I take great pride to think I was born in Bengal, in this part of the subcontinent where creativity seems to flourish. There was even a saying: “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow.”
Bengal was divided for political reasons but the people of Bengal can never really be divided. There is a sense of oneness in the people of Bengal that surges through our souls in terms of eating habits, literature, music, language as well as other things.
A sense of nostalgia overwhelms me when I think of Bangladesh. Both my parents are from Mymensingh, and strangely enough there are many people of fame who happen to be from Mymensingh. The all-time greats Upendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury, Sukumar Ray, and Satyajit Ray were originally from Mymensingh; even the world famous magician P.C. Sorcar was from there.
While writing the name of Satyajit Ray, my first encounter with him comes to mind. He had asked me about my ancestral home, and the second I mentioned Mymensingh, he exclaimed, “But of course, how else could you be such a vocal genius!” I know that I am but a mere droplet in the vast ocean of music but I was still very pleased to hear this generous remark from him.
Currently I live in Kolkata and practice my music there but I have travelled to other cities of India as well as the world. I have also come to Bangladesh on several occasions. Not all these trips have been for my performances. With time I have grown to form a great bond with and a love for this country.
On one such trip, not more than a year ago I happened to meet Abul Khair. When I first saw him, I was moved by his simplicity and humility. I was overwhelmed to see his achievements and contributions in terms of promoting the arts and culture of Bangladesh.
The man is a visionary. He understood and appreciated the fact that Bangladesh is a land opulent in terms of its music, literature and other forms of art. Many great names hail from this land like those I have already mentioned. Michael Madhusudhan Dutt is also from Jessore.
One's wonder will know no bounds discovering the galaxy of musical geniuses who have come from Bangladesh. The very first name that leads the line without a doubt is that of Ustad Allaudin Khan, often reverently referred to as 'Baba' Allaudin Khan. He had an uncanny flair for playing any string instrument or leather instrument that was there in his time.
It is said that Baba Allaudin Khan's elder brother Aftabuddin Khan had a stunning power of amazing listeners by playing any tune from any length of a string. On the other hand his younger brother Ayet Ali Khan had the skill of making a sarod himself and was of course a stalwart sarodiya. He had made two sarods by cutting a Tun tree from his house and had gifted them to Ali Akbar Khan and his own son Bahadur Khan. Tejendra Narayan Majumdar, the leading sarod player of the present generation, is one of the most distinguished disciples of the legendary sarod maestro Bahadur Khan.
A few other names of artistes for whom Bangladesh shines brightly also deserve a mention. One of them is Debabrata Biswas, popularly known as 'George' Biswas, who had popularised Rabindra Sangeet by presenting them in his original style. Born in Barisal, he later moved to Kishoreganj. Then there is the 'Emperor of Sitar', Ustad Vilayat Khan who was born in Gouripur. His father, the legendary Enayet Khan, was the court musician in Gouripur. An instrument has no language as such but when Vilayat Khan played the sitar it would seem that the instrument was singing. At the end of his every concert, he would play tunes of Bengali folk songs -- be it anywhere in India or anywhere else.
The list of course goes on but maybe the article will get too long if I mention them all.
Bangladesh is not only rich in its traditions of classical music, but also enormously opulent in its folk traditions. Legendary singers Abbasuddin Ahmed and many more have brought the folk music of Bangladesh onto the world stage. I think the many talented singers who render beautifully the songs of Tagore and Nazrul need a special mention here. They sing with such command of the music and with such grace that I really feel they have brightened the name of Bangladesh through their performances within the country as well as abroad.
Let me come back to Abul Khair. In April 2012, Ravi Mathur, executive director of ITC-SRA (Sangeet Research Academy) of Kolkata, and I had come to Bangladesh. ITC-SRA is my musical Mecca in life. A memorandum of understanding was reached between Khair of Bengal Foundation and Ravi Mathur of ITC-SRA. This MoU had the objective of promoting and propagating the practice of classical music. Under the joint venture many initiatives were planned. On April 29, Bengal Foundation organised a concert under this initiative. Unfortunately owing to a strike called on that day we were quite apprehensive about the audience response and attendance but to our amazement not only was the auditorium (National Museum Auditorium) full, some people even had to stand outside just to listen to the recital. This reassured us of the fact that there really is a genuine love for classical music in Bangladesh.
Abul Khair believes to sustain the musical resources of Bangladesh, both classical and folk music should be nurtured under the guidance of able hands and for which he is willing to do the necessary -- not only in monetary terms but also by providing whatever support is required. He feels that with the joint power and force of Bengal Foundation and ITC-SRA a new era in the field of classical music in Bangladesh will be heralded.
Another aspect of the relationship between Bengal Foundation and ITC-SRA is that the wealth of sangeet gurus of SRA can come to Bangladesh along with their highly trained musicians and scholars for extensive training programmes. And this training will be imparted to all promising and eager students of music across all cities of Bangladesh.
Currently some of the plans are that some particular regions will be chosen and in those regions a number of small soirees will be held where junior artistes will perform alongside senior ones. There will also be some workshops. The objective is that more and more people may get involved and develop a taste for music.
Then there is the plan to have artistes from different regions -- both senior and junior -- perform together before a bigger crowd so that even the emerging performers get an opportunity to develop their skills.
Then of course come the biannual or annual concerts that will tend to be on a large scale and possibly at some big auditoriums. Here efforts will be made to mobilise artistes of both national and international fame and a few thousand people will get the opportunity to enjoy the show.
The Bengal ITC-SRA Classical Music Festival is the first of the large-scale concerts and will be the first of its kind in terms of the magnitude, the number of great performers and the audience capacity. It is a four-day mega event that starts today at the Army Stadium in Dhaka. Here, only with the exception of 'Tabla Nawaz' Ustad Zakir Hussain, all the top classical artistes of national and international fame will be performing. Its sole objective is to preach an all-embracing message of love, unity, harmony and fraternity in all students of music as well as lovers of music and inspire them to create a bond beyond national boundaries.
I, as a responsible Guru of ITC-SRA, am a strong believer in this vision and find this truly inspiring and I pray to the Almighty that time will help realise this great dream.
The writer is an internationally renowned classical music teacher and artiste.