Cuckoo News readers know all about our recurring feature of the maestro Kabir Suman’s on-going work in Bangla Khayal revival. You might also know from the series of related articles written about him by our editor in chief–and my sister–Dola Mitra, that Kabir Suman or “Suman Kaku” (“Uncle Suman”) has been a beloved fixture in our family for a long, long time. In the last couple of decades, Dola has come to know him in a professional capacity as well–as a journalist she has covered and interviewed Kabir Suman as a musician and a political leader. They have developed a friendship as grownups working in the creative/intellectual life of Kolkata. And in that capacity, I’ve heard her refer to him on occasion as “Kabir-da” (“elder-brother-Kabir”) in keeping with the sweet tradition of quintessential Bengali fondness & respect. But he’ll always be “Suman-Kaku” to me. And aside from his awe-inspiring music, he will always be my brilliant uncle who loved my brilliant Dad and was part of a constant, rotating roster of brilliant, if quirky, friends of my parents who graced my brilliant, if quirky, childhood.
Our father, Prasun Mitra, was a towering artistic and intellectual polymath, whom I remember being very frequently at the keyboard or some string instrument, composing a new song, or rearranging an existing composition. Sometimes, even when he was writing some piece of prose with no intention of any musical attachment, he would stop to sing or play something as a way to riff with his own imagination. He was a person who radiated warmth, humor, love and joy. Our home was often bustling with my parents’ motley and fascinating friends, like Suman Kaku, and ringing with the sound of music, poetry, laughter and conversations on every imaginable topic. Dad and Suman Kaku, particularly, spent long hours making music and sharing musical ideas. Sometimes my two sisters and I (and our friends) listened eagerly; sometimes it was but a comforting backdrop to whatever youthful pursuit we were up to. But the experience provided a rich texture to our growing up. It was a gift. And I feel truly blessed by it.
Today, Dola shared with me another gift, one that brought back to me the vivid memories of ALL that.
It is a gift of music that Suman Kaku gave to her, recalling his own youth and some of his earliest artistic stirrings, inspired by the inimitable Abanindranath Tagore (aka “Aban Thakur”) and his powerful art, especially the children’s story Rajkahini. Today, on Abinandranth’s 151st birthday, Kabir Suman paid tribute by developing a Bangla Khayal lyric (or “bandish”) to go with a raga that he created on Abinandranth’s 150th birthday (and which he calls, alternately, “Aban Katha” or “Rajkahini”).
The music is the usual Kabir Suman genius, as you will hear, when you play the linked clip below. But for me, it was also a reverberation of the layers of memories and imaginings, both personal and aesthetic, brought out now, not only by the music, but by Kaku’s voice and the words he uses to communicate to Dola what it all means.
At one point, describing the wish to share–not far and wide, but to share personally with someone specific– he says “Aaj Prasun-Da nei” (today, my brother Prasun is missed). Just a few words, but, to me, absolutely loaded with meaning and the deeply felt absence of that specific someone, Prasun-Da. When someone like Suman Kaku articulates that absence with such understated specificity, those of us who share that feeling can’t help but be a bit overwhelmed with emotion. Every generation, be it Aban Thakur’s generation, or Prasun Mitra and Kabir Suman’s generation, or my generation, or yours… each of us who has been inspired and passed on that inspiration through words and through art… especially music… we all deal in nostalgia to some degree. But it is not a lament. It’s a contemplation, a reverie full of gratitude, even a celebration. As Suman Kaku said to Dola, Prasun-Da is missed, but YOU are here. Just as YOU, dear reader, are here with us at Cuckoo-News.
What you are about hear, as explained in the clip by Kabir Suman himself, is a bandish to exemplify how pieces of Bangla lyrics can be used to sing Khayal, and fittingly, he uses his own raga, created in honor of one of the greatest Bengali artists of all time.
So here it is, a gift Suman Kaku gave to Dola on Aban Thakur’s birthday, remembering his Prasun Da, and that Dola shared with me and that I share with you.
*The top image in this article, of a painting by Abanindranath Tagore, is in the public domain, to the best of our knowledge and belief, everywhere in the world.