songs we hear no more
It was the wedding of the granddaughter
of famous folk lyricist Abdul Karim, when
all the songs that were sung there were
Hindi numbers from recent movies. He was
the man who wrote the most famous bhawaiyas
such as aji bhahahal koriya bajan re dotara
or O o more kala re kala, or Oi dekh ghur
ghur ghur koriya urali koitore ta. He himself
hailed from Cooch Behar, which is home to
the bhawaiya songs and he was also the younger
brother of legendary artist Abbasuddin.
Yet, his family, meaning the younger generation
have long forgotten the treasures that brought
us pride and glory. Starting with Abbasuddin
who paved the way for folk songs to be recorded
in the national media, hands were joined
in with Jasimuddin who discovered the treasures
from Southern Bengal and added to the trousseau.
Artists like Abdul Alim and members of the
Abbasuddin family carried on the tradition,
yet in recent times folk songs have not
received their due share of eminence.
torch has been borne by artists like Rathindranath
Roy, Indromohan Rajbongshi, Nina Hamid,
Bipul Bhottacharya and others. However,
after these names there remains a vacant
slot. During long years of folk research
and documentation, Mustafa Zaman Abbassi
tried to collect folk songs from the original
singers of Bangladesh. In his rich presentation
on the BTV in programmes like Bhora Nodir
Bake and Amar Thikana he has not only tried
to provide the Bangladeshis with their correct
address, he has made detailed documentation
and presentation of unknown composers and
tuners whose creative abilities would have
otherwise remained undiscovered and unsung.
He brought into lime light artists like
Aroti Dhor, Banna, Jalal, Meena Borua. He
gave breaks to new artists who could have
been picked up later and made into national
celebrities and icons.
the 60s when PTV came into being, during
my long association with the same, I had
witnessed the producers in strategising
to uphold the culture of this country by
promoting promising artists with focused
and planned exposure on the screen and the
radio. Producers and planners like Mustafa
Monowar, Khaleda Fahmi, Sakina Sarwar,Md.
Muzakker, Nawazish Ali Khan, Mustafa Kamal
Syed would bring their heads together in
search of the new talents and allow them
extra mileage for their establishment. In
1973, I remember presenting the Sylhet based
group `Bidit Lal and others' in the premier
programmes presented on TV. This programme
marked the debut of future stars Subir Nandi,
Himangshu Goswami,Akramul Islam and Dulal
Bhoumik. In a programme titled `Rangdhonu'
presented from the Transcription Service
of Radio Bangladesh, the great artist Farida
Perveen was discovered by Shahidul Islam
(DG Shilpo Kala Academy).
have clear recollections of her young self
along with her father, discovering the complexities
of the star world in Dhaka and flourishing
under the able guidance of Mustafa Zaman
Abbassi. He is one of the few people who
has contributed to both performance, preservation,
collection and creation of new generation
of singers in Bangladesh. He has spent long
hours in tutoring them to learn and present
their songs. This includes artists such
as Baby Nazneen whose original field was
folk songs. Abbassi's active pursuit still
remains alive, it is only a matter of picking
up the best and giving them national celebrity
a similar manner eminent folk researcher
Dr. Ashraf Siddiki provides fodder and milk
in encouraging artists to bring out the
folk treasures of this country. From remote
area of Domar, Rangpur to the elitist town
hall of New York, he has made elabotrate
attempts to popularise our folk heritage.
It is only for us to value their contributiona
dn carry on the tradition.
another view point, no matter how hard we
have tried to neglect our folk heritage,
it is exactly that which has brought us
our glory. In a programme in Kolkata Salt
Lake Stadium in 1989, celebrated singer
Sabina Yasmin started her repertoire with
`Allah Megh de pani de',so does Runa Laila
with her `Je jone premer bhab jane na' .
In foreign representations of our country
we find singers singing `Nodir Kul nai',
while the original folk singer languishes
in poverty of underexposure and defeat.
Our programmes on Eid day and other national
holidays do not uphold our folk culture
, nor do they allow the folk artists to
make a mark.
the 5th anniversary of Channel i, the live
show began with my songs, and I purposely
chose to present a folk number `Piritir
emni reeti janle pirit ke korito'. Even
in Pakistan and India which are our closest
cultural outlets, the audience requests
for chatka songs like `O mui na shonong'
made popular by famous legendary artist
Ferdausi Rahman. As I traveled with her
to programmes in India ,these are the songs
which are requested for again and again.
In whole night festivals in Rangpur, Bogura
people are willing to face the vagaries
of mosquito bites and prickly heat just
to enjoy the rich music. Even the star studded
`Kasauti Zindegi ki' cannot attract them
to stay at home. These are recent experiences
of mine from which I write this article.
