The Nikhad of the Sargam. Autobiography of SD Burman. Translation: Asrar Chowdhury. Chapter 2

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

There was a separate Dhai Maa for each one of us siblings. From cradle they loved and took care of us with all their heart. My elderly Dhai Maa was Robir Maa. She was called after her son, Robi. However, I would call her, Dhai Maa. From my birth, she brought me up with love and care. It was not possible to tell if she was my Maa or if she was Robi’s Maa. In my childhood, I was very fair. Dhai Maa fondly named me Dalim Kumar. Twenty four hours of the day, she kept me under her Anchol of love and care. Ever since I can recall anything, she was there for everything; to feed me, bathe me, and also tuck me in to bed. Even in College, when I was out of the house, she would patiently wait for my return. I would have to be prepared for a Bokuni if I were late. Later when I permanently came to Kolkata in 1925, Dhai Maa also came with me to stay because she could not live without seeing me. She stayed with me for two years and returned in 1927. At home, old age complications caught Dhai Maa. She soon left the material world. At the time of her death, it was not possible for me to meet her since was in Kolkata then.

I passed the IA (Intermediate in Arts) in 1922. All of my elder brothers did their studies away from home. I was now ready to go to Kolkata to study. I expressed this desire of mine to Baba. The bottom line truth was the desire to go to Kolkata and learn music. Baba did not want to let me out of his sight. “You’re my youngest Son. All the others are abroad. You’ll stay with me for at least two more years. This is my desire”. I could not go against Baba’s will. And that was it. I stayed in Comilla for another two years. I got admitted in the BA at Victoria College, Comilla in 1923. The villages, the sky and the winds of Purba Bangla did not want to let go of me just yet. I found an excuse to have breathing space and give all myself to nature. In the end it turned out in my favour.

Thus started my BA studies. I realized I had crossed adolescent and was now in youth. With new enthusiasm I would roam around the villages, the fields, and their wharfs. With the farmers and the fishermen, I would float boats into the river. In between vacations and bunking classes, I would spend time with the Bauls, the Bosthams, the Bhatiyali singers, and the Gajon groups. I would sing with them; listen to them; learn from them. In the midst of all this, there were sessions of smoking on their Hookah. Baba never found out that I would share the same Hookah with them.

There is no village; there is no river in this part of Purba Bangla that I have not set foot on or I have not traveled. During vacations and in between studies, I would collect songs. Whatever I can show and offer today, is the wealth I accumulated during that period. Today I am rich only in this wealth. It is this wealth that cheers my heart whenever I enjoy it. It is this wealth with which I have remained a humble servant to music. It all originates from what I collected during that period and what I can remember in memories.

I have composed in almost all genres, but in Folk Music my Soul finds life. I grew up in the shadows of these simple people of the soil. This is why their simple folk tunes come naturally to me. Those tunes have created my world of fantasy. They come automatically. They vibrate and come to my voice spontaneously. For this I do not need to practice. The tunes are engraved in me.

Nobody could find the strict rules and regulations; etiquettes and formalities of the Royal Family in me. Once you have experienced the vast open green fields of the villages; once the shades of the ancient trees have hidden you away and kept you within nature; once you have walked a village at night when one or two kerosene lamps are all you could see; once you have fallen in love with the blue skies; once you have become one with the simple people and gossiped hour after hour, how in heavens can the world of the Royal Palace tie you down?

There is a phrase in Hindi: Raag Rasui, Pagri- Kabhi Kabhi Bon Jai. You don’t always like good food, good music and a good headgear all the time. This phrase does not apply to folk music. In the rural environment, Baul and Bhatiyali always complement each other.

There would be an annual drama at our college. I would be the music director of the drama. As far as I can remember, our history professor would be the director of the drama. He was also a lyricist. He would pen down lyrics. I would put a tune to them. At that time, I was a big wheel amongst the students at college.

