The Nikhad of the Sargam. Autobiography of SD Burman. Translation: Asrar Chowdhury. Chapter 1

Cover Photo: The Nikhad of the Dargam
Cover Photo: The Nikhad of the Sargam by Anowar Hossain

NOTE: Any unauthorized use of this translation is a criminal offense
Translated in October 2015. Uploaded: Nov 1, 2015

BY SD Burman and Salil Ghosh. Translation: Asrar Chowdhury

After my ballads and my tunes, I do not find much more to say about myself. What more is there to say? I never wanted to show off myself. All I wanted to do was to remain as the Nikhad of the Sargam.

Today, at dear Salil’s request, I am looking back again. I am narrating my memories about the old days as much as I can remember.

There is a proverb about Tripura. In their palaces, starting from the King, the Queen, the Princes, and the Princesses down to the servants, everybody sings. Nobody is said to be born in Tripura who does not have a tune in their voice, or cannot sing. In Tripura’s paddy fields, the peasants sing and plough the field. The boatmen cannot row without hitting notes of a song. The fishermen sing and catch fish. The weavers weave with songs and the labourers toil with songs. The voices of the people there is a gift from God. I am a son of that soil of Tripura. May be that is why my whole life has been spent just singing. Music is my first love.

I was born as a Prince in the Royal Family of Tripura at a time of abundance. In our own house, I have seen all the dimensions of luxury; supremacy; fanciness and royal etiquettes. From childhood, our elders made us alert and aware that according to the royal customs, we maintain our distance from the public. They used to keep a careful eye on us so we do not mingle with those whom they would call commoners. I just could not abide by this rule. I do not know why, but ever since I can remember anything, I felt the attraction of the soil. I always wanted to stay near the soil. Those simple people of the soil, whom the elders called commoners, felt so close to my heart. Well, instead of inclining towards the non-commoners, from my childhood I gave the commoners all my heart and became a part of them. Nobody in the Royal Family approved or liked my attitude and behaviour. My Father also had no pride and prejudice, although he was a Prince of Princes, a Maharajkumar, the only heir to the Late Maharaja Ishanchandra Manikya, the Chief Minister of Tripura.

I am made in the die of my Father. His teachings are my foundation. To me, my Father was the perfect Mahapurush. My small sparks of the arts come from his training. I was the youngest among five brothers and four sisters. That is why Baba loved me a lot. He was well-versed in the arts and was a virtuous artiste. Baba could play the Sitar, with beautiful soft hands. He had a wonderful voice and could sing magnificently in the Dhrupad. He was an adept in painting and sculpturing statues. During Durga Puja, Saraswati Puja, and Kali Puja, my Father, the Late Maharajkumar Sri Nabadwipchandra Debburman Bahadur, would order the potters to leave while he sculpted the statues of the goddesses himself.

At Agartala, the Capital of Tripura, there was an education institute for Princes and the Royalty. It was called Kumar Boarding. There was no discipline there. The teachers were scared of the Princes. The professors were busy paying us royal courtesies rather than teach and discipline us. Baba did not fail to notice the indiscipline of the pupils at Kumar Boarding. He took me out of Agartala Kumar Boarding and brought me back to our house in Comilla. He kept me under his own tutelage. I was admitted in Class V at Comilla Zilla School (1).

It should be mentioned here that I was born in this Comilla on the first day of October in 1906 circa. My Mother is Queen Srijukta Nirupoma Debi.

Both the Royal Family of Tripura and our family had close ties with Kobi Guru Rabindranath Tagore. He was a close friend of my Father. Kobi Guru once visited Tripura. During that visit he stayed at our house in Comilla for a few days. Baba was his host. Baba sent my two elder brothers (the twins, Prafulla and Prashanta) to Kobi Guru’s Shantiniketan and then later to St Paul’s at Darjeeling. With me, it was different. Baba loved me so much that he did not let me out of his sight. He kept me under his direct tutelage. In the end, this turned out to be a blessing for me. Through his influence, Baba’s multi-dimensional talents of the arts and humanities were implanted in me. My first Guru in classical music was Baba. In the evenings, Baba would assemble all of us brothers and sisters for worship. Sometimes he would conduct sessions of classical music.

