In this series of articles, Cuckoo News documents the revival* of a musical genre, Bangla Khayal, by a musical genius, Kabir Suman.
“Light filters through foliage”. Photo by Koli Mitra
On the cold morning of January 17, 2021, Kabir Suman was doing daily riyaaz at his home in sunny Calcutta when he heard the voices of visitors. They were, “vagabond words” as he called them. They drifted in from heaven knows where and filled his imagination. And they refused to leave.
Perhaps they drifted in through the open window, much like the sounds of the street that Kabir could not, did not want to stop from floating in. Like light streaming in through foliage. When he records his daily riyaaz sessions into delightful audio clips which are, by now, a treasure trove of rich renditions in Bangla Khayal, the genre he is passionately trying to revive, he doesn’t make use of filters. “Noise will enter through doors and windows,” he says defiantly, characteristically. His audio clips are interspersed with generous dozes of his signature tongue-in-cheek humour. “Dogs are barking,” he had once interrupted himself to point out during one of these sessions, adding, “As they ought to.” He used the formal, respectful form of “they” in Bengali while referring to the strays.
Or perhaps the visitors – the vagabond words – were always there lurking in the shadows. Like unexpressed emotions.
On the cold morning of January 17, 2021, Kabir captured the visitors – the vagabond words – and turned them into the lyrics of his latest rendition of Bangla Khayal.
“The one who is not here is here. The one who is here is not here,” it goes.
“The one who is near is far. The one who is far is near.
“Cryptic thoughts and vagabond words.
“The one who leaves does not return. The one who returns does not leave.
“The face that the mirror reflects is the mirror that reflects the face.”
This time Kabir set his lyrics to Raga Barwa. “Not Marwa with an ‘M’ but Barwa with a ‘B’,” he clarifies. Barwa is lesser known than Marwa, a raga that delves deep and goes well with lofty lyrics.
Barwa is bolder, more brooding.
Kabir makes his Vagabond words dance to the tunes of Barwa beautifully. Like a perfect blend, they seem made for each other. Indeed, in a recent Facebook post, Kabir used the marriage analogy for Bangla Khayal. “Khayal, like marriage, is an institution. It too needs to be infused with fresh energy to survive. Otherwise it too will soon become stale, pointless and therefore eventually redundant.”
Not only his lyrics, but the ragas into which he weaves his words, reflects this newness.
Kabir Suman’s latest rendition is an example of that. Indeed, he calls the current rendition, a “drishtanto” or example of Bangla Khayal.