Volume 6 | Issue 15 | July 28, 2012 |


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Kangal Harinath:
The Baul Journalist

Kangal Harinath Majumder was a man of multiple talents. A pioneer in Journalism and Baul music, he also was the inspiration of many authors and lyricists of Bangla literature. He started “Grambarta Prokashika” from Kumarkhali. The word “Kangal” literally means penniless. Leaving his regular job he devoted his life to keep his publication running for 22 years. He was also a rebel who wrote against the British and the local landlords. This Cover Story is about Kangal's life as a journalist and a Baul.

Kangal Harinath Majumder:
Our Guidance

By Kamal Lohani

The landlords of Thakur family, who were in power of Shiladah before Rabindranath's time, were not friendly to their subjects. Harinath used to publish articles on their cruelty in his magazine called “Grambarta Prokashika”. To punish Kangal Harinath, Debendranath Thakur sent his Punjabi Lathiwala band (bamboo stick wielding militia). Hearing the news, disciples of Fakir Lalon Shah put away their Ektara and took up arms and drove the Punjabis away to Kolkata.

In 1971, in the autumnal issue of the magazine Ekhkhon, the famous singer comrade Hemango Biswas published the above information in his serial column on folk music. His source was the diary of Kangal Harinath himself. Dr. Arun Roy discovered the unpublished diary.

Brojendronath Bandapoddhay, in his book “Kangal's Life” mentions “there is a hurdle in literal translation in Harinath's diary”. Unfortunately though, he never mentioned why. Local researcher and biographer Abul Ahsan Chowdhury said “as far as I know, Rabindranath read Harinath's diary. Not a single word in diary is false.” Fearing his grandfather's cruelty, he requested that the diary never be published.

On 31st December 1995, from Harinath's great-grandson Ashok Mazumdar, I found out that the diary is in Dhaka, and Bangla Academy is in the process of publishing it. Abul Hasan Chowdhury was leading the process of the publication. I don't know when this priceless material of new knowledge was going to be published. But I had a feeling that the Academy was looking for a perfect moment for publication. 1996 was the 100th anniversary of his death – they were probably waiting to use that date for the publication. Supposedly, Professor Abul Ahsan Chowddury was the editor of the publication. Only the related officials, researchers and the press knew when this invaluable wealth of Bangla literature would be published.

On 5th Baishakh, 18th April 1996 was the 100th death anniversary of Kangal Harinath. He died in 1896. Looking at the local and foreign torment during his time, he started the publication of “Grambarta Prokashika”. He wanted all to know about the cruelty of money lenders, British army and the land lords through his publication. During this time he had gained much experience working for poet Ishwar Gupta's “Sangbad Porvakor” as a correspondent. On 1st Boishakh 1270 of the Bangla calendar, Harinath Mozumdar released the first issue of the monthly “Grambarta Prokashika”. The magazine was often published monthly, weekly and fortnightly – it was in publication for 22 years. Almost 150 years ago, the main aim of the magazine was to bring the rural life of our land to the limelight which was ignored by the elite urban lifestyle. Even today, all magazines and newspapers complain about how the interest of rural life is being ignored because of the urban point of view. It is not only a complaint but the truth.

“Grambarta Prokashika” was Harinath's best work. Because of the non-profit nature of the magazine, he opened up a book-store to earn his living, Later, many more book-stores sprung up in the area making his earning minimal. Running the magazine took up so much of his time, that he had to leave his teaching job. All his earning sources began to dry up. He started to lend money thus turned penniless. Yet, he continued to keep the magazine running for a long while.

The printing press machine that “Grambarta Prokashika” used to be printed with can still be found in Kumarkhali's Kundupara Kangal Kutir. The treadle printing machine is on display surrounded by a ruined environment.

