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When Jim Morrison was at the Boi Mela

  • Published at 06:48 pm February 19th, 2017
When Jim Morrison was at the Boi Mela

Whenever I relax on a pleasant late winter, early Spring afternoon indulging in nostalgia, memories of the Boi Mela of long time ago, 1990-91 to be specific, come flooding back.

It was an age before the internet took over, life was still languorous, evenings were spent over countless cups of tea, listening to blues and rock, trying to fathom the immaculate psychedelia of Jim Morrison and The Doors and, reciting fiery lines from Rafiq Azad’s poems.

Dhaka was still slow-paced, countless cars of the 70s were on the roads and Star cigarettes were filter-less.

Boi Mela, that year, came with a special significance, for me and my friends, “The Elephant Road boys.”

We usually hung around at either my grandmother’s place or at the home of a friend, Tusher, whose family is also the owner of Pearl Publications.

The publication business is still running and they have a large stall in this year’s Mela.

Today, the business is looked after by Tusher and his elder brother Tuhin bhai, but back then, their involvement in the book business was for fun plus training for the future.

One day, in early December 1990, at the beginning of our heady days at the DU campus, which was abuzz with the slogans of a new democratic start for the country, following the fall of the autocratic regime, we came up with an entrepreneurial plan of doing something noble for the Mela -- sell Jim Morrison posters.

Doors had seen a revival in the West thanks to the movie Apocalypse Now and the wave of the Lizard King that hit Bangladesh in the late 80s with gusto.

It was a time before consumerism caught up with us, an era when we could spend hours indulging in rainbows of unsullied romanticism

But there weren’t too many posters of the band or Morrison in the market.

Right, you must be wondering: Why would people buy posters of rock singers in the first place?

Well, that culture of buying posters of favourite singers and bands is now defunct. You won’t even see poster sellers in New Market anymore.

However, in the 80s and well into the mid-90s, there was a widespread culture of having one side of a teenager’s room covered by posters of rock stars. The most famous ones were Bruce Springsteen with his guitar and the US flag as the backdrop, White Snake featuring David Coverdale and his gang, plus Duran Duran, in a group photo from their Seven and the Ragged Tiger tour.

Of course, Michael Jackson half lying in his leather gear outsold everything.

Curiously, despite the rising popularity of The Doors, posters of the band were scarce. Propitiously, I came across a senior from Elephant Road who had just come from the US for holiday and what do you know, he had a book on Jim Morrison with photos.

“Let’s make the Mela this year a psychedelic affair, blending poetry books in Bengali and mid-sized posters of Jim Morrison,” Pervez, a friend, now a US resident, remarked.

The job was not easy. Taking photos from the book and then turning them into passable posters.

Each person had to cough up Tk1,500 and as far as I recall, and we had around Tk9,000. One winter morning, an excursion was arranged to Islampur to buy glossy poster paper. The photos were chosen from the book and then, the printing was done.

At the bottom of the posters there was the label “Rock Connection,” a heavy metal magazine which we had brought out to the market a few years earlier.

Again, bringing out a music magazine would appear silly to many in 2017, since all information is just a click away these days. Back then, there was a large demand for such locally-produced magazines which featured lyrics of popular numbers, the latest US, UK music charts, interviews, and guitar tablature.

The lyrics were picked up from a foreign magazine along with the photos. The guy who had the foreign magazine was in much demand -- respected and venerated.

Copyright issues were not a bother at all because Bangladesh at that time, to the world, was a backwater.

Potential infringements weren’t even in our minds.

You just had to walk into a room filled with guys with a UK or US version of a rock publication to turn into the center of all attention. The names of other local magazines from 28 years ago, Ultimate Rock, Metallion, still evoke some powerful memories.

On the first day of February we were all at the stall, selling books, and of course, the posters.

The price was Tk10, and, soon, word got around that Morrison was at the Mela.

We sold poetry books by Nirmalendu Goon and posters of The Doors. If I remember correctly, at that Mela, a few fine arts students had a small stall, painting Lalon, the mystical Baul, on clean T-shirts.

Perhaps that idea was later picked up and optimised by many T-shirt selling outlets at Aziz market.

It was a time before consumerism caught up with us, an era when we could spend hours indulging in rainbows of unsullied romanticism.

My friends are still there today at the mela. One of them, Milu Aman, has brought out a book called Rock Jatra -- a detailed narrative on the band music scene of Bangladesh, and I look forward to visiting the stall one of these days.

All of us are greying now, perhaps much of the ideals of the past have frayed but I am certain, once together, the thrill of that period long ago when we actively participated at the Boi Mela will be revived. That long-lost-but-never-forgotten winter, when we were irrepressible Bangladeshi riders on the storm.

Towheed Feroze is a journalist currently working in the development sector.