The Nikhad of the Sargam. Autobiography of SD Burman. Translation: Asrar Chowdhury. Chapter 3

Cover Photo: The Nikhad of the Sargam by Anowar Hossain
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 10, 2015

THE NIKHAD OF THE SARGAM: CHAPTER: THREE
BY SD Burman and Salil Ghosh. Translation: Asrar Chowdhury

 

It was Sri Hemen Roy who first introduced me to professional theatres in Kolkata. I have mentioned earlier that it was his penned lyrics that lead to my first recording. At his initiative, I composed music for two dramas, Sati Teertha and Janani. My compositions received acclamation by the listeners. The newspapers and magazines highly praised my compositions. In the Kolkata stage, Srimati Niharbala was one of the leading singers. I taught her music. She also sang some of my compositions.

There were nine songs in Sati Teertha. I composed all of them. Those who were around at that time in Kolkata will recall these songs. Chokher Jole Bhijiye Dilam Golar Belar Mala; Chol Rahi Tui Ratanpure; Jouban Aaj Duliye Dile, and others.

During my association with the Kolkata Stage, I came into close contact with many famous artistes and litterateurs. They all loved to listen to me sing and also liked my music compositions. Durgadas Bandyapadhyay, Monilal Ganguli, Jogesh Chowdhury, Noresh Mitra, Ahindra Chowdhury, and of course Shishir Bhaduri were among these luminaries. I revered all of them with utmost respect. They liked to listen to me sing and listen to my songs. During this time I started to become close to the Stage. There was not one new production in the Kolkata Stage I would not watch. Later I became close friends with Chhobi Biswas, and Jahar Ganguli. Jahar Ganguli and I were both football fanatics. However, he was a supporter of Mohan Bagan, and I of East Bengal. When Mohan Bagan lost, he would be silent with me for some time. Likewise, when East Bengal would lose, the two of us would be equally at it.

Today, as I recall all these Pundit people in the evening of my life, I feel a loss. Many of them are no more. But, that was a time of creativity. Everybody was happy in creating. Although all of us had to go through struggle there was endless fun in the creative activities. If only those days would come back!

During this time, I met the famous movie producer and director Sri Madhu Basu. Whenever there was a play or a cinema under his direction, I would be present. I taught music to his wife, Srimati Sadhana. I have mentioned before that I sang in Madhu Basu’s cinema Selima in the role of a beggar. I do not think it would be out of context if I mention here what Madhu Babu wrote in his autobiography, Amar Jeeban.

‘I rented a flat beside where Roxy Cinema is located today at Chowringhee Place. I started life afresh in the beginning of 1933 … Sadhana started learning music again. In those days, there were frequent and regular music Jalshas in our house. Among those who frequently attended those Jalshas, I specially recall Mihir Babu (Mihir Kiran Bhattacharya, elder brother of Timir Boron), Sachin Deb Burman, and Himu (Himanshu Datta, Sur Sagar). Sachin showed keen interest when I requested if he would teach Sadhana music. Needless to mention, he did not ask for remuneration.

Baba left the material world on April 27, 1924. Against my will, I had to go to Kolkata to finish the shooting of Selima … A famous music director of today acted in a small role in Selima. The role was that of a beggar. This music director had just started to make a name. He was also teaching music to Sadhana. During a conversation one day, I mentioned to him there is a role of a beggar in the movie. There is not much to do. Just sit and sing a song. He was shocked the moment he heard. “What are you saying, Mr Bose? Me, act in a film? You do know my family. If I start acting in a film, they shall certainly boycott me. Just because I sing, many in my family say many things”. I put his mind to rest. “Don’t worry. We’ll do such a make-up with a moustache and a beard that nobody will be able to recognize you”. In the end, he gave in. He sang the song excellently. That gentleman is today’s famous music director, Kumar Sachin Debburman’.