The power of the folk songs is everlasting
and evergripping,and it can bring national
cohesion and integrity. So many rich songs,
treasures of our country, bhawaiya, chatka
and bhatiali wait in the background, they
are ours only for the asking. Even Bappi
Lahiri of India could not contain himself
and chose to plagiarise `Allah Megh De'.
If one has the opportunity of watching Kolkata
channels, one will find their artists singing
some of our famous folk songs by the king
of folk songs Abdul Latif `Ailo deya mishale'
while we choose the things theirs.
have neither witnessed a flourishing folk
culture in Bangladesh, neither have we made
any effort to cull out the jewels from various
remote areas of Bangladesh and encourage
their original presentations. The language
for which we fought the war, the culture
and heritage for which we laid down our
lives remained unloved, undiscovered, god
forsaken and forlorn. In unearthly hours
of BTV presentations at 5.30 pm, we find
some obscure artists presenting some folk
songs in a most non-enchanting manner. Whereas,
in places like Abbasuddin Shongeet Academy,
or in Bangladesh Lok Shilpi Porishod the
talented folk artists crave for opportunities
in the media. The other private channels
also do not bother to have special slots
for the folk songs which is the pride of
the nation. Instead, Bangla songs from other
countries, remixes and distorted versions
of `Oki gariyal bhai' fill the screen with
display of saris and bodily gyrations inappropriate
with the gravity of the songs. No new artists
emerge in the realm of folk songs, all artists
aspire to sing modern songs, while genuine
folk artists lose their flame. Can we boast
of our language and traditions when we have
actually throttled the voices of our heritage?
The writer, a noted singer and presenter,
is also Professor in the Dept of Population-Environment,
Independent University, Bangladesh.
One might find it odd that product promoters
would employ a language, which is incomprehensible
to the majority of the population, to attract
customers effectively, shedding the majority
in the name of a "premier", and
"more profitable" demographic.
those products bringing home the gold?
Say statistics that suggest that the biggest
companies are still the domestic guns, who
wisely accommodate the simple logic if they
understand what we are talking about, however
ridiculous it may be, there just might be
a chance they will buy into our gimmick.
TV it's the Bengali folk songs adapted into
festive jingles to promote soft drinks or
biscuits; on radio the orotund voiceover
pronounces thousand marketing slogans in
Bengali to its still considerable audience
every day; on banners, countless services
literally embed their countless virtues
into people's minds in, what else, Bengali.
billboards, mainly in the metropolitans,
commercially and conveniently genuflect
to the global preponderance of a language
that is praised not so much for its beauty
(what a shame!) these days, but for its
it comes to economics, a disturbingly large
majority in this economically-impoverished
country has a disconcerting proclivity toward
inviting the commercially rewarding concept,
tool, or, most pertinent to our discussion,
language and edify it above their own vernacular,
proclivity to edify one language over the
native language has produced a mutilated
language that has pervaded the world of
usually sport Bengali names translated into
English, and often transform the phonetic
output, while some take pride in the ubiquitous
plazas, complexes or "market plazas"
sprouting in little alleys. On the other
hand, spellings of store names are often
based on local phonetic misadventures that
are proudly exhibited in the assembly of
"equiriums" or "fish warlds"
in Katabon. In fact, two paragraphs of this
article were typed at an internet outlet
in Sylhet that had "Saibaar" as
the first word.
really can't say if this is an attractive
or redundant marketing strategy, but, it's
doing one thing: this indicates the trend
pushing the beautiful nuances of Bangla
into the depths of obscurity for a large
part of its native speakers, and reflects
a much-publicised global trend.
6,000 languages are spoken around the world
today. By some estimates, only half are
likely to survive to the end of this century
and only 600 seem truly secure. Languages,
like species, have always gone extinct,
but the pace of change today is quickening.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of languages
may succumb in the lifetimes of our posterior,
most driven to the grave by the linguistic
equivalent of the brown rat -- English.
and bruised the language of thousand years
limps toward a dark and hostile future.
The hostility toward the language is part
of a larger political process -- namely,
a hegemonic globalisation process.
logic, simple, yet so violently destructive
works on a very straight logic, perhaps
most poignantly laid out by one a successful
exploiter in a neighbouring country -- China.
as the language of the economic overlords,
is such a sought-after commodity in China
that its most flamboyant teacher, Li Yang,
can fill a football stadium with eager pupils.
"Learning English is a piece of cake!"
he yells above a rock'n'roll soundtrack.
"Make 300 million Chinese speak fluent
English!" Why? Not because the Chinese
love the language, Li explains, "but
because Coca-Cola and Microsoft rule the
Can some coloured cans and abstract computing
tools really buy out Bangla -- or will there
be a resistance?
