When our liberation war started, I was a high school student
I was in Rajshahi, my hometown. A public opinion was building up that we have no other option than to go to war. The realization dawned upon me in 4th April when there was an air raid in Rajshahi University and Medical College. A mosque was destroyed among other casualties. I was then dissociated with my family. I didn't know where my mother was. My nephew Rashid and I swam across Padma to Murshidabad refugee camp. We met some of the political leaders and told them that we want to fight the war. I did'nt even think that my music will be of great use in the Liberation War. They informed us that they are recruiting freedom fighters.
My friends and I went to Balurghat to seek training.
One of the recruiters there was Golam Arik Tipu, a language movement veteran. He told me that I am making a mistake; it is not my place; I am lean and weak; how would I fight with arms? He understood war strategies. He knew that a war can be fought from many angles. He told me that I should sing for the radio and fight the war with my voice. There were secret radios (biplobi betar kendro , later changed as Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendro) that helped fixing war strategies during the Second World War. He told me to go to Kolkata where the recordings of motivational and patriotic songs will take place.
Destination 144 Lenin Street, Kolkata
There was an announcement in the newspaper that artists, writers and intellectuals can contact International Peace Council at 144 Lenin Street. I went there and saw Sanjida Khatun, Hasan Imam, Zahir Raihan, Satya Saha and many more. I didn't know them back then. They told us that we will give you some money, food and lodging. We stayed in the servants' quarters of Rani Bhobanir Prashad. They gave us 7 taka a week. It was a great relief that we didn't have to go to the refugee camps.
We stayed there and formed a music squad.
We would broadcast motivational and patriotic songs. Our mission was to inspire the freedom fighters and to express to the international community that this is a war for the birth of a nation, not a separatist movement. Sanjeeda Apa led the rehearsals. Among others were Probal Chowdhury, Kollani Ghosh,Uma ,my elder brother Sarwar Jahan, younger brother Khalequzzaman, painter Shopon Chowdhury and so on. We sang songs like Eki Oporup Rupe Ma Tomay Herinu Polli Jononi, Jonotar Shongram Cholbe, Amar Protibader Bhasha, Oi Pohailo Timiro Rati, Joy Bangla Banglar Joy and such.
An International Peace Council event in June in Rabindra Sadar
A lot of artists sang at this event like Sanjida Khatun, Ohidul Hoq, Shaheen Samad, Binu Ahmed and so on. It was a huge programme. A small section of Indian people was confused that it's an internal problem of Pakistan, not theirs. We started campaigning through our Music programme & invited journalists and artists & cultural activists to propagate the cause of our Liberation War.
In that first ever program by us, Uttam Kumar hosted the show. Debabrata Biswas, Aparna Sen were there. Popular faces of that time- Manabendra Mukhopadhyay, Kanika Bandopadhyay, Arati Mukhopadhyay- also sang and we sang with them. Probal Chowdhury and I got to sing solos. I sang an Atul Prasad song and Probal sang Rabindra Sangeet. The rest were mass songs. Mostafa Monowar made a beautiful stage for the event. In another event, writer and philosopher, Kaifi Azmi, gave me a poem (East is Raising) he wrote for Bangladesh and asked me to make a song out of it.
In the mean time, Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendra (SBBK) was organized.
Headed by M A Mannan, who later became the health minister, Abdul Jabbar Samar Das, Apel Mahmud, Tapan Mahmood, Anup Bhattacharya were all there at SBBK. In my age group was Kaderi Kibria, Manna Huq, Monjur Ahmed, Kollani Ghosh, Rupa Khan, Mala Khan and so on. We came out of the music squad and moved into this new location, Balu Hakkak Lane, to be recruited in Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra. The 4 storey building of SBBK had a beautiful location. To its right was a field and across the field was Suchitra Sen's house. The exile government of Bangladesh had already been formed back then. We acted according to their instructions.
We had to record everyday.
All of the songs were chorus. The first recording of my life was Samar Das's Nongor Tolo Tolo. The song recording would start from 10 in the morning to 11 at night. We had to rehearse a lot so that we could record in one take as the supply of tape was limited. On top of singing, I was assigned to produce 6 songs- Shat Kori Aaj Prohor Prodip, Jay Jodi Jak Pran Tobu Debona Debona Debona Golar dhan, Jago Jago Prodip Nibhaye Dao ,Jago Jago Torobari Haate Nao, Jono Potho Prantore Shagorer Bondore Tole Jhongkar Chai Protishodh Protishodh Protikar.
We weren't under any life-threatening peril.
The Indian government took our safety very seriously for if there was ever an accident, Pakistan and its allies would create more confusions about where India's loyalties lie. So we were instructed to not wander about and always give the information about our whereabouts.
It was a full-fledged radio station.
The news section was headed by Kamal Lohani. The news readers and announcers were Babul Aktar, Ali Reza, Mahtab, Motahar and so on. There were two very small recording studios with two microphones- one for vocals and one for instruments. The station director was Shamsul Huda Chowdhury, who was previously assistant regional director of Rajshahi Radio.
Frequently the freedom fighters would come to meet us with news.
The leaders told us where the combat is taking place and what the casualties are. Sometimes we went to the bordering areas and beyond. When Mujibnagar government was formed, we went there as well.
We used to go to Muktanchol to sing for the freedom fighters.
That's where we got the real feedback. The freedom fighters told us if SBBK is not on air one day, then it's very difficult for them to lock their war tactics. A lot of their strategies depended on what they hear on the radio.
We would deliberately misguide the Pakistani Army with our news.
Maybe we'd say on air that Mukti Bahini is organizing an attack in Kushtia, which is a made up news. So Pakistan would deploy their resources in Kushtia, while we'll attack somewhere else where they are less prepared.
We had a wide variety of shows.
We hear a lot about the musicians of SBBK, but there were other programs there that played an equally significant part. Other than the highly popular Chorompotro of MR Akhtar Mukul, there were some great dramas like Jallader Darbar, & Kothika, poetry recitations and of course the news.
Food was scarce.
We used to eat a very cheap meal called Roti Tarka with 55 naya paisa. A lot of us got very sick. We had to go to hospital very often.
I got frustrated and went back to West Dinajpur in August.
I left SBBK once for about a month. I thought to myself this isn't how I want to fight the war. I wanted to be an armed freedom fighter. They told me this is a bad decision. There were other people like me to want to go for combatant war.
Filmmaker Tareque Masud also did the same and was turned away as well. They told him that his documentary production was more important. They said we have enough soldiers; we need artists to inspire us.
Before we entered SBBK, we didn't realize what a huge impact we were having.
After joining SBBK we got the real feedback of how our songs are influencing the freedom fighters. Our confidence level shot up. We knew the war wouldn't last very long. With the support of big nations like India and Russia, our war was bound to be more organized.
In the refugee camps, they were leading a subhuman life.
Once it rained for a month and a half at a stretch. There was a great depression. The West Bengal economy was shattered. The government could only do so much. The mud houses melted. A lot of people died in the refugee camps.
I consider it to be my biggest contribution to our nation.
The songs Jae Jodi Jak Pran, Nongor ToloToLo, Purbo Digonte, Mora Ekti Phool Ke Bachabo- were my weapons to fight the liberation war. We must remember that the central force in any war is mental strength and unity. It fills me up with pride to think that as a small worker of SBBK, I got the chance to sing to inspire unison in our freedom fighters.
Interviewed by Sadia Khalid