Tahmina Shafique The Complete Portfolio

31Aug/070

Pronab Ghosh (1950-2007)

Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your own wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. They teach you there is a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.’

— Charlie Parker

His music too, knew no boundaries. For all those who knew him, heard him and worked with him, Pronab Ghosh was a legend. Artistic, passionate, dedicated, admirable, awe-inspiring- this singer and music composer could be described as each one of these. And even many more.

‘The music he composed was a sparkling work,’ says singer Kabir Bokul. ‘Perhaps it is because he used imaginative combinations of tunes. There were numerous times when he would come up with a composition- a fresh tune in a matter of two minutes. That was how strong and boundless his music was.’

On August 15, as Pronab took his last breath at the BSMMU, we lost one of the most versatile and talented music composers of all time. During his career that spanned for more than three decades, Pronab managed to give birth to some of the most timeless and classic tunes. The music of songs like Shob Kichu Charte Pari, Amar Jokhon Moron Hobe, Tumi Kemon Acho, Amar shesh chithi are just a few of his timeless creations.

‘His music was unique,’ says singer Subir Nandi. ‘Each of his compositions did justice to the essence of Bangladeshi melody. Each note, each tune had that epitome of bangla.’

Even though Pronab has composed more than 300 songs, he was also a prolific and passionate singer. ‘Music was his life,’ says his wife, Sabiha Chowdhury, fighting back tears. ‘He has been singing since his childhood and went on to become the most popular singer in Jessore by the time he was sixteen.’ His wife, a singer and also his childhood friend grew up seeing Pronab experiment with different tunes. ‘He was full of zeal and energy. He was a man who celebrated life and lived every moment to the fullest.’

Born on February 3, 1950 in Badhmara Para, Jessore, Pronab grew up in a family that believed in discipline and commitment. His father Profullo Kumar Ghosh was a lawyer.

By the time he was 15, he joined the Khulna Betar and started winning hearts with his music. ‘In Jessore, even as a teenager, when he sang in gatherings, the passion and dedication he had was clear to everyone,’ remembers his wife.

During 1971, Pronab was one of those singers who rebelled and joined the Shadhin Betar Kendra. While his seven siblings and parents moved to India during 1975, Pronab stayed back and pursued his passion to the fullest. And indeed his passion was awe-inspiring for everyone. ‘His music came from inside him,’ says Kabir Bokul fondly. ‘It would take him a moment to imagine a tune that would come out of nowhere. At the end he always managed to combine the tunes freely, openly and honestly and create some of the most timeless music ever.’

When he moved to Dhaka from Jessore in 1979, his popularity as a playback singer only increased. But the best was yet to come. ‘At that time, he was still experimenting with tunes,’ says his wife.

‘He came to Dhaka as a singer and went on to become undoubtedly, the music composer who shaped the audio industry of our country. It is needless to say that his contribution to Bangladeshi music was immense,’ says Nandi.

It was after coming to Dhaka that he started working with Sheikh Sadi Khan during 1980 and his popularity began to soar. ‘He came to me as a singer,’ remembers Khan. ‘He could pull off lively and funny songs very well. He started spending a lot of time with me- going to places and looking at how I work. Soon, I got him to sing Akhoni Shomoy for a movie directed by Abdullah Al Mamun.’

The success of the first movie meant he would go on to sing for movies such as Kolmilata and Bongshodhor. ‘Working with him was a delight,’ says Khan who was also Pranob’s guru and guide. ‘He was very fun-loving and enthusiastic.’

On March 21, 1984, Pronab converted to Islam and married his childhood love and best friend, Sabiha. ‘Life with him was always wonderful,’ she says with tears welling up in her eyes. ‘He was like a little kid. Very stubborn and at the same time loving. He would never listen to me or take care of himself. There were times he would rush out to the studio just because a tune had struck his mind in the middle of the night.’

By the end of 80’s Pronab tried his hands in music composition. ‘Since he was an apt singer only in a single genre, there was very little scope for him to demonstrate his talent,’ adds Khan. But as he ventured into uncharted waters, his compositions became more successful than the songs he sang.

All who have worked with him, say that there was something very unique about him. Bokul who also worked with him, says, ‘I just cannot put a finger on it, but there was something about him that was truly wonderful. Probably, it was his enthusiasm, passion, dedication but then again we would talk forever if we want to talk about Pronab’s good qualities. Something that caught my eye was that he was very punctual and proactive.’

