There was one small TV in my grandmother's room. My father Justice Mustafa Kamal occasionally sat down to watch the musical shows on BTV. It was probably 1976 and he pointed out to this lady singing on TV, “Ma, this is Shaheen, just watch how well she sings, how trained she is!”
My father was a critical person, never giving tributes unless it is due. I tried to listen to this beautiful rendition of 'Esho he sajal shyam ghono deya' (Nazrul song). Later on, I learnt about her plight during the 1971 liberation war. She went to Kolkata, stopping in Agartala, clad in a burkha, riding a rickshaw when the Pakistani soldiers stopped the rickshaw. She was saved by sheer luck and joined the Bangladesh Mukti Shongrami Shilpi Shonshtha upon her arrival in Kolkata. The songs she sang from camp to camp (along with others) and her role as an inspirational person has been documented in the short film titled 'Muktir Gan' and has been lauded too.
I have watched Shaheen Samad's tireless efforts to take her songs, and her inspirational role from there to many more. Those were the days (in 1971) when she was only eighteen, but as an adult, as she led her life, she has always been present on the screen, narrating all these experiences, continuing her songs. While many others who were singing soldiers had discontinued their roles, she and Timir Nandy and few others have continuously risen to the occasion during the months of March and December. I have seen Shaheen teaching the songs in Chayanaut, where she had joined as a student (child) in 1963 and to this day, teach in the final year (Nazrul and inspirational songs).
Between these years, I have found Shaheen Samad in London, UK. She got the position of teaching children as part of the Inner London authority, and there too, she continued teaching, singing, marking various occasions of the Indians and Bangladeshis. On one occasion, I went to listen to her in the prestigious 'Nehru Centre' in London and felt very proud. From one end of UK to the other, every town had been visited by Shaheen Samad and her songs.
Regarding the propagation of Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam's songs, Shaheen Samad once again played a pivotal role in bringing all the Nazrul exponents together, letting us use her home as the premises for initial meetings, sumptuous tea and snacks and smiles from her better half Habib Us Samad, gave us (Nazrul exponents) a strong footing to start.
It is a joy to know Shaheen whose versatility in life knows no bounds. Simple and straightforward, Shaheen always stands by those who are in need or in ill-health. I watched her extending her hands for artists Moshad Ali, Bipul Bhattacharya and others. A kind, well-spoken lady who has indeed been exemplary deserves all our felicitations and kudos for being awarded the 'Ekushey Padak' this year. Let this be the beginning.
The writer is an academic, Nazrul exponent and writer.