Friday, April 06, 2007

FOREWORD

The first time that I came across the name Maqsoodul Haque was in an article written by him in the weekly Holiday on the subject of racism in South Asia around about 1998 or 1999. As I was fairly new to Bangladesh I did not know of his musical background but was impressed by his articulate writing style and the force of his argument which required a lot of courage due to the prevailing political climate at the time and the subject he wrote upon were considered particularly controversial and sensitive. It was, however, after a further two years that we were in regular communication with each other through the medium of the internet and emails. We both contributed articles to various Bangladesh focused websites and soon we became personally acquainted. Sometime during this period he had also challenged the musical Puritanism that surrounded the compositions of Rabindranath Tagore in a quite audacious manner by rendering one of his songs with a modern touch and flair of jazz. This sent many orthodox musical experts into a frenzy that led to several months of complaints and letter writing in The Daily Star against the innovations introduced by Maqsood but his actions opened up the music scene in Bangladesh which now saw a level of creativity, imagination and inventiveness not witnessed before.

Unfortunately, while Maqsood has been writing for almost 20 years on various subjects ranging from culture to politics to music he remains a ‘restricted writer’ in the sense that the media and press have tended to avoid publishing his work. His no-nonsense approach has generally not endeared him to certain vested quarters that feel threatened by his breaking down of intellectual and musical barriers and the episode involving Tagore made him a favoured target of these groups. This did not, however, deter Maqsood and he next explored the subject of Baul music in several articles written for Holiday in a serialization that lasted for eight weeks and became compulsory reading for anyone interested in music in an academic context and background. The articles received rave reviews and the public appreciated the research, experience and knowledge that went into writing them and he was duly recognized as a pioneer and thinker in the music scene. This present book is the latest development of those ideas but now covers newer grounds and important themes of which I hope to provide a brief overview with a few of my own personal musings and comments.

While engaging in some private research on the subject of Bauliana primarily for this foreword I was intrigued to discover that the only in-depth and original study of the subject has been by Maqsood. While Baul music is a common and accepted feature of the culture and history of this region there is very little that has been written on it of any real substance or value. So the book ‘Bauliana – Worshipping the Great God in Man’ is a breakthrough at several levels. As the title would suggest it is not a book merely about music but it is a discussion of philosophy and a guide to living. At the outset there is a hint of rebuke at the omission of cultural scholars to recognize the significance of Baul or as Maqsood puts it, “For Bangladesh the year 1991 passed uneventfully in our willful exclusion of an epochal event of historical significance.” He was, of course, referring to the death centenary of Fakir Lalon Shah who was buried in Seuria, Kushtia which happens to be the district of my forefathers and so was of added interest to me having previously heard so much about him but receiving very little real wisdom or insight on the subject.

For Bangladesh the symbolism surrounding the life and death of Lalon Shah still reverberates today as, “his legacy has been one of diabolical ignorance, a heritage of an insane struggle to assign him either an Islamic identity by hard-line Islamist fanatics, which lay directly in confrontation with the dominant city bred (then Kolkata in West Bengal – Dhaka having evolved in importance much later) middle-class precepts of the ill defined Hindu Brahminist supremacist ‘secular’ Bengalee culture.” As Maqsood points out Lalon Shah repudiated affiliation to any organized religion and the concept of ‘Bauliana’ as practiced by him was less a religion but more a quest for the ‘omnipotent maker’ through introspection. The term Bauliana’ is not meant here to suggest that Baul philosophy or music originated with Lalon Shah (which in fact predates him by many centuries) but that the concept of ‘Bauliana’ is a phenomenon with global resonance opening avenues to cultural comparisons and is signified by an alternative way of life that has one of its many exemplars the Rastafarian belief system in Jamaica and the music that grew from it called Reggae whose most famous and accomplished singer, composer and exponent was Bob Marley. In a similar way, Lalon Shah used the vehicle of Baul music to disseminate his views, philosophy and opinions about life to a receptive audience.

The relevance of the Bauliana quest to the deep religious and cultural divisions of the contemporary world has been described by Maqsood in chapter 16, “The quest for Bauliana today … is a revolt against the hackneyed order of medieval thought processes, permeating and afflicting the sensibilities of Man, in its unflinching brutalization of fellow Man. It becomes all the more important that we stop and ponder, because all Wars today, all conflicts, all our anger to fellow Man, is directed NOT because we disagree on fundamentals of the Maker, but because we have allowed ourselves to be conducted on implied Superiority or Inferiority of our respective ‘Gods’. We never hear of any attempts anywhere in the world about a ‘Consensus on God’ while we hear about ‘clashes among civilizations or religions’ when civilization is nothing more that an extension of hate, for whatever we may have inherited, we have failed in inheriting a civilization of ‘good’ as we go looking for ‘Axis of Evils’ – which allows only the devil and not Man to smile.” The Baul outlook is, however, not pessimistic as it abhors doubt which brews from suspicion and mistrust which appears coincidentally to be the cause for all the violence and conflict witnessed in recent invasions based on highly dubious pretexts. Maqsood elaborates his own theory in Chapter 20 based on the needs and requirements of the military industrial complexes (that President Eisenhower warned of several decades ago) as well as to man’s propensity for chaos that is engendered by his fear of his fellow man which are amongst the many other things discussed in this wide-ranging section of the book that surprisingly ends on a cautionary note on the fate of man.

Essentially the book is a deeply personal journey undertaken by Maqsood after his many hard and some might say bitter experiences in life and with his relationship to Bauliana and the teachings of Fakir Lalon Shah and the other Bauls. The book had developed out of Maqsood’s close association with the Bauls and is obviously autobiographical in nature. He had accumulated numerous notes during the periods of teaching and instruction imparted to him by the bards and he has made good use of them in the book. Other than a musical album of the same name, recorded with his former band Feedback, Bauliana can be said to be a scriptural testimony to his personal belief system that is based on a fusion of Buddhist and Islamic precepts that has similarity to the Bauls way of life which he has chosen to adopt. The cause for this attitude appears to be a consequence of his frustration with religious quarrels that now plague our world and the wars that feed on these sectarian and communal squabbles. In short the Bauliana lifestyle is a pacifist movement which is unique to Bangladesh in that it crosses boundaries and attempts to bring mankind together and has been claimed to be the dominant culture of Bangladesh (and this region of South Asia) for at least 2000 years. The book will provide to the sociologist, cultural historian, anthropologist and the thinking musician a wealth of information about Baul and the man Maqsoodul Haque.

M.B.I Munshi
Banani, Dhaka
20th May 2007

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