In recent times, Pronab had spent countless hours in the many medical centres near his house, where he would donate money to the poor for their medical needs. ‘He was a man with a big heart and always willing to offer his help. It is amazing how he managed to make a huge difference in people’s lives just by being a part of it,’ says his wife.

Maybe it was because he was willing to experiment or because he was constantly looking to create something new. But these qualities always drove him to give young artists a shot, in anticipation of finding a gem. Aside from contributing with his compostions and singing, Pronab has played another pivotal role for the industry. Because of him, countless artists were born and they all learned their trait from the master. ‘Pronab was always willing to give young artists the opportunity and it was through him that countless artists were born,’ says Nandi.

Last year, he released two songs, Buk Bhora betha and Bidhi ajke amar moron. ‘His demise was our loss. He had much more to offer,’ adds Nandi.

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31Aug/070

‘This could be a new home’

As the dawn breaks, Halima looks through the steely bars towards the distant and unknown roads. ‘I get to see the sunlight and the sky from here, yet I miss the darkness,’ she says ruefully. As she leans towards the bars, her six year old daughter Amina jumps upon her from behind. ‘Today, we will be cooking meat in our new home,’ Halima tells her lovingly.

There is an unmistaken spark in Amina’s eyes now days. ‘It’s perhaps the light, the open air and the big place,’ her mother wonders.

Their new home stands on eight acres of land situated on the Western edge of Kashempur. About an hour away from the city, Halima’s and a number of other women’s new home is the first female prison in Bangladesh.

A total of 21 women have been shifted to this new unit that has a capacity of about 200 female prisoners. Among this 10 women have been moved from Dhaka Central Jail and 11 from Gazipur Jail.

According to Brig Gen Zakir Hasan, the female prison unit was opened with limited number of convicts since the jail authorities did not get the approval of recruiting required manpower. ‘Besides, it will take another two months to complete the unit and it would depend on the government’s decision as to how fast they will pass our plans and approve the request for appointing more female staff.’

The women prisoners unit has been built on nearly 8 acres of land with a capacity of 200 prisoners. The estimated cost for construction of the female prison has been fixed at Tk 15.30 crore. ‘The structure and the construction of the prison itself are questionable,’ says a high-official of Prisons, preferring anonymity. ‘Following pressure from outside, it was in a matter of few days that the structure was built and the credibility of it is dubious.’

The prison which was planned in the early 1995 was extended till date due to problems of funding. According to officials, a large segment of the fund was in fact, given only recently and the prison was inaugurated hurriedly.

‘Our motto is to ensure their security and guide them to the path of light,’ says Zakir. ‘We are consistently working to ensure that the concept of traditional prison is changed. I personally want to ensure that we make these prisons a source of development and correction. This is the reason why the plan of this female prison consists of sections such as day care centre, beauty parlour, tailoring, handicraft and catering.’

‘If the plan is followed accordingly, this could be a live example and testimony to the fact that prisons are ought to be correction and development centres, rather than being a torture cell,’ hopes lawyer Alena Khan of BSEHR.

There are also two special cells named Night Queen-1 and Night Queen-2 for VIP female prisoners. These two cells will accommodate 20 prisoners. According to the Jailors Sultan, women will soon be cooking for themselves and also be trained to sew and make paper bags which will be sold.

‘All of the success at this moment depends much upon how fast government approves our proposal and we can employ the staff,’ says Zakir. He also expressed his disappointment at the delay on the approval and inefficiency.

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24Aug/070

‘I can smell the music, the song – as though it’s been a part of me’

Thirty-seven years ago, during the horrendous moments of the war, like others, a family was forced to leave home and take refuge in the small village. As the father put his four children’s clothes inside a small bag and asked them to leave in the cart, he looked at his seventeen-year old daughter and handed her the harmonium that she had played with since the age of three. For everyone else, it seemed insignificant- at a time when staying alive was a question, a harmonium was just meaningless.

Thirty-seven years later, as I sit before the celebrated nazrul geeti singer and the daughter who has kept the harmonium intact till date, Fatema Tuzzohra tells me, that is one moment that bonded her strongly with music. ‘At that moment, in the middle of loss and helplessness, it did not make sense as to why my father would actually want me to take that harmonium. But the only thing that made sense was that I knew what my father saw within me and I knew I was tied with music forever.’

This month, as we celebrate the legend Nazrul Islam’s Death Anniversary, Fatema tells the tale of passion and struggle; of sheer determination and how music could be not just a part of life, but life itself.