I passed my BA in 1924. Baba took me to Kolkata in 1925 and got me admitted in the MA class at Kolkata University. I started studying English Literature. I lived in the Tripura Palace at Ballygunge Road. My surroundings changed all of a sudden. It was difficult for me to adapt with my new surroundings at first. Kolkata, the capital of the British period, dazzled me in all its razzmatazz. After coming to the city, I felt like a fool, a misfit. The man-made city seemed unreal. When I first saw the neon lights, the wide roads, they all seemed artificial. I got exhausted and panted for breath. One of the first things that shocked me in Kolkata was when I saw they sell earth. I, being a son of the soil, was amazed seeing earth selling in Kolkata. Even more surprising was the experience that people buy this earth.

The whole day was spent in the university library. The moment I would return home, I would long to see the skies. The neon lights would make the sky look pale. Because of these artificial lights, I could not tell when it was Purnima or when it was Amabashya.

In this Kolkata atmosphere, I would long for the old days I left behind. Singing songs and playing the flute around the three ponds of our house. There is another proverb about Tripura that everybody here can play the flute. Ever since I can recall anything I could play our special flute the Tiprai Banshi. These memories of my initial life used to pull me back. I would fall asleep with these memories. In the morning, I would wake up like a machine. I was ready to become a machine in the mechanized city of Kolkata and start the day.

While I was studying in Comilla, I nurtured a burning desire to come to Kolkata and listen to and learn from the great Ustads of Hindustani classical music. I lost interest in the MA. After one year, I quit studies. In 1925, I started learning Hindustani classical music from the blind singer Krishna Chandra Dey (KC Dey). Baba granted me permission. Keshta Babu accepted me as his favourite disciple. He took lot of pain to teach me with great care. At the same time, I did not give up my love for Tennis that I had picked up in Comilla. I became a member of the YMCA at Chowringhee and played regularly. I noticed an Anglo-Indian dominance there. In the beginning they would not pay attention to me. One day I met a Marker from South India. At his advice, every day I would reach the club by two in the afternoon and practice with him. For a day’s practice, I would give him Eight Annas. He would let me practice for an hour. This improved my game. After some time, all the members wanted to play with me. Soon, I became a member of the South Club. I played so much that after playing my voice would go down. Slowly my voice became husky. In the evening during Rewaz I found that my throat would pain. Keshta Babu was very watchful. He noticed the change in my voice. He found the cause to my throat pains. He asked me to stop sport. At his order, I stopped Tennis at once. Within two weeks my natural voice returned back. Keshta Babu saved my voice. Keshta Babu’s teaching methods were amusing. He would tell his friends I was destined to do well in music. There was no compromise with regular Rewaz. However, Keshta Babu strongly disliked excess of anything. He advised me not to do excess practice.

Baba was not happy that I quit my MA. Soon after, Baba came to Kolkata. He forcibly admitted me in a Law College and returned to Agartala. How could I learn the loopholes of the law? The moment I saw those books, I would feel giddy. Law just would not enter into my head. After a few months, I quit studying law. This time, Baba wanted to send me to Britain to learn the art of administering the State. At that time, Baba was a Minister of Tripura. He arranged a high post in the Government for me. I cannot express the dilemma that I went through. I love Baba. I respect him. On the one hand there was the dilemma to fulfill his desire, and on the other hand the dilemma to do something that would never be possible by me. In the end, Baba gave in. He accepted my desire. I did not have to go to Britain. I also did not have to accept a ministerial post in the Government.

I kept on learning music from Keshta Babu. Later with his permission, I started learning from his Guru, Ustad Badal Khan Shaheb, who was almost ninety years old at the time. Even at that age, I saw him walk to his favourite disciple’s house. He was slim, but had a strong body like a straight cane. This was a time when all the leading artistes of Ustad Badal Khan Shaheb were his disciples. Famous names included Krishna Chadra Dey, Girija Shankar Chakraborty, Bhishma Deb Chattapadhyay, and many others. I would be present in all of Keshta Babu’s programmes. He would also go to the programmes of great singers, instrumentalists and dancers. He would take me to these Mehfils.

