My father an accomplished car mechanic as well, was busy fixing up the jeep when the old man arrived and attempted to make small conversations. He was polite to a fault, and father treated him with a sense of reverence, which surprised me somewhat. Soon the man on some prodding from father started to sing. His voice was strong considering his age, but the music combination in retrospect was of a kind that I do not remember hearing, not even on the radio to which I was hooked to, even at that impressionable age. Soon the jeep started up, and we were on way to Kushtia. We dropped off the old man a short distance away.
It was from my father that I learnt firsthand about the Bauls. I must admit that I was far too young then to understand the deep words of spirituality that he was taking pains to explain; that were part of the lyrics of the songs we had just finished listening. I was happy to see him elated and joined him repeating two lines over and over again, which he explained later was from a song of Fakir Lalon Shah and one I would be destined to memorize on that auspicious day for life:
Sunnot diley hoi Musholman/ hairey Nari loker ki hoi bidhan
If circumcision be the mark of a Muslim male/ how do I recognize it’s female
Ami Bamun chini poitey pomoan/ ami bauni chini kishey ray
If the sacred thread be the proof of a Brahmin male/ how do I recognize it’s female
Since that very first orientation to Baul music and their agnostic philosophy from my father, little was I to know that much of my adult life would be spent soliciting the company, music and philosophy of these great men and women of wisdom who choose to live their life in rejection of the status quo, and who with great degree of pride represent the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh. What I found particularly endearing about them is the patience they exercise in face of insurmountable odds, and in their very strong pacifist character, that evidentially is the outcome of their peaceful coexistence with nature.
In 1989 I was part of a select team headed by my now deceased musician friend the Late Somnath Chatterjee from HMV/EMI, Kolkata that traveled to Harishpur, Harinakundu in Jessore and then on to Seuria in Kushtia to record ‘rustic’ Bauls LIVE! and on location. We visited several ‘ankhraz’ (Baul hangouts) in the region and recorded about thirty men and women, later short listing ten exceptional ones to come to Dhaka where we would then record them at a professional studio. The total duration of both the live and studio recordings lasted about fifteen days, and I took pain to befriend a few. I may add that it is not always easy to make a Baul your friend, or vice versa! The rituals of acceptance can take a long time, and one may even be rejected if you are found arrogant, or have a communal bent of mind. This was indeed my first experience to the rigour of Baul life and music and I expanded on those initials contacts by making short trips to several Bauls based in Chuadanga, Kushtia, Jessore, Faridpur, Bhanga, Narail, Gopalgunj and Sylhet among others. Likewise I opened my parental home in Pallabi, Mirpur to the Bauls, and many would saunter by in their usually brief sojourn to Dhaka, have a meal with me, sing a few songs, discuss tottyo or scriptures, and move on.
By 1990 I was ready for my first Baul music experimentation with my erstwhile band Feedback. It was “Diner Alo Nibhey Gelo” (The End of the Light of Day) a catchy Baul dirge to ‘celebrate’ death, which we went ahead and set to a funk beat, and a raving Bass line. A show in the Government owned Bangladesh Television (BTV) with the tune in 1991 assured the band a berth in the national folklore heritage and there was to be no looking back. Baul music had by then on its own merit entered urban Bengalee households. In 1995 Feed Back was commissioned on a very short notice by BTV to produce a fusion version of the Baul song ‘Deho Ghori’ (The Body Clock) for an Eid special program. The legendary Baul Abdur Rahman Boyati joined us in the production and the music video followed by a single song album went on to create history. Feedback by then was ready to take the next big step – to be the first band in Bangladesh to produce a complete album of Baul music. Titled Bauliana, the groundbreaking album was released in 1996 and was to be my last work with the band. I quit Feedback for personal reasons in early 1997. However my close relationship with the Baul’s and their music that started in 1989, continues till date and I remain committed and have since recorded several tunes with my new band dHAKA, the most recent being the 2006 album Ma’arefoter Potaka (The Standards of Extelligence).
