who famously turned down the Padma Shri recently, died of a cardiac arrest here on Tuesday. She was 90.

Mukherjee, who worked with leading music directors such as SD Burman, Naushad and Salil Chaudhury, had been admitted to hospital since last week with ill health.

Last month, when she was announced as a winner of India's fourth-highest civilian honour, on the eve of the Republic Day, Mukherjee termed it 'insulting and demeaning'.

She had said it was too late and asked for it to be given to a more deserving junior artiste. She was a recipient of `Banga Bibhushan', and National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer.

Mukherjee had been on vasopressor support earlier in the day after her blood pressure dropped. "She suffered a massive heart attack at around 7.30 PM following which she expired," the senior hospital official told PTI.

The singer had tested positive for Covid-19 along with cardiac ailments, multi-organ dysfunction and fracture in the femur bone due to a fall.

Mourning Mukherjee's death West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, who had a close relationship with the singer, said she would curtail a three-day tour to the northern districts of the state which had embarked on and would return to the city to attend her last rites.

Banerjee said that the singer's body would be kept at the `Rabindra Sadan' from noon to 5PM for her admirers to pay their last respect.

"Sandhyadi's last rites will be conducted with full state honours which include a gun salute. Her body will be kept at the `peace heaven' (mortuary) tonight and I am trying to be back in the city by tomorrow after which the last rites will be conducted," Banerjee said.

Virtually every Bengali language television and radio station in both India and Bangladesh started playing her songs and clips of movie where she has sung as a memorial to the singing legend who was popular in both countries, as soon as news of her death spread.

Born in 1931 in Kolkata, Mukherjee's death comes just days after the passing away of Lata Mangeshkar earlier this month.

She is survived by her daughter and son in law.

Mukherjee was rushed to the state-run SSKM hospital on January 27, a day after he had a fall in the bathroom at her south Kolkata residence.

The singer had tested positive for Covid-19 and suffered multi-organ dysfunction and fracture in the neck of femur (left side) due to the fall, for which she was being treated.

Condoling her death, Hindustani classical maestro Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty said, "It was a personal loss for me. She was a mother figure for all of us. I still can't believe she is no more."

Yesteryears Tollywood star Madhabi Mukherjee, for whose movies Sandhya Mukherjee had sung several musical numbers, also described her as an elder sister to the juniors of her era.

"I shared a special bond with her. She was at times like an elder sister, and at the time, she was like a mother to me. I still remember the period we worked together," she said.

Singer Usha Uthup said the love, affection and support she had received from her would be some of the most cherished moments of her life.

"She was such a motherly figure to all of us. The kind of affection I received from her would be the most cherished moments of my life," she said.

In the late forties, she started learning music from Santosh Kumar Basu, A T Kannan and Chinmoy Lahiri; however, she began her formal training under Patiala Gharana under legendary Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. Under his tutelage, she mastered the art of Indian classical music.

She began her career as a playback singer in the early fifties but returned to Kolkata in the late 1950s due to personal reasons.

Cutting across borders, for millions of Bengalis across the globe, Mukherjee had become the musical voice of an era of romance, where Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen ruled the matinee lights.

Mukherjee played a role in the Bangladesh liberation war joining many leading artists who performed free concerts to raise money for the 10 million East Pakistan citizens who were forced to seek refuge in India.

She also sand for the `Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra' (Free Bangladesh Radio) in Kolkata, set up by the Government of Bangladesh in exile.

When Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh, returned to Bangladesh in 1972, he was greeted by a song sung by Mukherjee which was played on Swadhin Bangla Betar.

Mukhopadhyay has sung for numerous Bengali movies and for several Hindi films and has worked with leading music directors, including S.D.Burman, Madan Mohan, Naushad, Anil Biswas and Salil Chaudhury.

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