Indra Mohan: striving to keep alive the tradition of folk music
I was so small when I started to sing that I could not even reach the bellow of the harmonium,' reminisces Indra Mohan Rajbongshi, a, famous folk singer. He goes back to the time when, as a boy of about four or five in the early 1950s, he learnt music under his grandfather, Krishna Das Rajbongshi. Though involved with other art forms such as Jatra, Palagaan and Nazrul songs as a young boy, he found his calling in folk songs.
He was admitted to the Bulbul Lalitakala Academy in Nazrul song in the late 1960s and completed the five-year course. But the turning point of his life came in 1963 when he first heard the songs of Abdul Alim. According to Indra Mohan 'I was extremely moved by his songs. I was spell bound by his voice, singing style and the passion with which he sang. I decided from that very day that I would devote myself to folk music only.' After that day he quit all other types of songs and started to learn folk songs under Hafizur Rahman.
A high point in his life was his meeting with his idol Abdul Alim in 1964. Recalling that momentous event, Indra Mohan elaborates 'It was quite an interesting event. I was a teacher of the Khilgaon High School where his children were also studying. So, I had the chance to get to know him. He once wanted to listen to a song of mine and I sang one of his favourite songs, Dheu uthechhe shagore re kemone pari dibo. He was very pleased at my rendition of this song and from then on took me as his student. Naturally I used to call him 'sir' but he also called me sir, as I was his children's tutor. I learned folk music under him for 10 years till he passed away.'
Indra Mohan joined the Government College of Music in 1974. Once, when he was explaining the meaning of the famous song Mon majhi tor boitha ne re/ ami ar baite parlam na, one of his students asked him about the origin of the song. The question got Indra Mohan thinking and he realised that more research was needed in this field.
He has had many interesting experiences while doing this research. 'Once I went to Habiganj to collect the manuscript of the mystic poet Hanu Bewa who is known as Hanu Bibi. I took some photos there and on my way back I was surrounded by a group of dacoits. They took everything away from me, except the manuscript and the photo reels, which were in my pocket.'
Indra Mohan feels that although there are numerous folk singers in the country, they are relatively unknown. To promote these artistes and their songs country wide, he has established an organisation named Loko Sangeet Parishad (Folk Song Council). This institution, now five years old, seeks to practice, preserve, promote and do research on folk songs.
As a teacher and senior artiste, he feels that he has a responsibility to the society. He regrets that the new generation is ignorant about folk songs. They imitate the western songs, which to him is very disgraceful. In his words, ' 'It would not have happened if the songs of the mystic poets had been promoted with care.' He said, that the great composers like Tagore, DL Roy and Rajanikanto also had taken the essence of folk songs in their compositions because folk songs are the root of all songs. He added, 'To make the young generation aware of our culture the children's wing of Loko Sangeet Parishad has organised a show that will help promote the folk songs.'
Indra Mohan feels the need for folk songs for the children. 'I have worked as a judge in many children's competitions over the last 30 years but I never found any appropriate folk songs for the children. I have written about 100 folk songs for children, including songs on our Liberation War and Language Movement.' He has studied child psychology to write these songs in a way that would appeal to the younger generation, he said.
Indra Mohan is planning to launch two publications to preserve the folk songs. One will be titled Lukano Manik (Hidden Treasure) which will contain the life sketches and about 20 songs each of the mystic poets. Meanwhile, the preparation for the first volume has been completed. Another publication is Lukano Maniker Shandhane (In Search of the Hidden Treasure) which will contain the experiences he has had while collecting and preserving these songs and manuscripts.