I went to the Kumarkhali Women's College for its 2nd anniversary and to inaugurate the Golam Sarwar Science building. I stayed at a young professor's house. It was the last two days of December. My friend – engineer Abdul Wadud's in-laws had established the college and had been living there. His late father-in-law Golam Sarwar was an enlightened man who promoted education. My friend Wadud, on the first day took me to show the damage done by the Gorai River in Kumarkhali. What destruction! The river had eaten away most of the town. Following the bank of the Gorai River, we reached Kundupara. Jolodhor Sen's house was no longer there and neither was Akhkhay Kumar's home. The school building was on the verge of destruction. The brave students were living in the half broken building. The large Gorai River was stretched around it. Who knew when it would overflow and drown the inhabitants.

M.N. Press at Kangal Kutir

Just a few steps into Kundupara the road gets better. This road lead to Kangal Harinath's home. Seeing his home, the market and the station we turned back. But, a few students from Dhaka University and Rajshahi University found me and insisted I be there the next day for the inauguration ceremony. There was also discussion about the destruction caused by the Gorai River and finally decided to visit Kangal Harinath's home at dusk, Kangal Harinath's home was a small hut. In the hut lived his great grandson Ashok Mazumdar and his family. A rural environment – we knocked on the door, a girl opened it and asked us our why we were here. Telling her the reason, she went inside and reappeared with a lamp and key in her hands. She opened the room where the infamous magazine used to get printed. The old printing machine was still laying there in the dust. She also said that the machine was used sometimes in the near past, but it looked like it hadn't been used for decades. Strangely, there wasn't any sort of roof on over the printing room. Sun, rain and storm ­– the machine room has seen it all. Talking to her, we walked outside and found a pillar, inscribed on the pillar was “Kangal Harinath Memorial Museum”. On 17th October 1994, two government secretaries came to the spot on the 161st birthday of Kangal Harinath. They were the ones who setup the pillar and engraved the “Khangal Museum” on it. On the ruined hut there was a signboard which read “M N Press” The name represents Mothurnath, the man who paid for the printing machine. Just beside it was a house with a tin roof, on it, there was signboard that read “Kangal Harinath Primary School”. The school was never opened for students.

We learned from girl that her father has setup another small press in the market with same name “M N press”. They are the only descendants of Kangal Harinath left in Bangladesh. We went to meet Ashok Mazumdar in the market. The man was working on a treadle printing machine. The machine was on one side with a table and a chair on the other side. Papers were scattered all around. He greeted us with tea and let us ask him several questions about Kangal Harinath. He informed us that a man named Ramkant Mazumdar was claiming to be a descendant of Kangal Harinath. Because of that no progress was made possible. Although they are living on the property of Kangal, yet it was never recorded in their name – and is still in the Bangladesh Government's records.

I spoke to some people about the situation. Everybody thinks that the matter should be resolved. What have we done –us the people who are aware and care about this matter?

What is the Bangladesh press institute doing about it?

What is Rajshahi University, Dhaka University or Chittagong University along with their respected journalism and communication departments doing about the matter? They teach and train, but why is there no interest about Kangal's descendants, why is there no seminar about him? To make the youth of our nation aware about our history we have to introduce men like Kangal Harinath who make up our very foundations!


Kangal Harinath's Baul Songs
By Tapon Majumder

A few learned Bauls (mystic singers) who had dedicated their literary genius to bringing their music to mainstream social life through the passage of time, Kangal Harinath is without any doubt one of them. Travel writer Roy Jolodhor Sen, historian Kumar Moitra, Mir Mosharrof Hossein of the famous Bishad Shindhu, Tantrik devotee Shibchandra Biddyanath and Dinendra Kumar Roy are amongst the many intellectuals who were influenced by Kangal Harinath.

Kangal Harinath was born in the month of Srabon 1240 of the Bangla calendar year (1833 in Roman calendar). His birthplace was in Kumarkhali Upazilla which was then in the district of Pabna, it now falls under Kushtia. It was then a center of education, literature and trade. Kumarkhali and the villages adjacent to it were famous for anti-Nil-Chaash (indigo cultivation) and for the anti-tax movement.