Fatema’s nazrul and modern songs have been admired by many. Tepantorer Maathe, Kare bolbo ami moner kotha, tumi besh bodle gecho, Chiro Din Kaharo Shoman Nahi jai and Ke go amar shaaj kobore are just a few songs that have earned her immense popularity.

Born in Jaipurhaat, Fatema grew up in family that valued music. ‘My father was passionate about music and he wanted me to take it very seriously,’ she remembers. ‘So music for me initially, was like studying- taking it very seriously and practicing it every day. If I did not practice one day, I just knew I would be beaten up by my father!’

Although Fatema learnt singing at the age of three, she was not allowed to participate in singing competitions. ‘My father and my guru Habibur Rahman always wanted me learn music and value it before getting into any kind of competition.’ But what perhaps built a great part of her confidence was the competition she participated in Bogra Art Council Music Competition at the age of eleven. ‘My father and I had no idea that the competition did not have any categories, so I had to compete against people as old thirty!’ she says laughing. ‘I was so nervous, but my father looked at me and asked me to sing a nazrul sangeet because that is what he felt I was best at- and at the end I won.’

It was then that she found her niche. ‘In the years ahead I practiced Nazrul Sangeet more and more. I discovered the beauty of Nazrul’s creativity. It is so versatile and ever green,’ she says. There is an unmistaken spark in her eyes when she speaks of music. It is evident that her life has been strongly associated with music.

During the war in 1971, Fatema found herself constantly struggling to keep herself connected to music. ‘For those gruesome months that we were in hiding, I would just stare blankly at the harmonium because singing was out of the question. We would be scared to even speak aloud.’

It was there that Fatema saw some of the untold tales of the war- the moments of helplessness, hunger and loss. ‘Often when we speak of the war, we speak of the bloodsheds, the fight and the bigger things. Rarely do we speak of the interior villages and the gruesome state of living. During those months, I observed each of those little things about the war,’ she says ruefully. And those little details turned into a book of her own. ‘I want to write more about the untold tales,’ she says softly.

After the war, Fatema got back to college and started her masters in Economics. ‘Music became a stronger medium of expression for me. I constantly found myself struggling to keep myself connected with music. At the Rajshahi University hall, I had to fight against the students to be able to practice. Often they would complain that my songs disturbed them.’

It was then that her professor Mumtaz and her husband offered her to practice in their house. ‘It was as though they knew what it meant to me,’ she says.

In 1975, Fatema faced yet another challenge. Her inspiration, her father was taken to jail. ‘My family was shattered at that time. My brothers were struggling to continue with their education. Ultimately, I had to give up my studies,’ she remembers. ‘We did not even know why he was arrested and during those months I missed his encouragement the most,’ she says silently. It is evident that her father played a significant role in her association with music. ‘Had it not been for him, I would not perhaps have discovered this art and passion.’ Ten years has passed since he passed away and he left a huge responsibility to Fatema, she says. ‘His dream was to see me sing…. perhaps all the time.’

Her father and the musical instruments are things she can still smell and feel. ‘It is as though it is still fresh. The old harmonium, the sitar, my father- everything that made me who I am.’

Later in 1978, after her marriage Fatema moved to Dhaka, where she joined Bangladesh Television. ‘It was during this time that I met Firoza Begum who actually recognized my talent during a rehearsal and that association with her inspired me a lot,’ she remembers affectionately. ‘My first song Jochona Korechi Ari that was actually shown on television was selected by Mostofa Monowar. I will be forever grateful to him for that support that he offered me at that time.’

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17Aug/070

‘Women’s writing is rarely read before it is rejected’

One fine morning, after two years of rigorous training and work in film-making in India, Shaheen Akhtar packed her bags and decided to return to her own idyllic niche: writing. ‘I had to come to terms with many experiences in my life and discover myself: writing in many ways offered me a chance to do just that,’ says Shaheen.

After her return, in 1997 when she started writing her first novel Palabar Path Nai, a story that explored the life of two single women in Dhaka, it was a medium through which she could express herself and also the painful experiences and the struggles of women she saw around her.

Much of this novel portrayed her life and the years of living alone in Dhaka while studying at Dhaka University. ‘I could relate myself to that situation more strongly perhaps,’ she tells me as we sit in the balcony of the Dhaka based NGO, Ain-O-Salish-Kendra’s office in Kakrail. Shaheen is editor of the Media and Communication Unit at ASK. ‘Having grown up in a village and shifting to Dhaka and living alone, was a challenge and also an escape. In some ways, experiencing the difficulties and odds, of living as a single woman everyday in the city, helped me grow as an individual and understand women like me better,’ she says ruefully.

