Till 2020, the two women were busy with household activities and helping their children with studies. During the pandemic, they beat the lockdown blues by learning how to play the single-reed woodwind instrument.
“It is like we have a new life now. We are no longer regarded as just homemakers in our locality. People — men and women alike — respect us for the music we play and come from distant places to book us exclusively,” said Chumki, the younger of the two.
As the surname suggests, the Badyakar family in Panagarh is known in the neighbourhood for playing musical instruments for generations. Currently, the family runs a band called Manoj Brass Band, named after Priya’s husband Manoj, who is the lead saxophone player of the group.
However, when the lockdown happened in March 2020 and all activities came to a standstill, the band, too, fell inactive. “All the musical instruments which we earlier used to keep at our booking office were brought to our home and that is when I found both of my daughters-in-law had interest in saxophone and could play a nice tune with little effort. I realised they had it in them and had a natural knack for the instrument. I started to mentor them over the next few months when there was no work, and soon they mastered the art of the instrument. Now, they can play it better than even my son or any other musician in the group,” said Paban Badyakar, their father-in-law and the current manager of the band.
As a majority of musicians got busy with other livelihoods, Badyakar began the band with the two women on saxophone. Initially, people in the neighbourhood had made demoralising and stigmatising comments seeing the “barir bou” playing saxophone at wedding ceremonies. But soon they became a hit and gradually the reluctance gave way to acceptance and appreciation.
“Initially, people used to ask us how we, as homemakers, could go out and play music in public and how we were not uncomfor-table with it. But we love music and the instrument. Now those very people want to take selfies with us,” said Priya.
After harnessing the talent on the instrument, the two are now grooming themselves as they now perform in flashy stage costumes and not their sarees.
Their 10-year-old niece, Sangeeta, has also joined them to form a three-women band, and the group has bought two new saxophones, each for Rs 1.2 lakh.
“Our husbands and mother-in-law have taken over the household as we spend time practising music and watching videos of legendary saxophone players and are learning something new every day,” said Chumki, who swears by Charlie Parker and Mark Turner.