Farida Parveen's life in focus
ZAKARIA and MUSTAFA ZAMAN
an only daughter, Farida Parveen's early years were spent
savouring the pastoral beauty of the home village as well
as basking in the love and attention of her parents and relatives.
never in short supply at their household. She was the only
child of her father Delwar Hossain and mother Raufa Begum,
and when the little Parveen learned to sing, there was no
end to their delight.
remembers how she was first inspired by the lullabies her
mother used to sing. "It was while nursing that my mother
used to sing. These lullabies stirred in me the first sense
of response to melodies. They kind of awakened a certain thirst
in me," Parveen pronounces.
Parveen was born on December 31, 1954 in Natore. 'Shawal'
-- her home village -- still brings in a relay of memories.
She remembers it as for its beauty, and believes it stands
out among the other villages of North Bengal. As a child she
was restless but had developed an awareness of her surroundings
as well as a predilection for tunes and melodies.
the picture is vague in my memory, I still recall how I used
to play around the village. Both my maternal and paternal
grandparents used to live across the river Guru. Next to my
maternal grand parents' house, there was a huge beel (marsh),
where we -- the band of cousins -- used to go to pluck shapla,"
pastoral settings in context, one can easily relate to the
songs she later became so famous for. The tunes of Lalon Shain,
the venerable baul leader of a loosely-knit sect that believed
in exteriorisation of thoughts in songs -- made her a cult
figure among many other singers of Lalon Shangeet. It was
Parveen, whose distinct voice and vocal craft that brought
the king of baul to the middle class audience with its inner
mainstream career was launched after the Liberation War in
1971. She moved to Dhaka as Moksed Ali Shain, who had been
with the first radio of Bangladesh, had just come back to
join the newly established "Betar Bangla", summoned
Parveen and asked her to sing Lalon's songs. From that point
on, the career of Parveen as a singer saw a meteoric lift.
She never had to look back again, as she soon established
herself as a national icon.
Farida Parveen, whose name is now synonymous with Lalon's
songs, was a singer of Nazrul's songs. She was introduced
to Lalon Shangeet much later. Even at that point she never
thought much of Lalon. It was in 1973 that a local doctor
of Kushtia asked her father to sing at the akhra (den) of
Lalon, where there was a festival to mark the full moon of
dole, which was in mid March 1973. When her father approached
Parveen, her reply was a mixture of reluctance and indifference;
she said outright, "Why will I sing the fakir's song!
It is not logical. I have a good grounding in Nazrul Shangeet,
how can I sing songs composed by fakirs. Lalon too is a fakir,
and am I suppose sing his songs?"
the poet and philosopher, who had written and composed about
five thousand songs, was, as the norm went, often referred
to as 'fakir'. Although she was unaware of Lalon and what
went inside the akhra of this eighteenth century
sage, she had little interest in the subaltern sect that carried
the doctor, the acquaintance of her father, who himself was
an officer at the local government hospital, provided her
with the first-hand experience. He sang "satya bal shatpathey
chal" (Follow the path of truth and righteousness) for
her. Then it was Moksed uncle, the most decisive figure in
her life, localy known as Moksed Shain, who intervened and
promised to help her master that particular tune. Parveen,
however, was still ambivalent. The entreaties of her father
as well as the well wisher Abu Zafar, later her husband, made
her change her stance. Zafar, who was a local singer and lyricist
of Kushtia, often visited their house, and helped the young
singer in perfecting her artistry with a few modern Bangla
Parveen's mind was set on Nazrul's songs. Yet, at last, she
let her guru Moksed get the upper hand and agreed to sing
a song of Lalon songs. At this point, she started worrying
over how she was going to get away with the rendition of a
single. "How can I even get on the stage just with one
song up my sleeve?" Her guru consoled her and said, "If
you begin to take a liking to Lalon's songs there is plenty
of time to learn more. First you learn one and sing it during
the Dole Festival at the akhra."
on stage, Parveen's fear became a reality. "The minute
I finished the song "Shatya bal shupthey chall,"
the audience kept asking for another," I could hear them
say 'one more,' 'one more', but I was powerless. Parveen's
reply at this point, to her eager and ecstatic audience, was
characteristically honest and bold, "Once I master more
songs of Lalon, I will come back and sing."
left her changed. Not only did it effect her understanding
of Lalon but also made her think objectively concerning her
future. "I was assailed by the thought that I would never
be able to do what Firoza Begum had done in Nazrul Shangeet.
