Syed Badrul Ahsan
It is quite a strange feeling, tinged as it is with a dash of sweetness. As you age and begin counting the days that remain till life will take leave of you, you seem to remember the past with a degree of perspicacity that you may not quite associate with the near present. Think of all those old songs that you once heard in all the fire and energy of youth. These days, when you watch old television footage of Mahmuddunabi singing Mone to porena kono din / Ami-o je shilpi chhilam, there wells up that certain thrill in you about the romance that once defined your attitude to the world around you.
There is something innocent, almost bordering on the pristine, that comes with remembrance of old songs. There are reasons, for many of us, to think that the Indian subcontinent is one huge musical landscape, especially when you consider the stock of songs that you have before you. Remember that old Noor Jehan number, Kya Mil Gaya Bhagwan Tumhe Dil Ko Dukha Ke / Arman Ki Nagri Mein Meri Aag Laga Ke? It is when you recall such numbers that you realise the absolute bankruptcy of the present. All those bands, all that remix and all that pointless gyration on the stage is deeply embarrassing for people who have stepped into middle age hearing their parents sing the old numbers. Here in Bangladesh, even as simple a number as Khurshid Alam's Alto Paye Chhondo Tule occupies a much higher pedestal than any song that today's young may cite as an instance of good music. Hum Khondokar Faruq Ahmed's Bashonti Rong Sharee Pore / Kon Bodhua Chole Jaye and you will know what lyricism can mean.
Often in the depths of the night (and the night is forever that tantalising moment when softness takes charge of the sensibilities), you wish, as it were, to burst into a song. And so you go back to Mohammad Rafi's Aaja Ke Intizar Mein / Jane Ko Hai Bahar Bhi. You stumble on the truth, with an exciting tingle to the soul, that you actually remember the lyrics that you first committed to memory more than 40 years ago. And that again is proof of the elevated standards that songs came wrapped in as we rushed through childhood and into teenage. Back in our early teens, we were floored by Runa Laila's Unki Nazron Se / Mohabbat Ka Jo Paigham Mila as much as we were mesmerised by Shahnaz Begum's Phooler Kaane Bhromor Eshe / Chupi Chupi Bole Haye. We still sing those songs, cling to them, partly to recreate that lost texture of youth, partly to fill the lonely spaces that may have taken over our souls. In the early 1970s, Mehdi Hasan sang the quietly romantic Khamosh Hain Nazare / Ik Baar Muskura Do. At about the same time, the promising and yet short-lived Akhlaq Ahmed crooned Sawan Aaye Sawan Jaaye / Tujh Ko Pukare Geet Hamare. These songs transport you back to a valley you once let your mind wander through in sheer abandon.
It is an absence of valleys in the wide world of music that you are acutely aware of these days. That old sensation of the heart getting singed by songs, the old feeling that music is what shapes our view of the forests we scythe through is somehow not there. You often pity the generation that followed yours, for the simple reason that its musician class has not been able to create the wide ambience that characterised your times. The interplay of a wide variety of musical instruments may be good, only up to a point. But in the end it is the words and images you instill into a song that matter. Haider Husyn and Mahmuduzzaman Babu, in these times, seem to be doing a good job of coming forth with music with an undercurrent of the socio-political. But how many such pioneers can you point to in your search for men and women who could be considered as links in the musical legacy we all heir to? In India, Kumar Sanu, Abhijit and Sonu Nigam are passing phenomena because they do not come even remotely close to those who made music in an earlier generation. And then there is this other problem, all across the subcontinent: far too many singers would like to be celebrities rather than artistes. You watch, on Bangladesh's ubiquity of television channels, a bevy of women and a mob of men churning out what they think is music. It is not music. Since when has cacophony been regarded as song?
Ah, a song should pierce the heart, probe the depths of the soul and let the one so touched travel through time and space in all the good feeling of satisfaction! That old Bangla number, Aami Shaat Shagorer Opar Hote Tomaye Dekechhi, goes on tugging at your heart. That Urdu number, Teri Duniya Mein Dil Lagta Nahin / Wapas Bula Le brings you in touch, once more, with pain that is forever an underpinning of mortality.
Note: A thousand apologies for an error in the last piece, Salma Rahman, or 'The Death of an Aesthete'. The book is Tori Hote Teer, the author being Hirendranath Mukherjee.
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