Vol. 4 Num 313 Fri. April 16, 2004  

Pragna Laboni: Plaudits for recitation
A gift from childhood

Her modulation and diction effortlessly capture the quintessence of the works of Bengali poets such as Kazi Nazrul Islam and Rabindranath Tagore. Meet Pragna Laboni, a part-time teacher in North South University, Dhaka, who has dedicated herself to the art of recitation. She is among the very few women to be credited for boosting the medium of recitation, which according to her 'is well-known but has few practitioners'

Recitation goes back thousands of years to the scriptures of the Quran and the Vedas. In Bangladesh this art gained popularity after the Liberation War in 1971 when patriotic poems gained a foothold. Amplifying on recitation, Pragna describes it as 'Reading a poem with feeling, maintaining emotion and effectively conveying the message of the poet to the audience.' The main criterion for being a good reciter is, in her words, 'to have a good voice, a proper knowledge of pronunciation, modulation, and an emphasis on particular words,' she adds.

Pragna effortlessly recites two evocative poems. The first by Tagore is patriotic: 'My life is fulfilled that I was born here in this country.' The second, by Mahadev Saha, a Dhaka University teacher, also captures the sufferings of freedom fighters. In a gripping recital, Pragna quotes:

'We are the martyrs of the War of Liberation

Of Vietnam and Bangladesh

We want peace

We are the teardrops of grieving mothers

The agony of sisters, the cry of wives

We want peace'

Pragna's recitations are based on the poems of Nazrul, Tagore and modern poets. In addition she has an affinity with the works of the late Indian poet Biddyavati and reciter Kazi Shabyashachi (the famous Kolkota-based son of Kazi Nazrul Islam). The themes that she ranks as the most appealing revolve around the War of Liberation, patriotism, love poems, poems based on various stages of life and important historical events such as Bangla New Year, the Language Movement, Independence Day and May Day. In recognition of her role in promoting recitation, she has won an award instituted by Anannya, the Bangla fortnightly. The award, which she won in 2002, recognises her talent as one of the top 10 women who have made a contribution in various fields.

'The Anannya award inspired me greatly as it was the first to recognise the medium of recitation and also honoured women,' says Pragna who writes poetry herself and says that Tagore is her favourite poet.

Pragna has been in the limelight since she was a young child. She gave her first performance at the age of four at Udayan, a preparatory school in Dhaka. Her first public performance was in Mymensingh, Churulia and marked Kazi Nazrul's birth anniversary at his former school. The little girl, then six years old, had the audience spellbound with her rendering of a Nazrul poem Khuki O Katbiraly (The little girl and the squirrel).

Born into a family steeped in Bengali culture, recitation came naturally to Pragna. Her father Shamsul Haque, a university professor, used to organise cultural events and take part in recitation, songs and plays. Her uncle, Gulam Mustafa, renowned actor and reciter also inspired her. Her mother Dr.Halima Khatun is a talented writer whose works include poetry and children's books.

There is a demand for recitation by well-modulated female voices, says Pragna. The senior female artistes, she points out, are few and have either left the country or got involved in other professions. The newcomers are making a mark on the TV channels such as ntv, ATN and BTV. Among her successes, Pragna cites a BTV programme called Chhandrobritto for which she wrote the recitation-based script and took on the mantle of Master of Ceremonies.

Hard work is a way of life for Pragna. Her dedication to her art calls for regular practice, particularly before a programme. Explaining her philosophy, Pragna says: 'Through recitation I can express all my feelings, whether happy or sad.' And the gifted Pragna will continue to enthrall audiences with her art.

Evocative and well appreciated recitation