Sri Shyamlal Kshetri, the famous harmonium player and Thumri specialist, was based in Kolkata at that time. I learned Benarasi Thumri from him and also how to construct the Benarasi Bols. At that time, my desire to learn classical music was very strong. Seeing my respect and devotion to music, Shyamlal Ji became fond of me. Great artistes outside Kolkata revered Shyamlal Ji so highly that if he invited all of them, they would come. His house was always graced with the presence of these artistes. It was my good fate that I was able to be present at Shyamlal Ji’s house regularly and witness all these great performers first hand and live. During one of these programmes, I met the music aficionado Sri Dhurjotiprasad Mukhopadhyay. Byas! In that very first encounter, Dhurjoti Babu became very fond of me. Till his death his fondness towards me blessed me. He was a music professor at Lucknow; an authority on Indian music. Whenever he came to Kolkata we would meet. He would always encourage me in music. Dhurjoti Da’ was one of my greatest mentors who would encourage me. I met him for one last time in 1937. He has listened to leading artistes from all over India. I do not know why, but he would like to listen to a meager artiste like myself? I respected him a lot. Once he took me to Sri Atulprasad Sen. After hearing me sing, Atulprasad was so happy. He encouraged me a lot.

My first acquaintance with Girija Babu was also at Shyamlal Ji’s house. He was the most famous among the local artistes in Kolkata at the time. I had listened to his songs many times. During this time, I met the film promoter Sri Sudhirendra Syanal. Later this acquaintance turned into a good friendship. Sudhirendra joined The New Theatre as their publicity secretary. He was a writer, a music aficionado, but above all a very humorous person. I had just started to compose music. Sudhirendra wrote the lyrics to some of my tunes. You would always find me at the Addas at his house. He would also come to visit me whenever he fancied. Hour after hour he would listen to me sing. This is how we kept contact when I was in Kolkata. After coming to Bombay, I saw him for the last time in 1950; that too, in Kolkata. He was a friend very close to my heart. He was a great sympathizer to my songs. I will never be able to forget him.

I need to mention another person: Sri Hemendrakumar Roy, editor of the weekly Nach Ghar. He was a litterateur, lyricist and a music enthusiast. It will be difficult for me to express the encouragement I received from Krishna Chandra Dey, Hemen Roy, Sudhirendra and Dhurjoti Da’ during 1925 to 1930. Had it not been for their encouragement and cooperation, I may not have been able to proceed furthermore. With their encouragement, I took the path to devote myself to the services of music.

In those days, there was mot one Jalsa or musical programme where you would not find my presence. I have experienced the mastery of most of the leading artistes of India. All night, I would listen to these maestros, enchanted. That itself was a great education. To learn music, you need a good Guru and have to practice regularly. You also need to train your ears by listening as much as possible. Attending all these Mehfils and Jalsas was equally important. The experience tuned my ears. I think this is why may be I have been able to create my own style of singing. From my experience in life, my education in music matured only after learning the techniques and listening to music. Slowly and gradually I adapted with the normal life of Kolkata as a lover and servant to music.

The Indian State Broadcasting Co. was in its infant days in Kolkata. All India Radio was created later. This broadcasting company summoned me to sing. My song will be aired on radio. What a splendid thought! I got so excited. I will never forget the joy I felt that day. Sri Nripen Majumder and Sri Rai Chand Boral were executives of the company. I was given fifteen minutes to sing. I sang two songs to which I, myself, gave tunes. I received a Ten Taka remuneration. That was the first money I earned in my life. You cannot forget the joy you feel after earning your first income. It felt more than one Lac Taka to me. This was the first time two of my composed songs were aired on radio. I earned Ten Taka. This moved me deeply inside. Nripen Babu highly praised my composition.

Although I was residing in Kolkata during 1925-1930, I would go back home to Comilla and Agartala three times each year to spend time with Baba, Maa, my brothers and sisters and dear & near ones. Those trips back home from Kolkata were out of this world. I was back in the villages. I was back to collecting songs. I would compose tunes in the villages. Hunting was one of my childhood whims. Sometimes I would accompany my friends on hunting trips. During my visits to Comilla, I would meet my old friends, Sur Sagor Himangshu Datta, Ajay Bhattacharya, and Subodh Purakayastha and spend endless joyous times with them. All of them would come to our house in Comilla. We would have one musical Adda after another. Taking in the essence of Comilla and Agartala, I would return back to Kolkata. My heart was always left far behind.

