The songs of Ekushey

Sadya Afreen Mallick

I tried to catch a glimpse of the bright shimul tree at the crossroads of Tejgaon industrial area as our car sped by. The blood shot clusters of shimul stood against the shrivelled tree, which held the flowers in its bosom. The month of Falgun, (spring) February is back. It is the time when Rokto shimul topto polash, Ei polash ei krishnachura, O kokil re and many other songs on Ekushey were written centring around this tree.

It was a time when people were seen frequenting the Shaheed Minar during the pre-dawn bustle. Times may have changed since then, but the poignant memories of that era are still fresh in our mind. As midnight struck, the Shaheed Minar soon turned into an endless sea of emotions. Veterans of the Language Movement, families, teachers, siblings arm-in-arm, the slow march to the Shaheed Minar continued throughout the day. The stage would take on a different look as barefoot people streamed by with flowers in hand. Even the glistening teardrop dew on the leaves seemed like an extension of the collective grief--as if nature herself was bowing down to honour the spirit of the martyrs.

In no time, the foot of the Shaheed Minar would be covered in mountains of flowers. Despite the massive conglomeration of people, there would be no jostling, no conversation--the only sound would be that of soft petals being gently swept aside.

Ekushey itself is of course the culmination of a month-long programme. Artistes would gather at the altar every evening with poems, skits, drama and songs. The first song of Ekushey composed by Mosharrafuddin Ahmed on February 24, 1952, Mrittuke jara tuchcho korilo bhasha bachabar torey, a song by Abdul Latif Ora amar mukher kotha kaira nitey chay, composed in 1952, Bhulbona shei Ekushey February bhulbona written spontaneously by Language Movement veteran Gaziul Haque in 1952, are sadly by and large unheard nowadays.

During pre-Liberation times, rehearsals on Ekushey were rather comprehensive and often continued for a month at Chhayanaut. Wahidul Huque, our esteemed teacher, would stress on the inner meaning of the songs while teaching the patriotic songs of Tagore. The songs seemed to spring to life as Sheikh Luthfur Rahman, the composer of several timeless songs, infused heroic sentiments in the songs. Himalay thekey Shundorbon hothath Bangladesh by Sukanta Bhattacharya, Phul khelbar din noi oddo by Subash Mukhopadhyay, Jonotar shongram cholbei by Sikandar Abu Zafar were amongst his brilliant compositions. We as students never failed to become totally captivated by the moods of such songs. There were other unforgettable moments as well when eminent artist Quamrul Hasan performed the songs by Guru Shodoy Dutt and imbued us with the spirit of love for our motherland.

Dr Anisur Rahman, an economist, and an ardent music lover would at regular intervals teach us at Chhayanaut. Eminent composer Abdul Ahad and singer Kalim Sharafi as visiting teachers would teach us other compositions as well. Obak prithibi/Obak korley amaye, Kalim Sharafi would often perform the song with devotion. Golam Mustafa recited Sikandar Abu Zafar's Tumi Bangla chharo with passion. Zahedur Rahim and Sanjida Khatun apart from music lessons gave us guidelines on Bangladeshi culture.

One can only wish that whenever Eukushey February comes around, it only re-affirms our sense of patriotism, draws people, young and old, once more to the Shaheed Minar. One can only wish for those age-old songs to reverberate once more and revitalise the spirit of Ekushey. One can only wish that the lives of so many patriots were not lost in vain.

Sadya Afreen Mallick is Editor,
Arts & Entettainment, The Daily Star