Sohrab Hossain has been a household name synonymous with songs of Kazi Nazrul Islam, the national poet of Bangladesh. 9th April is his birthday. I had the good fortune of knowing him from my childhood. He was a student of my grandfather Abbasuddin Ahmed. My father recollects meeting him for the first time in their home in Park Circus, Kolkata around 1945. Sohrab Hossain was a lanky young man. He had met Abbasuddin in some concert and wished to learn from him personally. Abbasuddin invited him on the occasion of a milad mehfil and asked his son to keep an eye for him. My father saw this man pass by the house twice, once up and once down and he realized maybe this is the new singer. He came in and later on became a part of their household. Sohrab Hossain migrated to Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1947, here too he was a member of the Abbasuddin household, eating, sleeping and learning. When he auditioned for Radio Pakistan Dhaka, he failed. Abbasuddin invited the Director General of the Radio, Mr Z A Bokhari. After a round of beautiful, honey-like songs by Sohrab Hossain, he served a sumptuous dinner. DG enquired about the boy who sang, he learned that this boy had failed the radio auditions. Henceforth, there was no looking back.
Innumerous songs of Nazrul Islam has been rendered by exponent Sohrab Hossain, he also sang folk songs and some modern numbers which are also excellent in quality. He had a penchant as a tuner and sometimes lyricist. In 1976, on learning about the demise of Kazi Nazrul Islam, he rushed to catch a last glimpse near the Bangabandhu Medical College, but was unable to; the traffic and ensuing crowd deterred him. He came back home in a vespa scooter that he used to drive and wrote and tuned a song instead, “Amar ganer shurer pakhi hariye phelechi tai, tai ami ei shobhate besh uro gan gai” (I lost my singing bird and begun singing out of tune).
My grandmother Begum Lutfunnessa Abbas teased him about his Vespa. She called it “bhot bhotia”. He teased her too, asking, “Bhabi, will you ride with me?” She would reply, “Only if you manage to shed a few pounds from the middle of your body, your kurta seems to be that of your younger brothers!” And both would roll into laughter.
Rolling into laughter was another side of Sohrab Hossain. He taught from the very beginning of his life, Chayanaut was his baby. Later on, after the creation of Nazrul Institute by the government of Bangladesh, he churned many students there. Sudhin Das and Sohrab Hossain shared the laughter, always pulling each others legs and making fun. Who could tell that during the last four/five hours they were editing the notation of the original Nazrul songs, which have been published from the Nazrul Institute.
He was decorated by the highest civilian awards of the government. However, the listener does not care for any decoration. When a song is played, when he is enthralled it is the honey and magic in his voice which brought the audience to love this simple man and his music.
I never learned music from him, but learned a lot, rest in peace Dadu.
Nashid Kamal is an Academic, Nazrul exponent and translator