Volume 2 Issue 53 | March 14, 2009 |


   Cover Story
   Learner's Club
   Learner's Club
   Journey through    Bangladesh
   Behind the Scene
   Guru Griho

   Star Insight     Home

From Jhenidah

Take Me Across the River

Saymon Zakaria

THE Kali River flows past Bashantapur. On the other side of the river lies the village of Rotidanga, and past that, is Baleghat. Memories of Baleghat from my childhood are heavy with the song and dance of the village. I also remember the almost the religious reverence of the people of the village towards their culture, which I am yet to come across in any other village. Baleghat was the residence of a close friend, Kudrat Ali. This allowed me chances to visit Baleghat on quite a view occasions, although I must admit that attraction of Balughat's “Oshtogaan” somehow outweighed that of visiting a close friend. After all these years, the memories of those dazzling performances are still vivid in my mind. I would sometimes go to the village just to find out if there was a performance in the offing. Some would say that these performances were no more, others that they were nothing like before. But it is difficult to believe that the sheer beauty of the melody, the message and the dance can be erased from our memories completely. So I let my friend Kudrat know in advance that I shall be in Baleghat to watch the Oshtogaan after Eid, and he made the necessary arrangements.

The day after Eid in Baleghat, I was surprised to find Milan-Sunatan among the performers. Having come originally from my village, he had settled in Baleghat and joined the group of performers. His father Tawaz Mridha was very close to us, once a man of whims, and now the Imam of our mosque. Of his two sons, Milon is involved with the aspects of organisation, and the other, Sunantan is an active performer in the group. Sunatan is a lot younger than me, but that day I saw him in a different light than the younger brother from the neighbourhood that he had been to me all my life. Before the performance started, the performers got themselves ready in the verandah of Uncle Nikhil's house. Subhashchandra Bishshash was putting on makeup to play the female role of Sri Radha. Once ready, the musicians, directors and actors broke into a performance of the popular nationalistic song in the lawn of Uncle Nikhil's house. The actors, in their guises of Krishna, Radha and her eight maidens waltzed into a position in front of the playing band and danced around in a circle. Suddenly the music stopped, and along with it, the dancing. Krishna and Radha with her the eight maidens divided themselves into two groups and stood facing each other.

Radha and the maidens held their clasped hands high while kneeling in front of Sri Krishna, as if in worship.

This signified the beginning of the worship section of the performance. “Ore Bondilam ami Sharashwati/ Amar ontore dao ma shakti/ Ami na jaani shadhan na jaani bhajon/ Nij goone dao gaati/ Ogo Ma Ma Ma” (Oh Sharashwati I pray to you/ Give me the strength/ I do not know shadhon or bhajon)

Radha and her maidens would then stand up from their kneeling position, swaying their torsos to the rhythm of the music. Before the next part begins, they would return to their initial position and start a new part.

The main section of the performance starts with an introductory commentary by the lead singer who plays the dual role of the narrator and the lead Krishna role. In the interest to better explain the uniqueness of the presentation, some of the opening sections of the Naukabilash pala is cited here.

They come towards Jamuna/ with Srimati astha/ how do they come?
They come by rows/ They want the feet of Krishna/ they come by rows…
Do you know what else they have done?

When the maidens approach the river, they need Krishna to help get across. The dialogue continues.

Krishna says: You want to go across, maidens, all of you must pay sholo ana, the fee

The girls reply: Where will we get that money? We only have one ana!. Take this and take us across!

Krishna says: I am not the only rower/ there are ten others…

Maidens: We'll give you two anas/ please take us across!

And so the negotiation between Krishna and the maidens goes back and forth. Taking part in the performance were Ranjt Kumar Bishwas (55), an apprentice of a famed artist of the village Bishnupod Mandal, Nikhil Chandra Biswas (50), Akkur Mandal (60), Krishno Mandal (33), Subrata Mandal (25), Lakhan (40), Sunatan Mridha (25), Ramprasha (28), Subashchandra Bishwas (30) and Arupkumar Sharkar (14). When I visited Kushtia the day after this performance, I found that that in the village of Keupur under Mirpur thana of Kushtia district, a new generation of artistes had formed under the leadership of Hossain Ali (40) and had been performing oshtogaan on a regular basis. In another case, after visiting Norail on the invitation of Tuhin Abontor, a young director, I was told about Nikhil Goshami's oshtogaan group in Haitiyara-Agarokhan. In this group the characters are played by both male and female actors. Why does this performance appeal to the villagers so much? A large part of the reason is that it connects with them using two things that are very important to most people here- rivers and fields. Nobody needs to be told that the performance is taking place, no invitations are necessary. When it starts, word spreads, crowds show up.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2009