Published: Friday, May 10, 2013

Bangla Ganer Utshab in Kolkata

It was an unusually cold night for February. The audience showed no sign of restlessness although it was 3 in the morning. They waited in anticipation of something special as Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty, the final performer for the night, embarked on his rendition of the dhrupad-based Nazrul song, “Moha Bidya Adya Shokti”. On cue, the nearby woods slowly seemed to wake up to the resonating call of the koels. Phalgun was only days away. “Nature runs in mysterious ways,” said Pandit Chakrabarty. “If only we could acknowledge the gifts of nature — fire, air, water, earth and sky — we could be thankful to the Supreme Power,” he added.

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Glimpses from the festival.

On the lawns of ITC-SRA (the heart of pure classical music in India) a galaxy of artistes, scholars and leading personalities of Bangladesh and India were assembled under a huge blue arched canopy resembling an open sky. The occasion marked the first time such an eminent roster of artistes had gathered to celebrate the glory of Bangla songs on such a grand scale. Last November Bengal Foundation and ITC-SRA had treated a passionate Bangladeshi audience to the performances of Indian classical music maestros. Now ITC-SRA, as part of the bilateral cultural exchange initiative, reciprocated with the nine-daylong Bangla music festival, titled “E Kon Maya-e: Bangla Gaaner Utshab-Kolkata 2013”, at the ITC-SRA ground in Tollygunge, Kolkata.

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The ITC-SRA stage, which since its inception [over 30 years ago] has hosted performances by maestros of Indian Classical music, was for the first time showcasing a festival of Bangla Gaaner Utshab. Organised by Bengal Foundation, the programme was dedicated to the memory of Kazi Nazrul Islam, the National Poet of Bangladesh. With noted musician and composer Durbadal Chattapadhyay on the violin and the talented Shubhayu on the esraj, the magical setting took place on the sprawling lawns of India’s ITC-SRA (Sangeet Research Academy) on February 8.

The face of Kolkata has been completely transformed from what I remember of the city a decade ago. The city is developing impressively and in a hurry. From the luxurious hotel where we were put up, it was an hour’s drive to the ITC-SRA venue. The Victorian style SRA building, dotted with quarters, its serene atmosphere surrounded by trees, squirrels running about freely, seemed a picturesque place where disciples train under the maestros.

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Information Minister of Bangladesh, Hasanul Haq Inu; media personality Asaduzzaman Noor, MP; Founder and Chairman of BRAC, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed; Managing Director of Bangladesh Film Development Corporation, Pijush Bandyopadhyay; eminent artist Professor Rafiqun Nabi; CEO, chief editor of Maasranga Television, Syed Fahim Munaim; Sajjad Sharif of Prothom Alo; and I, on behalf of The Daily Star, delivered speeches on different days to highlight the development of Nazrul Sangeet and Bengali music, in general, in Bangladesh.

A much-anticipated element was the unveiling of 36 albums featuring Bangladeshi artistes. The musical collection was unveiled by ITC-Sangeet Research Academy gurus – Vidushi Girija Devi, Padma Bhushan Pandit Buddhadev Dasgupta, Pandit Arun Bhaduri, Padma Bhushan Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan, Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan and Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar — and Ravi Mathur, executive director of ITC-SRA.

At the other side of the lawn, the food festival attracted long queues. Bangladeshi chefs had been flown in to prepare traditional items, ranging from steaming kachhi biriyani, pitha, luchi tarkari, bhuna khichuri and the special “nolin gurer sandesh” from Narail. Coffee and tea flowed non-stop through the night. Book and CD stalls with the latest albums launched at the festival were a crowd puller too. Bangladeshi ladies attending the festival draped in beautiful jamdani, kantha stitch and Tangail saris added colour to the festivities.

“Our priority is to uphold the rich heritage and diversity of Bengali music. This was not only an unprecedented opportunity to mingle with the contemporary greats of lndian classical music but also a timely opportunity for several talented artistes of Bangladesh to perform for the music enthusiasts of West Bengal,” chairman of Bengal Foundation, Abul Khair, said in his opening speech.

“We start this journey from Kolkata. We plan to hold similar events at different venues around the world the year round,” he added.

The programme included 50 artistes from both Bangladesh and India. “The Dhaka audience in November last year crossed 10,000 everyday and is expected to cross the number when we plan to hold a similar programme in November this year,” said DG, Bengal Foundation, Luva Naheed Chowdhury, the driving force behind organising the successful programmes.

Some attendees at the ITC-SRA programme, however, noted that the simultaneous celebrations marking the 37th Ekushey Boi Mela with the theme of Bangladesh and the first Bangladesh film fest in Kolkata might have diverted the audience away from the musical celebration. They also hoped that the music could have been given a broad media coverage as was accorded when Bangladesh played host.

“A cultural bridge lasts forever,” said Vidushi Girija Devi in her inaugural speech. “Music is an integration of souls,” said executive director of ITC-SRA, Ravi Mathur. “It’s a great initiative that makes us proud, and such endeavors must continue,” said Vijay Kichlu, the first executive director of ITC-SRA. Special guest Abida Islam, Bangladeshi Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata, lauded the initiative.

On the second night along with masterful renditions by the Gurus, Pandit Arun Bhaduri seemed to steal the show with his performance of Michael Madhusudan Dutta’s songs followed by a tappa and a Nazrul song. Terming Kazi Nazrul as “Mohakobi” he pointed out that such an initiative was a timely reminder of Nazrul’s genius during a period when his influence was slowly fading away in West Bengal.

In a company of such eminence it was a privilege when I had the opportunity to express my thoughts in the keynote speech. Nazrul’s works had attained such literary and spiritual heights, his work had sparked so many generations that it was no surprise that I felt trepidation in capturing his life in words.

The festival featured songs of Tagore, Nazrul and Bangladeshi mystic bards Fakir Lalon Shai, Hason Raja, Radharaman and Durbin Shah. While the young crowd warmed to the fusion of jibonmukhi gaan, mellow rock and adhunik songs, noted Bangladeshi artistes Iffat Ara Dewan, Farida Parveen, Kiran Chandra Roy, Shama Rahman, Mita Huq, Bulbul Islam, Laisa Ahmed Lisa, Aditi Mohsin, Khairul Anam Shakil, Sharmin Sathi Islam, Bappa Mazumder, Fahmida Nabi and Indian artistes Vidushi Kaushiki Chakraborty to Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta, Srikanto Acharya treated the listeners with their artful renditions.

Noted actor-elocutionist and politician Asaduzzaman Noor echoed the spirit of our Liberation War by reciting several poems on the subject on the sixth day.

The festival also featured two dance-dramas: “Bhanu Singher Padabali” staged by Bhabna (from Dhaka) and “Shapmochon” by Dakkhini (Kolkata).

Besides the charted programmes, the artistes also had the opportunity to mingle informally. Several guests from Bangladesh were treated to dinner and lunch at the house of Vidushi Girija Devi, Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty and Ustad Rashid Khan. But that is a story for another day.

At the conclusion of the wonderful event, the Indian and Bangladesh contingent were elated at its success. But at the back of our minds there was a nagging feeling that Bangla songs were in need of such a boost on a continuous basis, especially in this age. What Bengal Foundation had made obvious through its initiative was that the revival of the glorious days of Bangla songs might not be such a distant dream.