Vol. 5 Num 220 Tue. January 04, 2005  

Milia's deep affinity with Tagore songs

As we journey on, who can tell from which direction your gentle touch comes this way--in the fragrance of some unknown flower, some intimate joy, some wayfarer's songs…'

Lending her voice to this evocative devotional (Puja) song of Rabindranath Tagore is the vivacious Milia Ghani, a talented exponent of Tagore songs. Having touched the peak of her musical career during the Liberation War and after, she is back for a while from Bucharest, Romania.

Milia has a deep affinity with Tagore songs. To quote the articulate singer, 'I think that the most important element of this genre is the deep message which is conveyed both spiritually, emotionally and, in some cases, socially. The message is basically that of the unity of nature, God and man.'

To date, Milia has chalked up several achievements in the genre: Modhur Dhoni, a cassette and LP (1988), a CD titled Amar Na Bola Bani (1998) and a cassette called Jokhon Eshechile (2000).

There have been gaps in her singing career, acknowledges Milia. She has moved around a great deal: in countries such as Egypt, Indonesia, the US, Armenia, Kazakhastan and now Romania, where her husband Owaise Saadat is the country manager of the World Bank.

Milia, however feels that she is a gainer. 'It has been an enriching experience. I feel I am a citizen of the world. That is another thing I have taken from Tagore--I have strong Bangalee roots and have the openness of accepting other cultures as well,' says Milia.

She has impeccable credentials in Rabindra Sangeet. She has studied in the school of Chayyanaut under Wahidul Haque, Phool Mohammad and Sanjida Khatun. She also has the distinction of learning music under Kanika Banerjee and Nilima Sen at Shantiniketan. In addition, she has had Mithun De and Munshi Raisuddin as private tutors. 'I learnt more than just music from Shantiniketan; it was the Tagorean way of life--where you accept, you forgive and try to be less materialistic, try to block off the predicaments of your life through a lot of spiritual thinking and going through an internal change,' asserts Milia.

According to Milia, she was at her best musically between the ages of 20 to 27 in the 1970s. Going back to the Liberation War days, she has memories of leaving Bangladesh. Her parents took the hard decision of sending Milia and her sister to their uncle in Kolkata since they apprehended that the girls' outspokenness would land them in trouble. And so in this period, she was in Shantiniketan and Kolkata.

In Kolkata, she sang for the Swadhin Bangladesh Betar Kendra and was also a member of a musical squad with many colleagues from Chayyanaut. This squad went from refugee camp to camp, trying to improve the morale of the people. A twin aim was to raise awareness about the Bangladesh cause within India. And so the squad travelled within Kolkata, Delhi and other Indian cities.

'I think that 1971 was an integral part of the Bengali nationalism movement in which I participated. And Tagore was the epicentre of the Bangali nationalism movement,' maintains Milia.

Music for Milia is a passion and often bails her out when she has the blues. As she says, 'My music is my spiritual release. Though technically I may not be a perfect singer because of all the moves, whenever I sing I try to understand and live through every syllable I singwhich is what Tagore does to me.'

What is the difference between Milia's heyday and the contemporary music scene in Bangladesh? For one, she believes, Bollywood has a more powerful influence on the masses than before because it is more glitzy and fun. It also has a strong visual effect. 'On the other hand, you have to feel Tagore's music rather than see it,' points out Milia.

The major divergence, says Milia, is that greater congeniality and team spirit among the singers marked the 1970s. There was also a strong sense of purpose, which she describes as 'a mission'.

But Milia doesn't allow all this to get to her. She has plans to shortly launch a Rabindra Sangeet CD with her daughter Srabonti, also a singer. She also plans to join up with other artistes and do a small concert in Romania. 'I did one in Armenia but it takes a lot of planning and organisation,' she says.

Milia is all praise for the current generation, which she describes as 'very motivated.' She has a message for aspiring singers: do not lose the intrinsic message of Tagore or other genres of music. In her view, 'It is important to sing with your heart rather than just your voice. Sometimes I find that missing. The performances are excellent, the technical quality has gone up, and the young are very well trained. However, mere technical perfection is not enough.'

Though she says that she is currently in the periphery of the Tagore song scenario, she is a firm believer in his philosophy of 'the spiritual aspect of human beings, a love for nature and accepting life's setbacks with magnanimity and forgiveness. ' I haven't succeeded. I am still in the process, not even close to reaching my goal,' says a modest Milia.