The author is staff reporter of The
coloured canopy: Bangladeshi poetry
What did the poetic scene look like in 1972,
i.e. after the liberation? The major poets
of the fifties were still dominating the
scene. Shamsur Rahman, who had started his
career as an introverted poet given to the
expositions of a sensuous world, was now
a poet of the people writing politically
conscious poetry. It was the war that had
caused the metamorphosis. To be precise,
he had started changing in the late sixties
when the political struggle of the Bangali
people for selfdetermination came to a head.
Shamsur Rahman came out of the cocoon of
subjectivity and stood under the devastated
sky of a troubled country. Early in his
career, Rahman came under the influence
of Jibanananda Das. The Eliotic landscape
shimmered in his early poetry. But in the
late sixties, Rahman completely overhauled
his poetry in order to become the voice
of the people. 1971 enhanced the metamorphosis:
his poetry written during and immediately
after the war graphically presented the
blood and tears of the liberation war. His
Bandi Shibir Thekey (From the Concentration
Camp) and Nijo Bashbhwney (In my Own Native
Land) contain poems that recount the devastation
of the war. Particularly unforgettable are
the poems entitled 'Shadhinata Tumi' and
'Tumi Ashbey bole he Shadhinata.' As the
shockwaves of the just concluded war subsided,
Shamsur Rahman sought his way back to his
initial subjectivity and romantic preoccupations.
But his overtly political tone persisted
until, in the eighties and nineties, he
found a kind of exit in sentimental selfportrayal
in the backdrop of inimical time.
1972, Al Mahmud, another major poet of the
fifties, published his famous sonnetcycle,
Sonali Kabin which was an immediate success.
The sonnets were of course written and serialised
in the Shamakal in the late sixties, but
their publication as a book in the newly
liberated Bangladesh assumed a renewed significance.
The sonnetcycle celebrated the ethnic glory
of the Bangali race living on the flat alluvial
soil created by the mighty rivers, Padma,
Meghna and Jamuna. Al Mahmud sought to blend
the opposite ends of the timeless and the
temporal in some of his unforgettable early
poetry. His Lok Lokantar and Kaler Kalash
are two notable volumes of verse that ensured
his claim as a major poet. Sonali Kabin
strengthened that claim, so much so that
he was once thought to be the most patriotic
of Bangladeshi poets, a scion of Bangali
nationalism. Mahmud was ensnared by the
ultraleft politics of the early seventies
and was thrown into jail for his writeups
as the editor of Ganokantha, the organ of
the political party, Jatiyo Samajtantrik
Dal (Jashad). When he came out, Mahmud was
a changed man: his religious and poetic
convictions had undergone a sea-change.
In the eighties and nineties, Al Mahmud
has written prolifically, but his poetry
has lost his earlier charm. He has taken
up themes that are usually eschewed by the
poets of Bangladesh: at times he has given
free reins to fanaticism. But it must be
conceded that Al Mahmud has retained his
characteristic simplicity of language and
a keen power to forge imagery from the world
of everyday experience. Among the notable
volumes he has published after Sonali Kabin
are Mayabi Parda Duley Otho, Ami Dooragami
and Praharantey Pashfera. Abu Zafar Obaidullah,
a notable poet of the fifties, staged a
comeback in the eighties with his immensely
successful volume Kingbodontir Katha Bolchi.
Azad and Nirmalendu Goon were two important
young poets in the post1971 Bangladesh.
They both emerged from the bloody experiences
of the war with a new consciousness of their
role as poets. Before 1971, Rafiq Azad was
an intrepid innovator in poetry. He published
a poetic manifesto, much in the style of
the Dada and the Surrealist manifestoes,
to launch a poetic movement called the Sad
Generation. He was notorious for the socalled
obscenity of his verses and his love for
quaint poetic stunts. Nirmalendu Goon, on
the other hand, was totally immersed in
woman worship. 1971 changed both Azad and
Goon. They were electrified by the massupsurge
of 1969 and the result was that their poetry
changed from the moody and personal to the
vociferous outcry of anguished political
agitators. Rafiq Azad was a freedom fighter
and Goon went through the traumatic experiences
of a refugee during the liberation war.
Rafiq Azad and Goon published their first
volumes in 1972: Azad's Ashambhaber Paye
and Goon's Premangshur Rakta Chai contain
poems of mixed nature, there are political
poems as well as those written on amorous
themes. Rafiq Azad attuned himself to the
political theme with a mixture of an intensely
personal sense of grief over the changing
realities of life around him. His famous
'Bhat dey haramzada' ('Give me food, you
bastard') created quite a furore in the
midseventies. Rafiq Azad's love poetry is
more compelling than his political pieces,
which often deteriorate into long harangues.
Rafiq Azad's Chunia Amar Arcadia marked
the climax of his poetic career.