In the month of April, 1963, Kangal Harinath's “Grambarta Prokashika” started its publication. To earn a living, he worked as a bill collector at Nil Kuthir (indigo storage) and was a teacher at a school. His work experience made him passionately oppose Nil-Chaash. He had the opportunity to observe the cruelty of the Nil traders. He resigned from his job as a bill collector and did everything he could to oppose the Nil traders. Because of the cruelty of the Nil traders, his magazine “Grambarta Prokashika” took a direct, strong and rebellious stand against Nil-Chaash. Initially, he began to write the whole magazine by hand without a printing machine, as it gained popularity, Kangal established a printing press on his own. The printing machine is still present in Kundupara Kangal Kutir (hut). Before that, the journalist chapter of his life began in Ishwar Gupta's “Songbad Provakor” magazine.

Realizing the importance of Baul music, Kangal Harinath decided to raise humanity and then turn that humanity into patriotism, and eventually make patriotism bring about social welfare – Kangal started practicing writing Baul music. He was inspired mainly by the legendary Baul musician Fakir Lalon Shah. Lalon was born in a village near Kumarkhali called “Bharara”. Kangal and Lalon had great degree of closeness. Baul-king Lalon often used to visit Kangal Kutir. According to many locals, the frequent visits of Lalon and his gang to Kangal Kutir inspired Kangal's disciples to form a Baul group. The formation of the group materialized in Bangla year 1287 with the help of historian Akhkay Kumar Moitra and Jolodhor Sen. The group was called “Fikir Chand Fakirer Dol”. He began to write lyrics for Baul songs. His family given name began to fade away with the emergence of his new pen name; a Baul. He produced many songs with the names “Kangal” and “Fikir Chand Fakir”. He stared to become known as “Kangal Fikir Chand”.

With the power of music, he started to strike the minds of the inactive, the redundant and the cruel. His music was simple yet symbolic at the same time. Known to be Kangal's first lyrics, the following offers fellow human to rise above the temptations of earthly matters:-

“Think day and night indestructible towards truth.
The truth will not be touched by the thief or the robber;
The mind towards the truth – let it flow towards it without any deception.
Fakir Chand says so, what are you doing, don't be worried,
Let us move towards the truth somehow, there will be no more pain.”

Once it began, it spread to villages, sub-districts, districts and to the provinces. This story is brilliantly described in first volume of Jolodhor's edited book “Kangal Harinath”. It began the chain reaction which led others like Mir Mosharrof to start writing with pen name “Mosha”.

Kangal Harinaths's effort to keep harmony in ethnicity and society was remarkable. With humor and thought provoking lyrics, he tried to remove the painful scars of ethnic tension in society. Therefore, he wrote;

“Blinded by different religions, brothers are fighting with their eyes shut,
Open your eyes and see the difference, all are misguided differently;
God is one, think for once – think in a different mood”.

Religious blindness is the root cause of poisonous ethnic tension, Kangal tried to make us understand this fact with his lyrics. His call for overall social welfare can be found in his writing;

“Those who see iron in stone and lead
People call them complicated
These are not hard – they melt away someday
Just heat up in a clever way
The brother who holds a hard soul,
Never does his hear melt.”

Mesmerized by the popularity of Fikir Chand, Akhkhay Moitra commented “didn't know how it could be done – the way to strike the hearts of the masses of the nation.”

Fikir Chand's expertise as a lyricist can be traced in some of his songs about human creation. The maturity and the sharpness in his lyrics can only be found in few other Bauls. He toppled all other Bauls except for Fakir Lalon Shah with his evergreen lyrics. His popularity can only be matched with Pagla Kanai and poet Mukund Das. The use of words and the depth of his writing was unique.

