Rajib Ashraf: A wordsmith’s journey and legacy
"Nothing could intrigue the bird,
For he had long been dead by his own deceased wings."
The passing of poet and lyricist Rajib Ashraf, an immensely impactful name in Bangladesh and West Bengal, has brought about waves of admiration and despair as well as a conversation that must be continued and reciprocated.
Rajib, a deliberate wordsmith and poet, captured the collective imagination with his words when his poem "Hok Kolorob" became the rallying cry for an unprecedented student uprising against sexual harassment in 2014, popularly known as the 'Hok Kolorob Movement', at the Jadavpur University in West Bengal.
It is remarkable how a poem and song focused on self-introspection and an inner philosophical journey became a catalyst for the relentless struggle of thousands of young people against oppression and how the love embedded in his words reverberated into the masses so effortlessly and eloquently.
However, "Hok Kolorob" and his other renowned lyrics in musical genius Shayan Chowdhury Arnob's songs, such as, "Naam Chilo Na", "Prokrito Jol", "Ghum", "Dhushor Megh", "Rod Boleche Hobe", "Protiddhoni", and "Mon Kharaper Ekta Bikel", offer merely a glimpse of the actual man Rajib was, said Abdullah Juberee, a journalist and an admirer of the poet.
Yet, the popularity of this multi-talented wordsmith couldn't shield him from the cruel clasp of life. Rajib, a romantic at heart, grappled more with the flawed ideas of social inequality, injustice, class division, and capitalism, and its overbearing clutches than his lifelong struggle against asthma and other respiratory complications.
Rajib was a politically conscious writer, and paradoxically, he was at odds with the very thing that brought him fame: writing under dictation, be it poems, lyrics, screenplays, or jingles. The inner conflict deeply troubled him, although he approached it with kindness and deliberation. "Words were merely a play for a poet of his calliber, and he utilised it well," said Rakbir Hasan, his childhood friend.
"If imprecation all the world believes in?
And the tears of the misfits and minors,
are only fit to be preserved in museums,
Then, I chose to assimilate heedlessly in this metropolis,
I choose to walk on a different path,
As only the foretellers are inclined to self-inflicted deaths at such nights."
He declared fervently, speaking about his intentions regarding poetic expression, freedom, and death.
In another of his poems, he writes,
"I lied all along,
When I professed happiness,
Like all others, I only wanted to win.
I lied because I didn't want you to suffer,
But knew all along you'd suffer nonetheless,
It was one of my shams all along…"
Rajib's words perfectly encapsulate his inner struggles while also awakening a sense of optimism. The difference is that when most people submit to the misery of the world and life as a whole, Rajib voiced songs of new beginnings, hope, love, friendship, creativity, and resilience.
"Not money, not fame, I write for myself and people– who would want to hear me out as the ordinary storyteller we all are. I just want to add my part of the story to the whole book of humanity," Rajib said in a candid interview, and he did his part quite well.
Rajib, like many of his predecessors, was not inclined to preserve his creations but was more focused on creating them. "I am a nobody, or perhaps I am everybody here and there, someone trying to express their strongest feelings, and that is why I always try to talk to people and blend in with them," he said during an interview.
Poet and publisher Tanim Kabir, one of Rajib's closest friends, said, "Rajib was an enigma who will endure. He was never a practical or pragmatic individual, but his integrity was beyond any question. Even on his deathbed, he refused to let us raise funds for him. He called himself a 'Junky Poet' and tried to borrow money on his own, from the hospital in his last days."
"Rajib lived and enjoyed life as it is. He embraced it with beauty, courage, and virtue, and he will be remembered," his childhood friend Rakbir reminisced.
"To those of us who had to painstakingly craft and develop our creative language, Rajib was a phenomenon. He was an innate genius for whom creativity flowed effortlessly," remarked one of Rajib's dearest friends, prominent director Krishnendu Chattopadhyay.
"The ingenuity of Rajib cannot be ascribed to words or attributes. What Rajib stood for and believed in is reflected in his own creations. Time will tell if his legacy endures," Krishnendu concluded with strong conviction.
In one of his many Facebook posts, legendary music composer and singer Shayan Chowdhury Arnob, Rajib's longest collaborator, said, "Rajib Ashraf .. my wordsmith! Rest in peace now. You have fought the battle bravely, and I'm so proud of you. You have created such wonderful memories for all of us! I'll cherish them all, and I'll always love and miss you."
Another popular musician, Armeen Musa, shared on her Facebook, "Rajib Ashraf to me was one unique individual who was so far from normal, so attuned to his talent, 'maybe to a fault; his art, living the best he could, vulnerably, crazily, was all he knew. You will be missed, Rajib bhai, your talent to the world, your sweetness to me."
Rajib Ashraf's first volume of poems, "Dharechhi Rahasyabrita Mahakal (Caught the Mystery-shrouded Eternity), was published in 2020 by Boibhob.
His artistic contributions have left an indelible mark on the Bangladeshi music and film industry. He penned songs for nearly all telefilms produced by the mobile phone company Airtel, including hits like "Jolkona Ure Jay", "Valobashi Tai Valobeshe Jai," and "Jajabor Pakhna". He was also recognised for his work in commercials and documentary filmmaking. He created a documentary for the Bangladesh Games.
In addition to his writing, Rajib Ashraf also ventured into acting in dramas and telefilms. His notable roles include appearances in productions, such as Ashutosh Sujan's "Tiner Tolowar", Animesh Aich's "Holud", Nurul Alam Atique's "Mojider Television" and Amitabh Reza's "Ekta Phone Kora Jabe Please".