In this series of articles, Cuckoo News documents the revival of a musical genre, Bangla Khayal, by a musical genius, Kabir Suman.
“Banglai jitbe, tai gaan badhi,” (Because I know that Bengal/Bengali will win……. that’s why I sing).
These are the lyrics of one of Kabir Suman’s several compositions in Bangla Khayal penned during a time when the state of Bengal was in the throes of an eight-phase election that started in March and concluded in May.
The accompanying music is replete with an ineffable combination of joy and pathos, reflective of the hope and hopelessness that has gripped our land, which has been grappling with a devastating “second wave” of the Covid-19 pandemic. The death toll has been high, a fact which has frightened and grieved but also heightened the zeal for life and the fight for survival. The tunes of Raag “Joy Bangla”, as Kabir named the new arrangement of notes, seems to have soaked in all the contradictions of the times. The virus has killed many already. And no one really knows who’s next. It’s like a biological Russian roulette. There are talks of Russian vaccines in the midst of the shortage of our homegrown variety at a time when we are proudly proclaiming our independence and self-sufficiency.
The elections take place, duly cacophonous, as all Bengal elections are, with leaders and party rank-and-file workers outdoing each other in wooing voters with loud proclamations of what they did right and what their rivals did wrong. The sins of others’ acts (and omissions) combine with the virtuousness of our own to create a tapestry of good and evil which the politician and journalist in Kabir Suman cannot help but capture in his songs.
“Bengal and Bengali is under threat if they are allowed to make any more movement inward,” says Kabir in his conversations and his compositions. In both he is equally concerned about keeping right wing fascism out and in both he is equally confident.
“I know that Bengal will win. I know that Bengali will win,” he says and he sings.
“Win” is a metaphor these elections which went beyond political power. When incumbent chief minister Mamata Banerjee, founder of the state’s ruling party, Trinamool, injured her foot during campaigning and it was alleged that it was an attack, she threw a challenge to the rivals that said, “let’s see if you can defeat me!”
The slogan, “khela hobey” or “bhanga payeyi khela hobey” (let’s play…. broken foot or not!) rent the air and graffiti filled the walls of Kolkata and rest of Bengal.
That she was a fierce fighter, as fiery as a Bengal tigress, is what her supporters stated.
Kabir has been an out and out supporter. He was invited by Mamata to join her party Trinamool just before the 2009 Parliamentary polls. The journalist and musician had agreed. “Trinamool was not a party,” he had said. “It was a movement. For change.” Kabir had contested the elections and won becoming a Member of Parliament from a former Communist stronghold, the Jadavpur constituency.
Mamata, as chief minister, has been an advocate of Bengal and Bengali.
Kabir is particularly grateful to her for honouring his request and allowing “Bangla Khayal” to be taught formally as a part of the governments many cultural initiatives.
These elections, Kabir has campaigned actively for Mamata and was convinced that Mamata would do the hat-trick.
And so he sang, “Banglai jitbe. Tai gaan badhi.”
He knew that the Bengali girl and therefore Bengal and Bengali would win.
And she did.
And so he sang/sings.