The writer of a number of short stories like Boner Shange Amarloke and Poneroti Golpo and other publications like Narir Ekattor o Juddho Poroborti Kottho Kahini, Taalash, Abaro Prem Ashche, she admits that her stories are mostly centred around women. ‘And why not? There are a handful of writers who delve into the untold tales of struggles and challenges that women face every day of their lives. Moreover, being a woman allows you to be able to express the emotions of another woman more precisely,’ she says.

In fact, in her Prothom Alo Literary prize winning novel Talaash last year, she has done exactly that. Set against the backdrop of 1971 war of liberation, the novel captures the untold tales of women during the war. ‘It was a moving experience,’ she says softly. ‘Had it not been the research on the War of Liberation initiated by Ain O- Salish Kendra, the story would not have been possible. My research continued for about four or five years and it was during that time that I interviewed women who were raped during the war and also study the related books, documents and publications.’

Akhtar reveals the tale of struggle through the central character Marium. ‘The War went on only for nine months but it was the people of that liberated nation who denied later these women a place in society. Talash narrates the story of 30 years of that post-War abuse.’

Talash is a successful book perhaps because it in many ways awakened sleeping consciences of the people, says Akhtar. ‘But if such a situation should arise again, there’s no guarantee that they’re not going to behave the same way. In fact, it’s more than probable that they will.

‘Shaheen Akhtar’s mesmerising and moving novel is set against the backdrop of the Bangladesh war of liberation and in her skilful hands, the war becomes a way to explore the violence done to women, and their courage, their tenderness, their heartbreak and betrayal and their search for love. Akhtar’s is one of the younger voices to explore this hitherto hidden dimension of the history of Bangladesh. Originally published in Bengali, Talaash was awarded the Prothom Alo Literary Prize in 2004’—reads the review of

‘Zubaan and Young Zubaan Rights Catalogue 1006-2007’, an independent non-profit publishing house in India.

‘The novel attempts to seek, if not social justice, then a certain understanding that moves beyond tolerance or acceptance of the literally Heroic Women of Bangladesh—the women who were raped during the Liberation War in 1971,’ explains Akhtar. ‘In a way although both my novels dealt with women, the situation was completely different- in Palabar Path Nai, the women chose to live the single life and hence struggle but in Talash, there was no question of choice, rather the helplessness of women.’

‘I think Akhtar has strong potential,’ says celebrated writer Rabeya Khatun. ‘In fact, she is one of the most promising writers of her generation.’

In many ways, Akhtar’s ability to portray the grey realities of women’s lives, comes from her own share of experiences, she admits. Born in 1962, in a conventional middle class family, residing in Chandini thana in Comilla, Akhtar had to struggle continuously to be able to continue her education. ‘It was a constant pressure to do well in studies or else be married off,’ she says ruefully. ‘It was often very difficult to cope with the pressure and although I loved writing, it was not an option I could take.’ At 19, Akhtar stopped writing her short- stories and ‘bits and pieces of writing’ and concentrated on studies. ‘Coming to Dhaka was escaping from that world where I was continuously prodded to get married. Since I had very good results, my father finally agreed to send me to Dhaka University where I studied Economics.’

Again, studying Economics, she tells me, was a choice made because her family felt she it would be ticket to a decent job. ‘Towards the end, I lost interest in that subject and it was then that I became involved in film-making. In fact, my first job was to make documentary films and I had a chance to move in the direction of film-making. I had just finished my degree and had a job, the issue of marriage came up all over again and hence started the battle against my family,’ she says.

‘It was through film-making that I went to India, and when I returned to Bangladesh, my entry into literature began as a way to reach an understanding with myself, after having experienced crisis and loss’. Her eyes speak of experience and she seems to exude more confidence specifically when she speaks of writing and being a woman writer.

‘Women’s writing is rarely read before it is rejected. It’s more like a norm that women are ought to write badly. My theme of writing i.e. independent women and their struggles is something different and not an acceptable norm. That is probably one of the reasons for being labelled as a “feminist”,’ she laughs.

Married to a member of the Film Forum, Akhtar feels she can talk about similar topics with her husband. ‘Probably at this age, it is more important to have someone like that.’

She wants to continue writing on women, she says. ‘More importantly, I want to highlight the spirit and the strength of women rather than just saying that they are always worse off. Women, all around, have their own means of expression, even in a remote area of Netrokona we have examples of women who come together and sing their own redemption songs when the rest of the world sleeps.’

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