The songs we hear no more

Dr. Nashid Kamal
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.

The 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.

During 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).

I 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 status.

In 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.

From 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.

On 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.

We 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.

Buying Bangla

Ashfaq Wares Khan
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.

Are those products bringing home the gold?

No! 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.

On 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.

However, 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 economic return!

When 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, if necessary.

This proclivity to edify one language over the native language has produced a mutilated language that has pervaded the world of advertising.

Shop-hoardings 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.

We 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.

Around 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.

Battered 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.

The 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.

English, 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 world".
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 Daily Star.

A coloured canopy: Bangladeshi poetry

Khondakar Ashraf Hossain
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.

In 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.

Rafiq 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.

Nirmalendu 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.

Abul 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.

Other 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 realities.

In 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 Nasima Sultana.

A 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.

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