Hundreds of baul artistes in Mymensingh region are in distressed state as they are passing their days with almost no contract since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Winter is the peak season for baul artistes as they are hired to perform the mystical songs especially in the rural areas but the scenario is totally different this year because of the pandemic induced crises, said some baul artistes while talking to this correspondent.
There are around 4,000 baul artistes including 1500 female artistes in Mymensingh region.
Apart from the artistes, around 1000 musicians are also involved with baul songs in the region that includes Mymensingh, Netrakona, Sherpur and Jamalpur districts, said Rezaul Karim Aslam, secretary of Mymensingh Baul Samity, a forum of baul artistes.
Most of the artistes, who depend on income from rendition of baul songs, are the worst sufferers as they are not being hired in the pandemic time, he said.
A few of them have got a meagre financial support amid coronavirus pandemic.
Thirty bauls got 30-kg rice each while six bauls and four musicians got a grant of Tk 5,000 each from Mymensingh Shilpakala Academy so far, Aslam added.
A 79-year-old Baul Ahmad Ali of city's Kalibari area said the situation that he experienced in coronavirus pandemic is first of its kind in his 45-year long career.
"As baul artistes we get respect and love from all sections of people; usually we do not get involved in any other work for survival," said Ali who has to run a five-member family from his income. He has so far managed five contracts of performance.
A 55-year-old baul artiste Maleka Khatun said since the coronavirus pandemic, she has not got any contract yet.
"I have been suffering from heart complication for long but cannot take medicine regularly. The income from my profession was the only means to continue my treatment and my daily meal but now I am passing my days in serious misery. Now, I have to depend on my only son Shawkat Ali, a drummer. Shawkat also has to maintain a four-member family including two children."
"Since the diagnosis of my heart disease, I mainly perform stage shows in day time but since the onset of the pandemic I haven't been able to earn. The crisis that I am facing this year is the worst in my 35-year long career. I haven't got any financial assistance from the government yet", said a helpless Maleka.
Another female artiste Ruma Sarker, 40, also echoed her serious hardship amid coronavirus pandemic.
Rajkumar Wrishi, a famous traditional a dhol player with baul artistes, said he has been in the profession since 1981 and enjoys it much. But now he is in serious trouble as he has been passing his days in utter hardship in the prevailing situation.
"In every winter, I had to perform at about 130 shows but so far, I have got only six contracts this season", said Rajkumar adding "now I have to perform at programmes marking marriage ceremony and birthday celebrations to support my six-member family".
Baul Sunil Karmakar, president of the samity said as the number of stage programmes is nascent in recent months and most of the baul artistes are out of work, we have started a programme titled "Baul Boithak" in the city since November last year to continue the practice of baul songs.
Senior baul artistes are invited in the programme for discussion on the glorious past of this traditional song in Mymensingh region where great baul artistes like Jalal Uddin Khan, Ukil Munshi, Umed Ali, Abed Ali, Upendra Sarker, Jong Bhadur Shah, Abdul Mazid, Mahtab Uddin, Sadir Uddin, Provat Kumar, Mohammad Shamsuddin, Idris Ali and the like, were born, said Sunil Karmakar.
The bauls need a long-term loan on soft interest from the government to survive at this critical juncture, Sunil Karmakar urged.