Once upon a time, if a young man had long hair, the police used to stop him and ask him the reason for not going to the barber.
It was believed -- and possibly still firmly held -- by the guardians of stringent traditions that, to conform to social norms, long hair cannot be permitted.
To do something unconventional is deemed a sign of rebellion.
“He is just not like the others,” people will say, trying to suppress the disappointment.
In a society where anything avant garde is looked with suspicion -- perhaps with a sense of disapproval -- being the rebel is, in my opinion, more fulfilling.
One day, I noticed a long-haired lanky fellow near the Shahbagh area, strumming his guitar, surrounded by a few admirers. The song struck me; it had a very jaunty pace with the unmistakable “Old Dhakaiya” twist.
A few days later, I saw the guy once more, in the Dhaka University field, rehearsing with a few other musicians under the moonlight.
Wild as ever, intoxicated by the night.
The guy is all over the city streets and does not seem to need a special practice pad to let his music flow.
This means he has a Bohemian air about him. Music is his raison d’etre. “Passionate” is a word overused.
One evening, he came up to me and introduced himself: “Brother, in the darkness I play the guitar, and you play football -- perhaps there is a connection in this lunar inspired madness?”
I laughed and found he calls himself “Papimona,” meaning sin-hearted.
Intrigued, I asked: “So, Papi, how many sins have you committed?”
The young lad replied without hesitation: “In the eyes of the family, taking up music as a livelihood is the greatest sin of all.”
Sad, still today, society cannot get out of the stereotypical conception of livelihoods.
The reason why I write about Papimona is because, over the years, I have seen him take up one challenge after the other, but without compromising his devotion to music.
“I shall never give up, this is my forte and I may not touch the stars but if I can touch hearts, then my objective is fulfilled,” says the musician.
Thankfully, among the modern day young, even those who follow the conventional path, Papimona gets some acknowledgement.
On a soft balmy night, when a corner of the TSC within DU becomes alive with soft strumming, I know that, eccentricity survives in mystic spirits
The other day, I saw him hanging out with the Shahbagh police team -- the law enforcers were the least bit bothered about the long-haired urban ascetic’s rather savage appearance.
Recently, a sub-inspector of the New Market thana asked me: “Bhai, I see you are acquainted with Papimona; we find his songs to be soulful plus piercing.”
The number which has made him rather famous within the music scenario is the track “Bhool” (mistake), which has profoundly stirring lyrics.
Just to give you a taste, a line in the number goes like this when translated: “Birth and death in error, we live in an unending mistake, in the shadow of fake people, we cultivate more falsehood; I worship the wrong image, living in a sea of illusion.”
A shattering yet philosophical look into the make-believe world in which we fight relentlessly to get the better of each other.
Papi tells me that his actual name is Abdin and he chose to use the former because in the eyes of the orthodox, he had committed a grave sin by choosing to be a maverick musician.
So, what is it like to go against the tide and survive?
“Admirers are mainly among the young; I personally feel that today many are beginning to think out of the box and that’s where people like us find a meaningful place.”
A permanent income is still uncertain but Papimona is single and living his Bohemian ecstasy.
Settling down means discarding the eccentricity for good.
“For the time being, let’s be a little unconventional.”
To be recognised
In the current music establishment, this moon wanderer has found a spot with regular TV shows.
Also, a recent single called “Nagorik,” aimed at cultivating a humane civic sense among the people of the city, has become immensely popular.
This means money is flowing in too.
In a highly consumerist urban life, we need some iconoclasts just to remind us that in so much sanity, a little insanity is what makes life colourful.
So, in a rainy afternoon when I see a long-haired musician taking a ride on a bike with his guitar strapped to his back or, when, on a soft balmy night, when a corner of TSC within DU becomes alive with soft strumming, I know that eccentricity survives in mystic spirits.
Here’s to all those who decided to take the path not taken.
To end with a line from Papi’s song: “I am among those who are in the wrong, my life filled with errors, runs on false fuel …”
Whether or not he touches the stars or the moon, musicians who defy the norm strike a chord in many of us.
After all, we carefully hide the rebel in us. Don’t kill it.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.