I had the privilege of knowing Kazi Nazrul Islam closely for a long time. He used to love me a lot. I am an artiste blessed by his love. Many times I have listened to Kazi Da’ read out his writings and songs, and recite his poems. He also liked my songs and compositions. He would visit my house and enchant us with his poems and songs. Whenever I rendered one of my own compositions, he would encourage me with no bounds and would shower me with praise. He even instructed me to record a few of his compositions. He composed them especially for me. I listened to Kazi Da’ and recorded them. Thanks to Kazi Da’s genius, all of the songs became popular. Many have heard my rendition of Chokh Gelo, Chokh Gelo, Keno Dakish ReChokh Gelo Pakhi Re. Within four to five minutes Kazi Da’ penned the lyrics and came up with the composition. I requested Kazi Da’ to give me a ‘ticklish’ tune. Kazi Da’ almost instantly gave the tune. My association with Kazi Da’ is one of the most important events of my life.

It was during this time that I first recorded my songs for Hindusthan Products. I mentioned before that Sri Hemendra Kumar Ray was the lyricist of one of my first two recorded songs in Bangla. The first line was Dakle Koli Roj Bihone Mather Baate Jai. The first line of the other song was Ei Pothe Aj Esho Priyo, Koro Na Ar Bhul. Sri Shailen Ray was the lyricist of this song. There I was, listening to my own song in my own voice. In the beginning that was very thrilling to me. After this, Hindustan Company recorded some more of my songs, most of which were in Bangla. There were a few Hindi songs too. Most probably, I started recording for HMV in 1947. In the beginning, Hemendra Ray used to write lyrics for me. Later Sudhirendra Sanyal and Shailen Ray also wrote lyrics for me.

I wrote to Sri Ajay Bhattacharya to come to Kolkata and write songs for me. Ajay came to Kolkata with no delay. After he arrived, Ajay wrote the lyrics of all my songs. When Ajay left us prematurely, then Sri Gauriprasanna Majumder and Sri Robi Guhamajumder wrote lyrics for me. I have recorded quite a few of their songs.

All type of the arts has always attracted me; painting, dance, stage acting and all others. In 1935 I saw Srimati Bala Saraswati’s Bharat Natyam dance for the first time in Kolkata. I was enchanted by this artiste’s dance and acting. Uday Shankar was my favourite dance artiste. I would be present at his programmes whenever he would perform in Kolkata. I was also thrilled after seeing the Guru Ji of Uday Shankar, Sri Nambudi’s dance. I would not miss a single good programme in Kolkata. Many times I have seen dance dramas of students from Shanti Niketan under the Supervision of Kobi Guru.

Besides this, I would like to mention the Chhou dance of Seraikela, and the dances of Sri Achhon Maharaj of Lucknow and Sri Shambu Maharaj. The Thumris of Shambu Maharaj and their Bols have always fascinated me. Our Agartala was one of the prominent centres for Monipuri dance. I had the privilege of enjoying the Monipuri dance of many leading artistes at Agartala. In Kolkata I have watched the Western dance of Anna Pavlova. Later on, I have watched Ballet, Opera, Musicals Dances in Moscow, Leningrad, Helsinki, London, Paris and other cities. At Helsinki and Moscow, I had the opportunity to listen to the folk music and classical music of various countries of the world.

Although music is my first love, dance, painting, and sculptures have equally attracted me. I have to mention the famous Sri Debi Prasad Roychowdhury. His niece is my eldest sister-in-law. He did a wonderful sketch on the cover of one of my song notebooks. It was based on Surer Puja. The notebook is still with me and preserved carefully. Debi Prasad Babu left and settled in Madras (Chennai). He joined the Art College there. I found myself in Bombay during the middle of World War II. With it the Third World War of my life started.


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: asrarul@juniv.edu.

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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

THE NIKHAD OF THE SARGAM: CHAPTER: TWO
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.


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: asrarul@juniv.edu.

COVER PHOTO: Anowar Hossain, leading stamp designer in Bangladesh

 

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

THE NIKHAD OF THE SARGAM: CHAPTER: ONE
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: asrarul@juniv.edu; asrarul@gmail.com

COVER PHOTO: Anowar Hossain, leading stamp designer in Bangladesh

NOTES:

(1): Before he was admitted in Comilla Zilla School, Sachin Korta studied at Yusuf School in Comilla.
(2):
This would be World War I, since Chhor Da’ died in 1943 during World War II.