Chhayanaut Sangeet Bidyayatan, in 50 years of its journey, has produced some of the most prominent artistes of the country. Four of the earliest students of the school -- Selina Malek, Iffat Ara Dewan, Shaheen Samad and Sadya Afreen Mallick -- recollect the memories of the olden days of the school, and how celebrations used to be.
“As a finishing touch I would always put a red bindi on my forehead,” said Selina Malek. “Thick garlands of jasmine were always ordered well ahead and Makhi bu would put it around our braids,” added Iffat Ara Dewan. “Remember how we enjoyed luchi, tarkari (mixed vegetables) and moti choor laddus (sweets) at the Jal-Khabar restaurant after our morning session at the Ramna Park?” exclaimed Shaheen Samaad. As the four of us -- all alumni from Chhayanaut -- gathered at Iffat Ara's house, the conversation drifted to how we used to celebrate the Pahela Baishakh.
“I vividly remember, the excitement building up over the month- long rehearsals at Sanjida Khatun's house, in the late sixties. Many eminent personalities would come over to enjoy the rehearsals,” Iffat reminisced.
“We had to wake up at the crack of dawn; dress in a white sari with a red border and hit the road before the sun rays glistened brilliantly on the dew drops. The cmanagement of Chhayanaut was always punctual. They worked through the night before the big day, and built a huge stage beneath the big Ashath tree. Once the students and teachers settled on the platform, which was almost two stories high, we would inhale the clean and fresh morning breeze,” I added.
“The serene ambience of dawn soon mingled with the melodious tune of the sitar and flute along with the beat of the tabla. From the stage, we would watch people from all walks of life, trying to get a place near the stage. Everyone looked fresh and elegant in their white attire,” said Shaheen.
“Remember, how often, we would gaze curiously at the fashion-conscious girls who would drape themselves in saris in the traditional Ek Pech style. We watched with amusement at some of the elegant ladies who painted different types of bindis on their forehead. Some had question marks while some had exclamation marks on their forehead, in contrast to the typical dots,” I said.
Iffat Ara said, “Elaborate programmes were chalked out to keep the audience glued to their seats for an hour or two. The festival was initially seen with a vindictive attitude by the then authority of Pakistan who made repeated attempts to divert the attention of the Bangalis.”
Selina added that the year 1967 was a milestone in the history of our cultural revolution when Chhayanaut took the initiative to celebrate the Bangla New Year. From then on seasonal programmes, Pahela Baishakh, welcoming the monsoon, the spring, the birth and death anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, fundraisers for the flood victims and many other related programmes played a major role in inspiring the Bangalis to identify with their roots. The spontaneous and massive participation of the people multiplied every year and indicated the unity with the social movement,' she said.
“A raised platform under the massive Ashath tree was chosen as the ideal place to observe the day. The white and pink lotus bloomed in the nearby serene lake. People could be seen taking boat rides and even a dip in the lake,” added Shaheen.
“It is noteworthy that the social movement which Chhayanaut initiated was carried out later by the Nazrul Academy, Shurer Dhara, Wrishiz, Shangeet Bhabon, popular band groups and many other clubs and organisations. Countless other stage shows are held at different points of the country on this morning of Pahela Baisakh. The Faculty of Fine Arts, Dhaka University, holds a grand and colourful rally with masks made out of papier-mache. The entire Dhaka University area bears the colourful Alpanas and depicts a festive atmosphere,” Shaheen pointed out.
Selina Malek said, “From the very onset, songs relating to welcoming the New Year, patriotic, devotional and morning ragas marked the programme. Previously, we wore only white attire. With the changing tide, much has changed. Coloured saris have replaced white ones, and modern musical instruments have replaced the traditional Esraj, for accompaniment. This is partly because the audience has multiplied and we want to give the programme a festive look. The private channels put up a live broadcast. The total scenario has turned up into a massive carnival. People now sell traditional Pithas, Panta Bhat, fried Hilsas, handicrafts and so much more.”
“Eminent personalities like Quamrul Hasan, Sufia Kamal, Mustafa Monwar, Prof. Anisuzzaman, senior government officials would come and join in. Bilqis Nasiruddin, Fahmida Khatun, Afsari Khanam would occasionally take the stage. Golam Mustafa's recitation added extra dimension to the show. Previously only the students and teachers of Chhayanaut would perform. Now eminent artistes spontaneously join the show,” commented Shaheen.
We broke into laughter when Selina Malek recalled how during one of our programmes, caterpillars sprinkled the stage from the tree early in the morning. Sanjida Khatun offered us small twigs to help ourselves from the impending danger.
There were times when political parties wanted to use the stage but the authorities remained firm against it. The programme was purely for cultural entertainment and to acquaint the people with their roots. No pledges, no vows, just simple gestures to be connected to our roots.
Waheedul Huq, the man who worked relentlessly to build a stage for the Bangalis, would take deep interest in all the activities related to Chhayanaut. He used various expressions to simplify the underlying words of each song. He would often exclaim, “When you start a chorus, it should symbolise a thousand doves set free on a blue sky.”