One of the persons through whom I grew a love for music is my younger brother, Chhor Da’ Lt. Col. Kumar Kiran Kumar Deb Burman. He was six years older than me. He had a knack for the fine arts, but due to Baba’s desire he had to join the Army. His voice was very sweet. He could sing Khutki and Murki in the proper Taans and Loys. He could paint and also sculpt statues. During his free time in the military, Chhor Da’ would keep himself busy with these activities as a pastime. In World War II, Chhor Da was a Captain of the Rifles Division (2). After the War, he returned home. He would constantly keep me amused with his music. In my childhood when he would come home on vacations from St Paul’s in Darjeeling; in my youth when he was an Infantry Captain in the Defense Force of the Patiyala Rajjya, he would immerse in music with me, and also discuss music with me. Of all my siblings, Chhor Da’ was my favourite. His influence on my music is immense. Unfortunately, Chhor Da’ died in 1943. His death hurt me a lot.

There was always a culture of music in our Comilla house. My Mej Di’ Kumari Tilottoma Debi was also a beautiful singer. During Puja and Holi, leading artistes and instrumentalists of India would grace our Comilla house. On their way to Agartala, they would stay at our house for a few days. We would listen to them in awe as they sang and performed day in and day out. Listening to these maestros at Comilla and Agartala helped tune my ears in classical music from schooldays. When I was in Class V, I performed a song Baba taught me at the Saraswati Puja programme at our school. That was my first public performance. The year was 1915 circa. I was about nine. After this performance, I became popular among my schoolmates. As if I became a hero. Our Head Sir wrote a nice letter to Baba about my first performance.

At that time, Comilla had an established Dhrupad and Kheyal singer in Sri Shyamacharan Datta. He would give personal tutelages at many houses in Comilla. I was so much attracted to the Western style of classical singing in our music that although Shyamacharan Babu expressed his desire to teach me, in the end I was unwilling to learn from him. It was Baba who gave me my first lessons in music.

Parallel to classical music, I developed a love for our folk music. We had an elderly servant. His name was Madhab. On Sundays, when school was closed, in the afternoon, just after lunch, Madhab would recite the Ramayana in tunes. It was Madhab’s simple and plain style of Ramayana rendition that enchanted me more than the Taans and the Khutkis.There was no Ustadi in him. And yet, he could sing so fluently and so effortlessly. Baul Bhatiyali singers; singers of Gajon and Kali Dance; Fakirs, Bosthams and others were regular visitors to our Comilla house. Their renditions would simply enchant me. There was another servant in our house. His name was Anwar. Anwar was my fishing Guru. He would make his fishing rod cutting bamboos from our bamboo garden. He would cut thread and tie it to the rod. In all his worldly possessions there was only one box. He would bring out the bait from this rusty box. Anwar gave me my Haate Khori in fishing from this rod and bait.

Our house in Comilla stood on sixty bighas of land. It was lush in vegetation. The compound had fruit and vegetables gardens and flower beds. We also had very old trees. There were three large ponds full of fish. They were all Baba’s hobby. Baba would plant trees himself. He would assist the gardener in digging the earth. Baba would go to the Gomuti River himself to collect fish lings and fill up our ponds every year. Anwar and I would wait for our chance. The moment we got it, we would sit together with our rods and angle for fish. We would sing songs by the banks of the ponds. We would walk the on premises of our house and chit chat away the hours. Right now, I cannot express in words how sweet those days were.

At night when Anwar took his Dotara and started singing Bhatiyali, I would lose my sense of rhythm memorizing grammar. I knew this would lead to a scolding from my teacher the next morning. I would also lose all my concentration on arithmetic and grammar. I would go to Anwar and get lost in the tunes and the lyrics of his Bhatiyali. It was Madhab and Anwar who were my first two Gurus in our folk music. In Ustadi music, you need to practice whole heartedly. You have to follow the notes of the Sargam, its Taals, Loy and Meer-Gamak. Funny, there was no such thing in Anwar’s music. In simple tunes, with such sweet throwing, Anwar would enchant my heart. As much as I loved classical music, I would be equally enthralled by Madhab and Anwar’s songs.