Baba left us eternally in 1930. I felt so helpless. It took me quite some time to accept the reality. Ever since 1925 when I came to live in Kolkata permanently, Baba wrote to me regularly from Comilla and Agartala. He would encourage me. He would give me advice. He bore all my living expenses and music tuitions in Kolkata. During his life time, I did not shoulder one responsibility. I had no tension when it came to money. All of a sudden I fell into a bottomless sea. Had I decided to return back to Comilla or Agartala, I could have lived a comfortable life at home and joined a ministerial post in the Government. My elder brothers advised me along this line. All of them were employed in high ministerial posts in the Government. Alas! That life style did not attract me.

With the single objective of devoting myself to the services of music for the rest of my life, I decided to struggle. I left my residence in the Tripura House of Kolkata. I rented a one room apartment and started living there. My relatives and all members of the Royal Family strongly opposed my decision. They strongly protested a prince living the life of a commoner. I paid no attention to all these protests. I was adamant. I decided to stay in that small flat in Kolkata and devote the rest of my life towards music and not take any financial benefit from my family or the Royal Family. I practiced day in and day out in those days. I did not give up on meeting and learning from the Great Ustads. I started private music tuitions to bear my sustenance.

During this time I started composing on my own and used to sing the compositions myself. The Editor of Nach Ghar Sri Hemendrakumar Roy would write the lyrics most of the times. My first record was from Hindusthan Records. It was the song Dakle Kokil Roj Bihone. Sri Hemendrakumar Roy was the lyricist. Side B of the 78 RPM included E Poth Aaj Esho Priya. The lyricist was Shailen Roy. I started to experiment, trying to develop a style of my own. During 1930 to 1936 I blended folk tunes and Indian classical music to my compositions. This was different from others. Many people inspired and encouraged me. I have to mention one name with special respect. He is the music aficionado and a Pundit, the Maha Rajah of Natore. Others include Sri Amiyanath Syanal, Sri Dhurjotikaprasad, Sri Khogen Mitra, and Sri Hemen Roy. With their encouragement and prayers I managed to develop my own style and also earn recognition from the listeners.

I first met the Maha Rajah of Natore at a Music Conference in 1935. I sang in the conference. He liked my rendition. After that, he would always encourage me. He would highly praise my singing. He would also invite me to his house and sing for me. This was a time when the house of the Maha Rajah of Natore was the assembly of leading musicians and artistes throughout India. I lost count of the number of Jalsas that were organized at his house. In those Jalsas I listened to others and was also fortunate to sing live.

Sri Amiyanath Syanal was another music buff. From him, I learned how to construct pure Thumri Bols. This Pundit of Indian Classical music not only listened to leading artistes of Indian classical music, he also made deep friendship with them. He always inspired and encouraged me in whatever way he could. In this regard, I think we should mention Sri Syanal’s Smritir Atole the serial that was published in the Desh Magazine. The way he presented the mood of formal Indian classical music was amazing. Sri Khogen Mitra and Dhurjoti Da’s support would constantly boost me.

Besides these eminent people, I cannot forget the help another genuine music aficionado bestowed on me. In my life, I have not seen another person much devoted to music. His name is Sri Bhabashindhu Mukhopadhyay. A musician of such high caliber, he rarely performed, although his voice was sweet and he was an adept in playing the Sitar and the Esraj. It was through music, Bhabashindhu and I became intimate friends and he embraced me with all affection. He would willingly accompany to my Jalshas. Sometimes it would be the Sitar. Other times it would be the Esraj. He and my music would become one. Absent minded as he was, he would turn up at my house with his instruments. He and I would sing hour after hour, both us losing track of time. Other times, after hearing a part or a whole rendition, he would leave. He would not listen to another piece of music for some time so that the resonance of that piece of music resonated in him. This was how much Bhabashindhu loved music. He truly inspired me in music in my early days.


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.


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

COVER PHOTO: Anowar Hossain, leading stamp designer in Bangladesh



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