The mystery of human creation can be found in Kangal's writing. The immensity to discover the truth about human creation in Kangal's writing is not easy to ignore. The usage of analogy and symbolism can be found in many of his writing;

“Where do we come from, where do we go,
Head start to spin, it goes nowhere.
Oh! Brother, the seed of fig tree is too small,
Inside it there are few drops of water.
When dropped on ground, within days it shoots up high.
Oh! Brother, blood and seed,
They are two of the same,
We all know it,
But never feel the mystery.
Again, artists draw,
Insects do the color.
Fakir Fikir Chand says, this is the word,
It is not ours to understand the mystery of the lord.
Once you take a dive in your inner mind, you can not swim out of it”.

Rebel, serviceman, teacher, philanthropist, journalist, spiritualist and trendsetter; people know him by all these characters he played in life. But the main ingredient of him as a man is his Baul songs. They are the best creation of his literary life. The songs were popular amongst the landlords and the kings of his time. His songs are evergreen, and they still manage to evoke strong emotion to the one listening.

His songs also addressed social decay. He was absolutely against living a life of intoxication. In his lifetime, he saw the early demise of great poets like Michael Madhusudan Dutt and Ishwar Gupta because of alcoholism – his heart wept for those great poets. Kangal, therefore, despised all sorts of intoxicants.

The volume of Kangal's literary work is huge and also diverse in subject matter. Truth-seeking, creationism, symbolism, poverty and regret; all matters of material and spiritual life can be found in his Baul songs. There is spiritual connection between Kangal's Baul songs and Bangla folk songs.

Most of Kangal's writings are of an esteemed level – it can only be proved if all his literary work be found scattered around Kumarkhali and its surrounding areas. It is unfortunate that no initiative has been taken to collect the material.

Kangal's work can be a great catalyst and open the inner eye, thus bringing back humanity in society. His songs on various subjects can curb the current mindset into believing - “I am better than the other”. The diversity in Kangal's songs holds that power.

Translated by Zia Nazmul Islam
Cover Art by Ujjal Ghose

Tapon Majumder
A man who has devoted his life to singing and spreading the songs of Kangal Harinath
Interviewed by Rafi Hossain

Tapan Mazumdar opened the doors of his house with eager anticipation, and let us in with a warm welcome. He knew we were coming and was extremely thrilled about the visit. Upon entering we noticed several pictures and memorabilia of Kangal Harinath all over the living room, along with a good number of books and collections on the same singer.

When we asked Tapan da why he is such an avid admirer of Kangal Harinath, he gave us a smile and said “I admire him because, like him, I too am a 'Kangal' and just like him, I lost my father at an early age.” After going through some of the books and pictures Tapan da had collected over the years we asked him more about himself and his life.

We asked him how he got into the field of singing; he replied “I've been singing songs since a very young age. It could be because I was raised in a very cultural and musical environment. My family always had cultural events taking place at our home for as long as I can remember.”

After hearing about Tapan da's early life we asked him what made him stay in the field of singing. He said, “At almost every point in my life, the songs have been calling me. But, one day their call was so great, I could not ignore it any longer, I had to do something about it, and so I decided to quit my job as a government servant and go into early retirement to pursue my musical career.”

“We've heard from many people that you're a folk singer, but clearly you're not, please explain.” A shy Tapan da replied, “Yes, it's true, many people believe that I'm a folk singer, I guess it's probably because I like to sing Lalon's songs, the famous ones mostly. The people love them and automatically assume that I'm a folk singer, but the truth is, I was trained at Chhayanaut in Nazrul Sangeet. You see, I am a singer who enjoys singing everything from Nazrul, Lalon, Rabindranath and Kangal to classical and folk music.”

“But now I want to focus on something specific. I have been making several plans regarding Kangal Harinath's works over the years. The main ones are singing his songs and teaching them to all those who are willing to learn, I want to start a sort of awareness on the man. I do this not because of fame, fortune or glory, but because I feel that it is my duty. I feel this way because Kangal Harinath and I heed from the same village,” continued Tapan da.

“I've already said before, I was born and raised into a cultural and musical household. My life began with music and it will end with music. I say this because I hope to be singing and spreading the music of Kangal Harinath till the end of my days,” said a determined Tapan da.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2012