Firoza Begum's achievement was the yardstick back then. It
was impossible for me to match that. So, I thought I had better
try another way." She had just finished her matriculation
and it was at this stage that she realised her destiny was
tied up with melodies of the mystic and cerebral poet Lalon.
then, very few women sang Lalon Shangeet, only a couple of
singers were well-known. There was Laily Begum, who had a
distinctly masculine voice," remembers Parveen, who later
became the first woman exponent of Lalon Shangeet of unprecedented
for Parveen began at the age of five. After the early years
spent in the village, she became all set to travel where her
father, a medical officer, would be posted. "His was
a job that frequently transferred him from one place to the
other, and this exposed me to many places I normally would
not have seen," says Parveen. In Magura, a northern district,
the five-year-old Parveen began her quest for learning songs.
"I used to copy those numbers by Shandha Mukharjee in
the radio. Not that I knew, back then, that it was the Shandha
Mukharjee," she adds. The child used to keep her ears
pricked to pick up the pronunciations. The most-longed-for
slot in the Akashbani Kolkata was the one where they presented
a chunk of modern Bangla songs of the Indian Bangali singers.
"Back then I had no inkling of who they were, I just
loved the songs. I did not even know that Ustad Ali Hussain
used to play the <>shanai, but it moved me each time,"
Parveen retraces the beginning of her passionate love affair
home my oldest maternal uncle was the biggest connoisseur
of music. He couldn't sing, but he zealously attended soirees,"
says Parveen. "There was a Hindu locality right next
to both of my grand-parents' houses. Their presence had a
certain influence on our families. My maternal uncle had friends
in the Hindu communities," adds Parveen. The intermingling
between the Hindus and Muslims that she recalls may seem unreal
after all these years, but it played a vital role in making
Parvin's uncle become so culturally inclined. The same uncle
first brought in a harmonium to the house and asked little
Parvin to perform. She relented. After that, it became a ritual
of sorts to spread a pati on the porch and sing songs
with a harmonium as the only instrumental accompaniment.
that she really needed any musical instrument to render songs.
"Songs came naturally to me. My lips were always busy
trying to articulate the tunes. Singing had a greater part
even when I was out in the field playing or even while studying.
If I felt like singing in the middle of my study, I used to
do so -- in a loud voice too," remembers the diva nostalgically.
was easily distracted. But I was a very good student,"
Parveen harks back to her school days. She had this dogged
determination to succeed in everything. While in class one,
at the final exam, she stood second for only one mark. "They
made me second and it made me angry. I cried and cried and
told my parents that I would not study any more," Parveen
resurfaced during crucial junctures in her life. Perhaps it
even helped her develop as a singer. "While we were living
in Magura, I was adamant that my father should buy me a harmonium.
And I declared that I did not need to pursue my study as singing
meant everything to me. I thought at that point that other
than singing everything else was virtually useless in my life,"
recalls Parveen. "I heard the sound of a harmonium coming
from a neighbour's house and I could not resist myself. My
mother was ill, but I felt the urge stirring in me. I had
to find my way through the vegetable garden and reach the
source of the music," Parveen reconstructs her early
shenanigans. "They had this harmonium, a thing that I
craved for, imagine my frustration," she continues.
home, my mother kept looking for me in every room of our house.
Then arrived my father, whose first enquiry was -- "where
is Faru?"-- Faru, the pet name for Farida that her father
gave, was nowhere to be found. "It was my mother who
realised that it must've been the sound of the music that
drew me," Parveen reflects.
an ultimatum: "You either buy me the harmonium or I would
stop studying and even eating altogether."
Soon the first harmonium came to their household. It's parts
were brought in from Kolkata and the local mechanics were
summoned home to assemble them. It was with this instrument
that her musical journey gained momentum.
is still with her. "My mother preserved it with naphthalene
and put it in a box to make sure it remained intact,"
the war of '71, the only thing the family carried with them
was that harmonium. "I buried it under the earth at one
point during the war fearing that if the Pakistani army officers
saw this they would haul me to the radio station to sing for
them," says Parveen. "Whenever I go to see my mother,
I unpack it and sing upon her insistence. Only once Parveen
erroneously took the harmonium with her to some other place
and her parents were in tears. "They consider it a part
of me, they say, 'In your absence it is this that remind us
of you'," Parveen says.
whose eloquent and precise rendition of Lalon made her a household
name, received musical training from a string of gurus. Although
she wanted to quit studies, going to school provided her with
the opportunity to receive to her advantage, for she received
training in singing from teachers at schools at an early age.