There is fundamentally more to Baul spirituality and scripture than merely the music and lyrics that one comes by, and conceivably nobody can ‘delve deep’ into the music form without having some basic understanding and concepts about its tottyo. This book is an attempt to understand and explain the intricacies of the Baul scriptures. The esoteric couplets, sentences and arguments that usually have moral or historical over tone, the pointed reminders, the signature lines, and the over all thrust of arguments within a very short periphery of time, the alankar (embellishments), all mesh in and combine to create a completed aura of ethereal munificence. Baul music with exceptions follows different traditions and Guru’s in every district of Bangladesh, and sometimes each has its own unique Guru Shishya parampara (student/teachers discourses), leading on to birth of newer, progressive and more challenging schools of thoughts. While Fakir Lalon Shah is the most celebrated of sages of Bangladesh, the schools of Baul thought encapsulates perhaps several hundred more sages and men of great wisdom, whose writings and philosophies continue to inspire and whose graves more often than not, take on the shape of shrines, usually devoid of any religious or sectarian symbolism. Being an oral tradition Baul music ironically is also one of our near extinct heritages as most of the works have either disappeared or have been claimed by unscrupulous people over time. Studies on authorship of many Baul songs (including those of Lalon) and their relevance to original scores and or manuscripts remains a very complicated process and is mired by many unfortunate controversies. To top it off, it is believed that while there were over 300 different types of Baul melodies or tunes; today we are left with scarcely 35. While researching the Bauliana album, I could identify only 20 authentic tunes.
The essays ‘Bauliana: Worshipping the Great God in Man’ in 2003 were written through a feeling of guilt and remorse. While I did receive praise for my work for the musical album of 1996, troubling me intently was a feeling of not been able to share the many words of wisdom that were imparted to me by the Baul’s over the years to a wider audience, teachings I was sure would benefit a lot of later day enthusiasts. I had made scores of notes at the time, as also consigned most of the teachings to memory but there was always a deep apprehension, that unless my writings were passed on hand to hand; all the hard work that went into it, will fail my original intention i.e. opening newer dimensions into reading on Baul music, lyrics, philosophy and way of life. My decision at writing couldn’t have come at a better time. Remarkably by early 2001, Baul music caught up in a big way in Bangladesh and sent ripples down the music scene. New bands like Bangla, Ajob, Meghdol, Shironamhin, Taan etc created music that would go on to convincingly reaffirm Baul music as the most dominant of a new fusion music genre in the country. Indeed the years 2000 to the present would be marked in our musical history as a time of serious heritage and country musical revival – almost a revolution of sort – with commitments made not only to music, but also in the lifestyle and fashion statements of the day. This book could well have been written in Bengalee, but I chose to write it in English, for in my research I found very few materials that would satiate my personal thirst for ‘Baul knowledge’. The Internet is littered with misinformation and sometimes travesties with some websites in particularly bad taste. The recent controversies on the Baul ‘way of life’ that have cropped up unnecessarily is because of the easy availability of unreliable materials suited best to solicit funds or grants from Western donors to document Baul music and or produce movies, NOT to advance the cause of our glorious ancestors – our Baul forefathers. While there is a genuine interest about the Bauls in the West, I believe the best way to serve the purpose of our glorious heritage is to explain Bauliana through the relevance and historical importance it has in our culture, in our way of life that has stridently risen above the pettiness of communal strife, religious disharmony and xenophobia.
I am deeply indebted to the Late Mr.Enayetullah Khan Editor of HOLIDAY and Mr.Nurul Kabir, the Editor of New Age for encouraging me to write my thoughts on the Bauls and later serializing an abridged version of this book for eight weeks; to my friend and ‘comrade-in-thoughts’ Barrister M.B.I Munshi for taking time to go through the manuscript and writing the foreword to this book; to Shams Monowwar of InkMark for publishing this book, my first in the English language; my wife the Late Nazreen Haque Niboo for tolerating my life with the Baul’s and the exasperating periods of unannounced disappearance; Tareque and Catherine Masud for introducing me to the Late Sontosh Baul of Bhanga Faridpur; to Late Hiroo Shah the oldest Baul in Lalon’s Shrine in Seuria, Kushtia, Baul Nadim Shah of Kushtia, Baul Latif Shah and Bimol Biswas of Chuadanga, Baul Hashem Chisti of Dinajpur, the septuagenarian Baul Shah Abdul Karim, his son Jalal Shah and Baul Roohi Thakur of Dhirai, Sunamgunj, Himangshu Biswas, Tanbhir Tahlil Shipul and Harold Rasheed from Sylhet, Buno, Anusheh, Lubeek, Nitu, Rajoo and Amit here in Dhaka for rocking Bangladesh with Baul fusion, to Baul Samir Majumdar for creating the cover for this book, and to my son Dio Haque for his love and respect for the Bauls and what they stand for.
23rd May 2007