Sudhin Das, who spent most of his life preserving and practising Nazrul songs, lived in seclusion in the last ten years or so of his life. The only times he was seen in public was when he was honoured or given awards at various cultural functions. But his commitment to the shuddha or pure form of Nazrul songs did not always allow him the seclusion he desired. In spite of himself, he had to busy himself at times, teaching, or singing for radio or television channels, or sometimes, supervising recordings of Nazrul songs.
In one auspicious afternoon sometime in August 2010, I had sought him out at his house in Mirpur. As I entered his flat, I found him surrounded by a cluster of keen young students. He was giving them the last lesson.
Over the span of his 60-year-long career as a singer and music expert, I thought, he has carved his name in the history of Bangla music as the one who's initiated the work of collecting the original notations (Swaralipi) of Nazrul's songs, based on various reliable sources – a work left unfinished by the creator himself, the legendary literary as well as musical genius, Kazi Nazrul Islam. He, however, didn't look particularly happy when he was referred to as an expert in Nazrul songs. “Everyone calls me an expert, but I know nothing about Nazrul songs because the overall range of his songs, in terms of figurative interpretation, is too vast for anyone to grasp.”
Known mostly as a Nazrul exponent, he'd devoted himself to Bangla songs. Born in 1930 in Comilla, Sudhin had begun his singing career in the late 1940s for Radio Pakistan Dhaka, which was in old Dhaka, at a time when there was no television and the budding singers had to depend on the radio. But I was surprised to learn the celebrated expert on Nazrul songs had begun his career with Tagore songs. “Not only at the beginning but I have sung Tagore songs alongside Nazrul's and other genres of modem songs throughout my life. It was with a Tagore song that I finished off my long singing career at Bangladesh Betar ten years ago,” Sudhin recalled.
He'd also worked extensively on songs of other major poets known as the “Pancha Kabi,” a group of five poets writing and composing their own songs, mostly in the first half of the 20th century. In other words, the Pancha Kabi laid the foundation of modem Bangla songs. Apart from Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, the group included Rajanikanth Sen, Dwijendralal Ray and Atulprasad Sen.
The folk tradition in Bangla music had also caught Sudhin's eye and he composed the Swaralipi of a good number of Lalon songs too. This piece of information made me curious about why a person so well versed in almost all genres of modern and folk songs, spent most of his time collecting authentic notations of Nazrul songs and researching various aspects of his compositions, when everyone else was busy bringing out albums, or boosting their career by taking other intitiatives. “An unpleasant revelation made me focus on Nazrul songs. While I was engrossed in Pancha Kabi, I was astonished to see that songs of the other major poets, except Nazrul, were more or less preserved. For example, Tagore's songs, which, like his fictions and poems, are well preserved. Nazrul's songs, on the other hand, always suffered distortion at the hands of others,” Sudhin explained.
When he was working on Bangla music in general, he discovered that Nazrul's songs outnumber all other major poets and lyricists, surpassing 3,000 roughly. Not only that, he also realised that Nazrul's songs, especially authentic notation of his songs, had remained largely unguarded as the poet in his lifetime could not finish that work.
Tagore composed more than 2,000 songs and provided specific notations to them, all of which were published by Visva Bharati and protected by copyright.
“Tagore's long literary career spanning nearly 70 years also helped him spend as much time as was necessary to compose the notations,” Sudhin went on explaining. “Nazrul's creative life, on the other hand, had spanned only 20 years and even during that he was actively involved in political activism and literary movements. Apart from an unsurpassable number of songs, he wrote poems, novels, short stories, essays and plays. Added to this was his personal loss and financial strains. It was barely possible for a creative man to keep pace with all these and get notations published at the same time.”
The rest of Das' life in terms of musical accomplishments was intertwined with the history of how original notations of Nazrul songs were authenticated over the years.
Rifat Munim is Literary Editor, Dhaka Tribune.