There was a playing ground with the school. Beside that ground, there was an old banyan tree. During the Tiffin period, we would have regular song sessions beneath that old banyan tree. I would sing Anwar’s songs in an open field. Dharmashagor lay beside that field. I had the time of my life singing beneath those old trees; be that in the scorching heat of the Sun; in the rains; in the storms; or in the wintry cold. You cannot experience that pleasure anymore. The urbanites will not be able to appreciate its value. They also will not be able to find it anymore. I cannot express in words how Anwar’s simple and plain lyrics and tunes would make the physiology and the spirituality of the rendezvous of Randha and Krishna sound so heavenly. Let me now tell you how these songs saved me and my friends one day.

I was a student of Class IX. I was with my friends and class mates at Kamalasagor. This was ten miles away from Comilla. We went there to enjoy the Puja Mela. At that time of the year, a Mela would be held surrounding the Kali Mandir. People from distant villages would travel to enjoy the Mela. After we enjoyed ourselves, we came to Kamalasagor Rail Station. The train to Comilla was about to start. All of us hopped on to the train. We forgot to buy tickets. We were caught by the TT for travelling without tickets. The Station Master of Comilla took us to a go-down near the station and locked us in. When I left the house, I did not bother to take permission from Baba. I thought we would be back before Sunset. So, there was no need to take permission. Now in the go-down, finding no way to get out, I started crying. Mohit, my class mate, came up with a plan. He told us, “The Station Master’s Mother is a big fan of music. She came to our house a few days ago. Hearing Dhop-Kirtan she got emotional and started crying. Sachin start singing your Bhatiyali and Baul songs. If you sing them, then there’s a chance of getting out of here”. I started singing in an exhausted voice. There was no life in the music. At that moment, my only goal was to return back home. Somehow, the song did its magic thanks to Mohit’s Bahaduri. My singing reached the ears of the Station Master’s Mother. Within ten minutes the magic started to work. The gate of the go-down opened. We all saw the Station Master’s Mother standing in front of us. After listening to the songs, she listened to our story from her Son. She let us go free. That was not the end. Before we left, the lady was even kind enough to serve us sweets.

I spent my school life with lot of pleasure. The thought of grammar and arithmetic would give me a fever. Nevertheless, somehow, at the age of fourteen in 1920, I passed the Matriculation from Comilla Zilla School. The next year in 1921, Baba admitted me in the Intermediate in Arts at Victoria College, Comilla. I had no interest towards studies.

Every year at the Nabab Bari, next door, dancers used to perform. I would bunk my studies and sneak in. I would reach on the dot. Night after night, I would enjoy the music and performances of the Majlishes. Besides all this, I would bunk classes and roam around the villages surrounding Comilla and Agartala to listen to and get close to Bhatiyali and Baul singers. The air was full of their songs. At times of leisure I would go along with Anwar to catch fish. My addiction to fishing remained even while I was in Kolkata. I would go out to catch fish with friends from the ponds in the outskirts of Kolkata. After coming to Bombay (Mumbai) I became a member of the ‘Pawai Lake’ and have caught fish there. Sri Mukul Basu, the youngest brother of Sri Neetin Basu, Producer Sri Guru Dutt and many others have been my companions. Fishing was an outlet to relax in leisure time.

I also had a love for lawn tennis. At our house in Comilla, there was a lawn tennis court. I used to play there regularly. I even earned the title of a tennis champion. Before my Matriculation, Baba would determine when and for how long I could stay outside the house. When I got admitted in College, Baba would never call me for explanations if I wanted to go to listen to music. Rather, Baba would encourage my activities. He would remind me two things, though. ‘Make sure you eat regularly, and remember you have to pass each exam in your first attempt. So make sure you allocate enough time for your studies. I will never discourage you from learning or listening to music. You are now old enough to know your own good and own bad’. And that was it. There were no further regulations on me after this.

SOURCE: Sargamer Nikhad, Biography of Sachin Deb Burman narrated to Salil Ghosh. Published in the Desh Magazine during 24 Magh to 21 Chaitra, 1376 BE, 1969 circa. This translation is based on Sachin Kortar Gaaner Bhuban by Khagesh Deb Burman, published by Prantik, Kolkata, Third Edition, 2011, PP 223-252.

TRANSLATION: Asrar Chowdhury. He teaches in the Department of Economics at Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Email:;

COVER PHOTO: Anowar Hossain, leading stamp designer in Bangladesh


(1): Before he was admitted in Comilla Zilla School, Sachin Korta studied at Yusuf School in Comilla.
This would be World War I, since Chhor Da’ died in 1943 during World War II.


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