It was in Magura, that she received her first training in
sargam. Ustad Kamal Chokravarti was her first mentor. She
was then in class one.
the family moved to Kushtia, the music teacher of Kushtia
Girls' School was Ustad Ibrahim. It was Ibrahim who asked
her to learn classical music. He provided her with a strong
grounding in classical music.
grew up, she gradually became embroiled in the cultural scene
of Kushtia. She got acquainted with Ustads like Rabinthranath
Roy, Motaleb Biswas and Osman Gani. "They taught me how
to render classical songs accompanied only by a tanpura; my
training continued for six to seven years, she recalls.
famous Lalon singer then became known for Nazrul's songs.
"In Kushtia, it was Ustad Abdul Kader who taught me Nazrul's
numbers. And after that it was Mir Mozaffar in Meherpur who
trained me in Nazrul's songs while translating the original
staff notations," she continues. By 1968, Parveen was
a registered singer of Nazrul Shangeet in Rajshahi Radio.
accolades kept pouring in from her near ones and from the
teachers of the schools she had been to, Parveen rues over
how she was received by the Dhaka's establishment. The year
was 1969, and the occasion was the "East Pakistan Music
conference", when Parveen came to Dhaka all the way from
Kushtia to participate. I remember how the judges disqualified
my entry in the category of 'Nazrul Shangeet'. They argued
that 'Pardeshi Kotha Jao?' (Where are you off to stranger)
was not written by Nazrul," she remembers. As for her
entry in the modern category, "they made me third,"
the Dhaka cognoscenti failed to notice the burgeoning talent,
soon after the war of independence, Parvin's life took an
altogether different turn. She sang the first song of Lalon
-- Shatya bal shupathey chall, and it altered her musical
course for good. After that, she never had to look for approbation
of the giants who ruled the musical domain. Her audiences'
approval was enough to ascertain her extraordinary talent.
the stage debut at the akhra of Lalon in 1973, when she was
in her first year of college, Parveen realised she was destined
for bigger things.
after 1971 that she settled in Dhaka. Moksed Ali Shain was
desperately searching for a singer who would do justice to
Lalon. He tried other famous figures, as well as Sabina Yasmin,
a legend of modern songs, but no one could meet his standard.
At this point, he accosted Parveen to introduce Lalon Shangeet
in his 'transcription service' in the radio. It was Moksed
Shain, whom she used to call uncle, who brought her in from
Kushtia with his radio programme in mind. "He taught
me several Lalon songs and they were recorded," she recalls.
Parveen, the office of Betar Bangla was another sanctuary
of her mentors to be. She impressed Abdul Halim, Kader Jameri
and the legendary composer Kamal Das Gupta there. One day
when they asked her to sing for them, Parveen obliged and
they were moved by her rendition. "I could sing any where,
anytime as I had never had this fear or hesitation when it
came to singing, ever since childhood," she says.
was the Shains not the modern Ustads that provided Parveen
with the most important knowledge and training in Lalon's
songs. Shains are the disciples of Lalon who are the torchbearers
of both his philosophy and practice. The Shains that Parveen
came into contact with, enriched her in Lalonian brio as well
as strengthened her conviction. It was at this point that
her fate became eternally tied up with Lalon's songs.
the death of Moksed Shain, she received training from Khoda
Box Shain and Karim Shain. One exceptional guru was Brojen
Das, a barber-turned singer. After Moksed Shain's death, she
learned a few songs from Behal and Yasin Shain. It is interesting
to notice that Lalon's songs had no original musical notes,
they were handed down from one generation of Shains to the
next. Now in her 40s, she has a trail of success behind her;
a career that has flown her to far off lands and earned her
never even thought of getting into radio, let alone receiving
the Ekushey Padak," she retorts when faced with the question
of how she looks at her past achievements. She has received
countless commendations from different organisations and sections
of society and is happy with that.
for any artist, comes in many shapes. Especially for Parveen,
it always was the effect her passionate voice had on her audience.
