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     Volume 6 Issue 28| July 20 , 2007 |

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Cover Story

An Inspiring Force in Music

Elita Karim

Photo: Zahidul I. Khan

Clad in a white kurta and pajama, Kalim Sharafi looks every bit the haloed artiste that he is against the bright sunlight splashing inside the drawing room at his Baily Road residence. For someone who has just turned 84 years old, Sharafi is still enthusiastic and intrigued by the litt

Kalim Sharafi as a young man in 1949 and 1964 respectively.

le discoveries that he makes on his own. “Which village are you from in Chittagong?” Kalim Sharafi asks me in perfect Chatgayya, upon discovering my origin. He then begins a tête-à-tête with me in the language and smiles fondly to himself. “He can speak fluent Sylheti and other dialects as well,” adds Sharafi's wife, Noushaba Khatun.

"When I see boys and girls working together for a cause, no matter how small the issue may be, my heart swells with pride and joy," smiles Sharafi. "For instance, several publications have been made in volumes regarding culture, politics, history, Tagore, where I have seen groups of young people working together as one. I have been honoured to offer my ideas, suggestions and be a part of such projects." To him, strength lies within oneself, to perform the most difficult task, sometimes even the impossible. In 'Kalim Sharafi's Album' written and compiled by M A Taher, Sharafi says that the course of nature requires human beings to spend a very short span of time on earth. It's up to each one of us as to how we make use of it, he says. "Life is much more than the yearning for money, properties and power," says Sharafi. "It cannot be defined as how much life has given us, but rather what we have given to the people."

Working on a composition.

Ironically, Sharafi was born into a family that was far from the world of music that he was destined to be in. Sharafi was born on May 8, 1924 in the village of Birbhum, West Bengal and his ancestors belonged to a family of pirs, based in Sonargaon. Consequently, Sharafi was forbidden to practice music. In spite of that, Sharafi's love for music led him to defy his family's wishes and secretly patronise it as he grew up. He would listen to famous artists and musicians of the then pre-independent India and learn from them as well. “I was always a quick learner,” says Sharafi. “As a child I used to find Rabindranath's compositions naturally melodic and heart touching and would grasp them easily.”

Sharafi is quite optimistic about the development that is taking place in the field of media and communications in the country today. The founder director of Bangladesh Television in 1964, Sharafi is one of the pioneers in introducing electronic media in the country. "I welcome changes and progressive ideas," he says. "The media has changed tremendously over the past few decades. We now have the resources to match our international counterparts. However, we seem to take these advantages for granted and misuse them to promote vulgarity and thoughts against culture. This unnecessary colouring should be stopped."

Speaking on the occasion of May Day with Mamunur Rashid and Khaled Khan of Oronnok Theatre Group.

Yet he is very positive about changes in the field of media such as the digitisation of music and also the advent of western influence on band music in the country. "We have to move along with time to survive," he says. "There is nothing wrong with the practice of band music in Bangladesh. In fact, the fresh sound is welcomed and appreciated. However, in the name of change, we should not lose our integrity and respect for the culture in any case."Sharafi mentions the distortion of Tagore songs, which have been taking place in the past few years. "One can always experiment,” he says. “All you have to keep in mind is to follow the swaralipi to sing Rabindra Sangeet," he says. According to many an expert, Rabindranath Tagore's compositions have several levels of meanings. The blend of words, rhythm and melody has certain implications, which need to be pronounced and stressed in particular ways to bring out the true connotation of the lyrics.

Sharafi is very positive about the changes taking place in the fields of media and communications, in the country today. Photo: Zahidul I. Khan

A diehard communist, he talks about how communalism and political favouritism have taken over culture. During the pre-liberation period, Rabindranath's songs were banned from being broadcasted on the radio. Even after liberation, Sharafi was banned from both Bangladesh Betar and Bangladesh Television. “It saddens me when people start comparing Rabindranath and Nazrul and putting forward absurd questions like why Tagore is placed higher than Nazrul, like they are two leaders of two political parties,” says Sharadi. “Nazrul's poetry and music are incomparable to the creative works done by anyone else. How can two different works, belonging to two different worlds and eras be compared in this way? I bet even Nazrul would be embarrassed if he were alive today with the comparisons, considering the fact that he was a big Tagore admirer. It's a shame to see how some people simply don't understand the stupid comments that they make so bluntly in public. What's more disheartening is that these same clusters of so-called 'thinkers' end up influencing the people of our country.”

Rabindra Sangeet singer Wahidul Huq offering a token of appreciation to Kalim Sharafi.

He has seen much of what has happened in the pre-independent India, says Sharafi. A political activist from a very early age, Sharafi was a part of the Quit India Movement in 1942, for which many activists were locked up for years. “I was picked up from my village,” he says. “I was hardly 18 or 19 years old back then. The officials surrounded my home and took me to jail in their jeep.” While he was being taken away, it seemed as if the quiet village had suddenly come alive. “Groups of hundreds were cheering for me, encouraging me in the movement and telling me to go on with the fight to free our country from these foreign clutches.”

With Ustad Alauddin Khan and Artiste Zainul Abedin.

