Something popped out
It was Pahela Baishakh. We had reached the border and it was time to get our passports checked. While official work was being looked after, we spotted a tubewell nearby. As we splashed a palmful of cool and sparkling water on our faces, we felt alive once again. Each one of us greeted the other: 'Shubho Nabo Borsho'.
The cool morning breeze whisked away the tiredness of the previous night. The journey from Dhaka to Kolkata was tedious no doubt, but the group of enthusiasts, beginning from dancers, singers, actors and students involved with the cultural arena turned the arduous journey into a most exciting and memorable one.
As the BRTC bus cut its way through the pitch black road, Ashish Kumar Louho and Saifuddin Ahmed, both actors of great repute, kept us engrossed with their spontaneous jokes throughout the night, leaving us breathless with laughter! Laila Samad, the well-known author, charmed us all with her elegant and expressive ways! Iqbal Ahmed, the group leader for the chorus team, with his baritone voice sang the first lines of the spirited songs to which we all contributed wholeheartedly. As midnight struck, some dozed off in their seats, some lay wide-eyed and watched the passing villages in deep drowsiness.
Members of the Dhaka University Sangskritik Sangsad and eminent artistes of the country had been invited to the first Friendship Conference, Moitry Mela, in Kolkata in 1972. This was in fact the first cultural delegation abroad after the emergence of Bangladesh.
The youngest amongst the troupe of almost 30 (I was still in school), I too had the rare opportunity to present songs at the historic festival. Laila Samad, Ashish Kumar Louho, Saifuddin Ahmed, Bulbul Ahmed, Khushi Kabir and others in drama; Iqbal Ahmed, Sakera Khan, Salehuddin Ahmed Minakhshi, Javed Helali, Irfat, and others in singing, Sharmin Hasan, Lubna Marium and others in dance; Mahfuz Anam, Mofidul Haque and Abul Hasnat, officials of Sangskritik Sangsad --- all headed towards the cultural meeting.
After breakfast at the Bongaon border, we boarded the bus once again and reached Kolkata before noon. The ladies were housed at the South Point school at Ballyganj Place. The gents boarded another school nearby.
The next morning we moved about in small groups and took the famous 'rickshaw rides' where a rickshaw puller 'pulls' the rickshaw and there is always a genuine fear of falling down with every jerk.
I tagged along with a group and soon landed up at New Market, the most 'happening place' for girls!
Eminent dancer Sharmin Hasan, led the way, until everyone was extremely thirsty and wanted a cool drink. All ten of us girls in beautiful saris with gorer mala and thick belii garlands on our braids stood at one of the road crossings.
For the first time, I noticed most of the buildings represented British-Indian architecture. It didn't exactly look flashy or new, but it certainly symbolised an age old history of its own.
As we drank cool green coconut water with straws, it seemed pretty unusual too. So long we had only taken coconut water directly and often splashed most of it, but this was a much easier way and was quite uncommon in our country till then. Some ordered fresh juice and some drank tea in bhars, the earthen cups, which are common in India and hygienic as it is meant for one time use only. As we laughed and talked in excited voices people from all around gave us queer glances, but soon acknowledged that they knew, guest artistes from Bangladesh had come to perform. How I wished I had a camera with us then!
The roads seemed unusually jammed the next day, as everyone seemed to reach the same venue in haste. As we reached the Victoria Memorial grounds, the radiant glow of the sun had for the time being settled on the horizon. The massive assemblage of people all around waited with bated breath to watch the performance of artistes from both West Bengal and the newly independent state of Bangladesh.
Girls in white jamdani saris with multi-coloured embroidery and boys in off white silk punjabis looked elegant. As we took the stage, the patriotic songs created waves of passion and sent messages of warmth and friendship to those who had sacrificed so much during our nine months of struggle for freedom. Asaduzzaman Noor, a very prominent figure in our cultural field today, read out spirited poetry pieces, creating a spark among the spectators. The dance pieces directed by Sharmin Hasan were choreographed with the patriotic songs mostly set to tune by Sheikh Luthfur Rahman. Abu Zafar Obaidullah's poem Kumro Phuley Phuley, synchronised with a dance piece, stirred memories of the martyrs of the liberation war, those never to return to the empty laps of their wailing mothers.
The total presentation, including Michael Madhusudan Dutt's play Buro Shaliker Ghare Ro, directed by Laila Samad was well appreciated by the audience and the print media. Eminent news caster Debdulal Bandyopadhaya interviewed the troupe members and brought out a special feature in Ultorath, the well-known cultural magazine.
Legendary singer Suchitra Mitra and other noted singers of West Bengal, such as Orgho Sen, Calcutta Youth Choir headed by Ruma Guhothakurta, and many others presented their best at the cultural meet. We as guest artistes had the privilege to interact with artistes of great repute of India for the next few days.
The following evening, many of us were invited to Maya Sen's house. Sen at the time was at the pinnacle of her career as a Tagore singer. What came as a total surprise to us was that George Da --- Devabrata Biswas --- and Konika Bandiopadhaya, the living legends of Tagore music, were coming over too.
As we waited patiently, Devabrata Biswas appeared in his usual calm yet majestic manner. He was in his usual attire of a gerua lungi and punjabi, a bag made from coarse cotton hung from his shoulders. A pair of ordinary slippers adorned his feet. As he entered, we gazed into the expressive eyes of the maestro.
Devabrato spoke in pure east Bengal dialect, which hadn't changed even after he had migrated from Kishoreganj of erstwhile East Pakistan a long time back. Many of us who were seeing the maestro for the first time noticed in awe how the legend epitomised humility.
Sitting on a high tool, he pulled the harmonium close to him. As everyone listened to his magical voice from a close distance, none bothered to hide the tears which trickled down the cheeks.
Devabrato suffered from asthma. Therefore he preferred to sing baitalik or songs without rhythm at that time. His passionate renditions I thought were comparable to that of Kamol Das Gupta or Shideshwar Mukhopadhya, whom I had the rare opportunity to listen to, from a very close distance later on.
Ruma Guhathakurta and her Calcutta Youth Choir were a vibrant group of artistes creating ripples in the field of patriotic songs then. Her co-artiste Dhirup Guhothakurta, visually impaired artiste Shwapan Gupta, Maya Sen, Purobi Mukhopadhyaya, Orgho Sen, Santosh Sen Gupta and Ritu Ghatak were also present that day. Some rendered songs after the maestro, transcreating music which spoke nothing short of devotion and divinity.
Camera was an expensive buy. So an autograph book worked as a perfect match with my purse. For the next few days it was my constant companion. Every now and then I pulled it out from my purse and held it out to people who had reached the level of excellence.
Last Friday, while looking for a book in my library downstairs, something popped out from the bookshelf and fell to the ground. It was the autograph book. A very prized possession of mine, lost so many years back. I reclined on a chair as I waltzed through memory lane…