Teachers’ Day. Many thanks for all the gifts, cards and messages that have poured in. This post is to pay tribute to a special kind of teacher.
In the days when I was in college (that would be the early 1980s – my daughter is passing through that stage now), I often took the local trains via Bardhaman on my way home to Durgapur from Kolkata. One reason was to save money – I was very poor then, and the difference with express train fares mattered – but there was another, more pleasant one. There would usually be a baul on the Bardhaman Asansol local who would sing his heart out. I remember I used to splurge sometimes, giving him a twenty- or even fifty rupee note (that was a lot of money in those days, certainly to me) to park himself beside me for the whole duration of the journey instead of begging around and sing all he could, interrupted only by little earthen cups of tea, which we both drank with gusto. Many of those songs still play themselves in my mind’s ear, and I can see visuals, even, of the bauls – usually men – breaking into impromptu jigs, strumming on their aktaras and keeping time with their ghungroo-d feet, clad in the traditional white dhoti and saffron or multi-hued kurta, generally also with a turban around the head and a cummerbund. Many of those lyrics have stayed with me forever, too: ami kothay pabo tare/amar moner manush je re, dekhechhi roopsagorey moner manush kancha shona, praner bandhob re/dao dekha doya kore, khanchar bhitor ochin pakhi kemne ashe jaye… there was something in me that vibed very strongly with the kind of music they made, and it has never palled.
Decades later, therefore, it was my privilege to render some little assistance to a certain lady who was doing a doctorate on the theme of Tagore and the bauls. I was dealing with both Tagore and the bauls: few things could make me happier!
A revival of interest among the youth of today seems to be going on. Or so this article in The Statesman says. I, for one, would be delighted. Leaving aside my specific interest in baul music for the moment, it pains me that in India, which has one of the richest and most diverse repertoires of home-grown music in the world, the youth should be so unaware, so forgetful, so apathetic towards it. Mind you, I am no atavistic and chauvinistic propagandist against ‘foreign’ stuff – my own list of favourites from western music is very wide – but that has not prevented me from knowing, cultivating and loving desi stuff, everything from dhrupadi to folk to rabindrasangeet and Hindi movie numbers. What I rue, what fills me with shame and chagrin is that our young should be so ignorant, and ignorantly contemptuous, of our own culture in this matter (and alas, that is most glaringly evident among the urban ‘English-medium’ educated kind, the type I have to deal with all the time for my sins) – except when they hear that some sahibs are interested in it. So it pleases me no end to see a new generation of youth taking active and talented interest in Indian music again, as evidenced not only on TV but on YouTube as well. If there’s a lot of fusion stuff out there, I don’t mind at all, even though much of it is of indifferent quality – let a thousand flowers bloom, for every now and then a gem will emerge (I am still desperately searching for a pop-style rendition of Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram that I saw in a music video on TV at least two decades ago – I think it was done by Raageshwari. If someone can locate it, please send me the link). It is good to remember that Tagore himself was the greatest fusion music maker of them all!
A woman in a man’s world whom I have lately come to admire is Parvathy Baul. You can search for her by name on wikipedia.
Here is a link to something I wrote about music several years ago. As for the reason behind my particular fondness for baul songs, maybe in another post. But I would like you to note that this is not something that has come with advancing age: I was moved by the same when I was barely out of adolescence…