Born and raised in a musical family, celebrated artiste Papia Sarwar had an idyllic childhood. Her mother used to play the organ and her father composed songs. While still a second year student of the Department of Zoology at the University of Dhaka, Papia Sarwar received a scholarship from the Indian government to study Rabindra Sangeet at Visva Bharati University, Shantiniketan in 1973 — the first Bangladeshi to go there after Independence.
The artiste received training in classical music from legendary maestro Pandit Dhrubotara Joshi. Shantidev Ghosh, Subinoy Roy, Kanika Bandyopadhyay and Neelima Sen taught her Rabindra Sangeet and Ashesh Bandyopadhyay oriented her on the tappa genre. Prior to leaving for Shantiniketan, the singer took music lessons from Atiqul Islam, Waheedul Haq, Sanjida Khatun and Zahidur Rahim at Chhayanaut and Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts (BAFA).
Te artiste shared her cherished memories of Shantiniketan with The Daily Star in a recent conversation
“Monsoon and spring in Shantiniketan are my favourite seasons, as I always had a close affinity with nature.
“When I went there it was winter, to be followed by spring. The touch of spring impressed me beyond words. The intoxicating smell of Mahua, the mango blossoms and the rain-drenched earthy smell would mingle with the Tagore melody in the idyllic ambience of Shantiniketan.
“I still remember the day when Mohor Di (Kanika Bandyopadhyay) taught us the song “Choron Rekha Tabo”, marking the dol festival. The shanchari of the song – “Phuraye Phulphota/ Pakhi o Gaan Bhole/ Dokhin Bayu Se Je/ Udashi Jaye Chole” – blissfully depicts the exit of spring from nature.
“Again, marking the upcoming Borsha Mongol programme, Mohor Di taught me the song “Ogo Amar Srabon Megher Kheya Torir Majhi”. The onset of monsoon in Shantiniketan is unparalleled. I remember the clouds as they floated in the sky, heavy showers over lush greenery and the shower’s instant absorption into the crushed reddened soil, combined with the mild fragrance of flowers. Again, during the dol festival, the tunes of esraj and tanpura would stir the senses in the morning; we gathered around the vast stage under the groves of the mango tree, and a festive spirit would awaken in us. Eminent gurus and guests would be present. Among the diverse facets of dol utshab, Abir Khela (festivity of colours) and getting drenched in the full moon charmed me the most. Really, those days make me nostalgic.”
“The practice of Tagore songs helps open up new horizons and embrace newer faculties. This year marks the centenary of Tagore’s Nobel Prize winning literary work, “Geetanjali”. Rabindranath and his songs are always associated with our self, sense and conscience. The bard’s birth anniversary comes every year in our national life with a rejuvenated passion that awakens Bengalis. We find Rabindranath in all our hopes and crises. An excerpt like “Bipode Morey Rokkha Koro/ E Nohey More Prarthona/ Bipode Ami Na Jeno Kori Bhoy” is a bold and patient utterance. Again, amidst the current political crisis in the country, as a singer, I can see the solution with just a song “Borish O Dhora Majhey Shantir Bari”
With a distinctive yet soothing voice, Papia Sarwar has carved a niche in the hearts of many music aficionados in her five-decade career. The artiste received awards and accolades both at home and abroad. Bangla Academy is conferring “Rabindra Puroshkar” today on Papia Sarwar and Dr. Karunamoy Goswami, marking the 152nd birth anniversary of the bard.