Goon, on the other hand, changed once almost
every decade. He started as a poet of love
and sexuality. Later he metamorphosed into
a Marxist poet beating the drums of revolution.
After the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman,
the founding father of Bangladesh and the
sad death of his bosom friend and copoet,
Abul Hasan, Goon underwent a temporary phase
of mystical sadness. In the eighties, goon
recovered much of his earlier gaiety and
wrote some memorable lovepoetry.
Hasan, another sixties poet, published his
first volume in 1972. His poetry is marked
by an agonised consciousness of the decay
of moral values and political chaos that
reigned supreme in the postliberation Bangladesh.
Hasan produced three volumes of poems between
1972 and 1975, Raja Jay Raja Ashey, Je Tumi
Haran Karo and Prithak Palangka, all marked
by his morose dreaminess and sentimental
selfpity. He died in October, 1975, putting
an end to a promising poetic career.
poets who started writing poetry in the
late sixties but published their first (or
their first significant) volumes in the
postliberation days are Mohammad Rafiq,
Farhad Mazhar, Sikdar Aminul Haq, Mahadeb
Saha, Abu Kaiser, Humayun Azad and Mohammad
Nurul Huda. Muhammad Rafiq had a Marxist
leaning from the start: he chose rural life
as his milieu and his poetry sought to blend
love for Nature with an exposition of social
the seventies, a group of young writers
came to the scene. They were the products
of the liberation war, in the sense that
the backlash of the bloody war and its human
and material devastation had hit them in
their impressionable years. The social scene
in the wartorn Bangladesh was far from idyllic:
widespread corruption and lamentable political
mismanagement had devastated the country.
Rudro Muhammed Shahidullah is by far the
best among the poets of the seventies; his
Manusher Manchitra is comparatively free
from the tension and anger of the time.
In this series of poems apparently modelled
upon Al Mahumd's Sonali Kabin, Rudro tried
to deal with the perpetual struggle of the
Bangali peasant community against natural
calamities and economic exploitation. A
number of poets of his generation are still
in the arena, some of whom write quite prolifically.
A number of them showed promise, but what
mars the poetry of some of the poets of
the seventies is their shallowness of thought
and lack of experimentation in poetic form
and content. They seem to be writing in
a conventionalised language and treating
the much worn themes of romantic love and
loneliness. Notable among these poets are
Abid Azad, Shihab Sarkar, Nasir Ahmed, Iqbal
Aziz, Abid Anwar, Kamal Choudhury, Bimal
Guha, Tridib Dastidar, Zahid Haider, and
turning point came in the eighties when
a number of poets started writing in a new
vein, eschewing the worn path of political
sloganmongering These poets deliberately
distanced themselves from the throes of
time and endeavoured to bring back a subjective
note in poetry. Some of them displayed an
interest in the existential problems of
the human soul in the parameters of time
and timelessness, while others dug into
the recesses of the psyche to unearth the
hidden and the unspeakable and wrap them
in a language beset with personal symbolism.
Politics was not left entirely out of the
scene, but definitely kept off the centre.
Since the mideighties, Bangladeshi poetry
has trodden the dewdecked path of inner
sensibility, it has become symbolic, even
cryptic, so much so that, in the hands of
the younger poets of the nineties, it has
become somewhat abstruse and difficult.
Khondakar Ashraf Hossain, Farid Kabir, Rezauddin
Stalin, Masood Khan, Rifat Choudhury, Kajal
Shahnewaz, Ferdous Nahar, Suhita Sultana,
Subrata Augustine Gomes are the poets of
the eighties. The mideighties also saw the
emergence of a cluster of little magazines,
most of which concentrated on publishing
the 'new' poetry. Among these, Ekobingsho,
Gandeeb, Sangbed, and Anindya took the leading
role. In the nineties, 'postmodernism' became
the talk of the time; many young poets were
drawn to the ideas propounded by the postmodernist
bandwagoners of West Bengal and started
experimenting with the subject and the language
of poetry. Free verse rather than rhymed
verse is the go of the day, and the poets
are trying to make poetry out of sheer juggling
of words and phrases. Recent poetry is frustratingly
obscure or farcical to many old-fashioned
readers while the poets pride themselves
on being in tune with the post-structuralist,
deconstructist mode emanating from the theories
of Jacques Derrida. But the recent developments
in the field of Theory like Feminism, NeoMarxism
and Lacanian psychoanalysis, although looming
in the intellectual horizon, have yet to
be synthesised, digested and creatively
exploited in Bangladeshi poetry. Poetry
now seems rather flaccid and anemic; the
older poets are past their prime, and the
youngest ones are, like the child in Lorca's
poem, still groping for their voice despite
being lost in a cacophony of jarring noises.
The author is Professor, Department
of English, University of Dhaka.