In his book, Smrity Amrito, Sharafi says that upon entering prison and staying there for more than a year, he had come face to face with class distinctions. “I was probably one of the very few Muslim activists that the other political figures had heard about,” says Sharafi. “To add to it all, because I was the only Muslim prisoner there, most of the political prisoners knew of me. The deputy inspector, who was also a Muslim, was a very nice man and would often offer me food from home and look out for me. However, he disliked the fact that I used to mix with the non-Muslims and would often ask me to stay away from the other activists.” He remembers that there were other non-political prisoners with him at the time as well. “They used to refer to me and other political prisoners as Swadeshi Babu,” says Sharafi. According to the book, the Swadeshi Babus had it easy as compared to the other prisoners. In fact, the other prisoners would do all the work for these Babus, for instance washing and cleaning. Other than that, everyone in prison had to go through absurd punishments and would spend their days thinking and planning about Swaraj.

At a protest, Kalim Sharafi with poet Shamsur Rahman, Professor Kabir Chowdhury, writer Syed Shamsul Haq and others.

His personal life seems to have a lot more tranquil. Sharafi and his wife Professor Noushaba Khatun have one son and four daughters. The coffee tables are crammed with photographs of their great-grandchildren. The closeness of the couple is all too clear. As we speak, Noushaba sometimes takes the floor and answers for her husband. “We have known each other ever since we were youngsters,” says Noushaba. “Even though we lived a little away from each other in Kolkata, we hail from the same village of Birbhum.”

Professor Noushaba Khatun helps her husband remember various instances from the past. Photo: Zahidul I. Khan

So did they fall in love and go through the whole secret courting before they got married? “No!” cries Noushaba. “I wish you youngsters would stop fussing about, making everything sound so romantic! Our families were very close and we are also related through a marriage, which had taken place earlier in our families. That's how everything happened.”

Performing at a gathering in Chittagong in 1952.

Noushaba describes her husband to be absolutely opposite of herself. “He does not act logically at all. For instance, he won't turn the fans on when he is sitting and reading. For some inane reason, he prefers to sit in the heat,” she complains. “Thankfully he remembered to turn them on today since we have visitors.” She relates a story to support her belief about her husband. “Sharafi used to work at the Bangladesh Textile Corporation (BTC) at that time,” she says. “As soon as the new government came into power, the chairman called him to his office, spoke casually for a while and had tea together. The very next minute, he was asked to leave office! For anyone else this would have been a devastating moment, considering the fact that he had a whole family to run and feed. He cleaned his office desk and came home. It seemed a little strange to me that he brought back home all the knick-knacks that he had on his office table. But like any other day, he had lunch and then went to take his nap. After a while, four of his colleagues came home to visit him and they seemed a little upset. The female colleague was surprised when I told her that he was taking a nap. He must be exhausted and enjoying some free time now that he has been let go from work, she said. I was horrified when I heard this! He had not told me anything at all. How could anybody take this so lightly? Thank goodness I was working and did not have to worry immediately about money.”

Remembering Shawkat Osman on his death anniversary at the Shahid Minar.

Sharafi says that amongst his many favourites, Ami Choncholo Hein, a Tagore composition is closest to his heart. When asked which of Sharafi's songs Noushaba liked the best, she said, “Frankly speaking, Kalim Sharafi is not my favourite singer, though I really love the Puja and devotional songs that he does of Rabindranath's. The passion, the need to give to people and devotion to the Creator are apparent in his voice.”

With wife Professor Noushaba Khatun at Maryland, USA in 1981.

Both Sharafi and Noushaba have a very active social life. “When we have nothing to do, we just like to go and walk around at the different malls in Dhaka city,” smiles Noushaba. “Most of the times we are by ourselves, window shopping or hanging out with friends at their homes. One of my favourite places is Agora, where I go and check out everything, including people.”

Sharafi says that he loves to chat with friends at various places. “Most of my friends are all younger than I am,” he laughs. “But I don't mind hanging out with them. Our addas take place everywhere, even at sweetmeat shops on Baily Road.”

The many awards and recognitions received by Sharafi over the last few decades.

Something that has bound Noushaba and Sharafi together is their strong hold on values and culture. “It scares me to think that this country might slowly come into the clutches of the fundamentalists,” says Noushaba. Having gone through the plight of partition in 1947 as a youngster, Noushaba is not new to the political nonsense adapted by so-called leaders for the betterment of the country and its people. “I have seen the country tear up into pieces,” says Nawshaba. “Just imagine your home, where you have lived your whole life, is not your home anymore because of your faith.” She thinks about the bloody massacres that took place during the partition of India. “We had witnessed similar incidents at the end of last year during the political riots in Bangladesh,” she adds. A lot has to be traded for peace in this part of the world, she says.

“I have received so much love from people all over,” says Sharafi in his book. “It is this love that has kept me breathing till now.” Both Sharafi and Noushaba are full of stories from the past, wonder about the future and in awe of their present. In spite of all the grievances that they had to go through, the love for life and living still shine in their eyes.

Photos: 'Kalim Sharafi's Album'



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