And the most memorable response came from an audience in an
Swedish queen invited the Bangladesh cultural delegates to
her village home, and I was rendering "Khachar bhitor
ocheen pakhi." (The eternal bird in the cage), there,
in front of the audience, the queen was literally wailing,"
she recalls. The queen was asked how she could react in such
a passionate manner without even understanding the lyrics,
her reply was bold. She said, 'Her singing and the melody
made me feel as if I am experiencing the presence of the eternal
being, I didn't need to understand more.' The queen, had felt
an affinity with the universal pain that the song evoked.
Parveen has elaborate plans concerning the songs of Lalon
Shain. Though she thinks that the knowledge or the baul treatise
that his songs are based upon are not her concern. "Yes
they are based on a certain discourse, yet there are these
principles of rhythm and melody, which has the same quality
to move everyone. The resonance that a song like 'Milon hobey
koto diney' (how long it is till our union) has left a mark
in the hearts of people. This is important," she stresses.
the debate about whether Lalon's songs can retain its full
blow and its original ardour after being introduced to the
middle class ears, is still on. Parveen, however, boggles
at the mere mention of a section of Shadhus' disapproval of
her singing Lalon's numbers. Her response is lucid, "One
thing should be kept in mind that I was taught by Moksed Shain,
Karim Shain, and among these two, Karim Shain is still alive."
she realises how the subaltern cultures are often altered
to suit the taste of a sophisticated audience. "There
is a difference between the rendition of a baul song by an
original baul and by one with a sophisticated voice. The difference
that you have in my voice stems from the grounding I had in
classical music. But, isn't it obvious that any singer has
something personal to offer." she contends. She also
adds that many gurus are even following her laid-back, yet
she believe in the process of the guru handing down the torch
to the disciple? "Most people fascinated by Lalon believe
in the guru of knowledge, I accepted the guru only in respect
of singing," she says. For her, songs take precedence
over the knowledge that Lalon generated.
present, she is working on staff notation of Lalon's songs.
Since bauls were a sect who had no faith in earthly fame,
they never produced any written documents on Lalon let alone
write staff notation and compile lyrics. She would like to
fill that gap by developing a trust in her own name. She has
a plan to build an archive where the instruments that are
used in Lalon's songs would be preserved. "I would also
like to preserve the folk songs of Bangladesh for posterity,"
in an unforeseeable twist of fate, is now alone in her personal
life. The famous duo, she and the writer and composer Abu
Zafar of Kushtia have severed all ties between them. The fruits
of their spiritual union -- between the singer and the lyricist
and singer -- will be no more. Numbers like "Aei Padma,
aei Meghna" that thrived in the spirit of the shared
experiences is only a part of history now. The song like "Tomora
bhulyei gechho mallika der naam" (you all have forgotten
all about the Mallikas), the creation of the couple, is now
just a happy memory in our collective psyche.
famous lyricist and composer Zafar abandoned his former life
as he embraced an orthodox version of religion. He was a Muslim,
but had never practised it with such zeal that it would come
in the way of his creative adventures. Yet, this is exactly
what happened. When he was asked to comment on Parveen's career
and her talent he grumbled, "Allah not only asked women
to remain under veil, but also strictly asked them to keep
their voice under wrap ... I pray for her (Parveen) and cry
for her, and if I have any role in inspiring her in pursuit
of songs, I will be ready to face retribution..."
Abu Zafar in Kushtia; now, in Dhaka, Farida Parveen, who is
devoted to a life that thrives on music, tells us outright,
"This is expected of him, as he is a strict follower
of the sharia -- the strictures of Islam." "Whether
I am an artist or not is not the cardinal issue here, I am
a human and as a human I have built a connection with Lalon
and there should be no intervening factors between us,"
couple, who married in 1976, have four children. The eldest,
their daughter, is in the final year at the Department of
Zoology. Among the three sons, one is studying BBA in the
Philippines, another of them are in third year in Sociology,
and the youngest is still in Kushtia living with the father
studying in class eight.
became first in a contest of Sirat Mission, a religious organisation
in Bangladesh, which clearly indicates that the genetic factor
is there. He has the gift, no man can deny what runs in the
blood-stream, no matter how big a fundamentalist he becomes,"
professed a view, which vied with all restriction. As far
as his songs are concerned they impart knowledge, widen the
horizon of the cognitive faculties. Parveen as a singer, must
have had a piece of that mind. She cannot afford to swerve
and leave her whole life's work behind. She must go on singing.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004