1971 … And The Songs We Sang

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Published on December 16, 2020
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Syed Badrul Ahsan:

It was early March 1971 when songs became part of the Bengali political consciousness. As the non-violent non-cooperation movement launched by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to counter the conspiracies of the Pakistan ruling junta against popular democratic aspirations progressed, Dhaka Radio introduced Bengalis to a riveting song. ‘Joi Bangla Banglar Joi Hobe Hobe Hobe Hobe Nischoy’ turned out to be a point of reference for all of us as the negotiations for a political settlement swiftly turned into a gathering confrontation between the people of what was already becoming known as Bangladesh and the regime in West Pakistan.

The military crackdown of 25 March, which quickly translated into a prolonged genocide of the Bengali people, would soon lead to a concerted effort by the Bengali nation toward an attainment of national liberation. By mid April, the very first government in Bengali history, the Mujibnagar administration, was in place. By May of the year, it was Shwadhin Bangla Betar, or Free Bengal Radio, that was beginning to make waves among people, both those trapped inside Bangladesh and those who had crossed the frontier to link up with the guerrilla struggle against Pakistan. Patriotic songs briskly turned out to be a fundamental premise upon which the war was being waged. Apart from the political struggle and the war waged by the Mukti Bahini on the battlefield, music served as an inspirational theme for the nation as a whole. And it was Shwadhin Bangla Betar that let that music flow into Bengali homes, into the hearts and souls of Bengalis yearning for freedom from Pakistan.

‘Shona Shona Shona Loke Bole Shona’ was one of the earliest of songs broadcast by the clandestine radio station. The defining song was of course the Tagore number, ‘Amar Shonar Bangla’, which would soon be redefined as the emerging country’s national anthem. There were other songs from Tagore which became part of the musical repertoire of the Bangladesh movement. ‘Banglar Mati Banglar Jol’ and ‘O Amar Desher Mati / Tomar Pore Thekai Matha’ served to reassert the pristine quality of Bengal and its historical traditions. But if it was a sense of tranquillity that Tagore injected into the struggle for liberation, Nazrul gave it some of the martial attributes which have generally been symbolic of desired change in society. His songs, notably ‘Chal Chal Chal’ and ‘Karar Oi Louho Kopat’ were regularly broadcast and certainly spurred the freedom movement on. Then again, there was ‘Ei Shikol Pora Chhol Moder’ which went a long way in substantiating the cause.

All the songs that came through Shwadhin Bangla Betar made a profound impact on the Mukti Bahini; and within the occupied country they sustained hope in the idea of an eventual liberation of the land. Abdul Jabbar’s ‘Salam Salam Hajar Salam’ made a signal contribution to the war effort. It was as much a tribute to the martyrs of the liberation war as ‘Sharhe Shaat Koti Manusher Aaj Ekti Naam Mujibor Mujibor Mujibor’ was an invocation of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the war to free the land of foreign occupiers. Jabbar paid further tribute to the incarcerated Father of the Nation through ‘Mujib Baiya Jao Re’ and would, as freedom finally dawned in Bangladesh with the surrender of the Pakistan army, come forth with a grand, quiet finale of a song that was ‘Hajar Bochhor Pore Abar Eshechhi Phire / Banglar Booke Achhi Dnarhiye’. A song that served as poignant consolation to mothers who had seen their children sacrifice themselves in the crucible of war was ‘Bhebo Na Go Maa Tomar Chhelera Hariye Giyechhe Pothe’. That the struggle was destined to be hard and long was succinctly encapsulated in Apel Mahmood’s ‘Teer Hara Ei Dheu-er Shagor Parhi Dibo Re’. Another Apel number, ‘Mora Ekti Phool Ke Bachabo Bole Juddo Kori’ made waves through the entire course of the war.

Soft, lilting numbers were an important part of the music on Shwadhin Bangla Betar. Ferdousi Rahman’s ‘Amar Mon Bholano Chokh Jurhano Ei Oporup Mori Mori. remains a case in point. There were others, notably ‘Dhono Dhanne Pushpe Bhora’ and ‘Chand Tumi Phire Jao’, the latter a number first heard as Eid-ul-Fitr approached in that season of bloodletting, a song that held forth the image of a nation battered and bruised in the genocide that the Pakistanis continued to perpetrate in Bangladesh. And then came some more stirring numbers. In this category clearly were ‘Purbo Digonte Shurjo Uthechhe’ and the Rathindranath Roy number ‘Amari Desh Shob Manusher’. The spirited ‘Shuno Ekti Mujiborer Theke Lokkho Mujiborer Konthoshorer Dhoni’ would turn out to be a powerful underpinning of music as a theme of the struggle.

‘Bangla Moder Bangla Maa Amra Tomar Koti Shontan’ addressed the theme of the indivisibility of the Bengali psyche when it came to questions of tradition and culture. There were other songs, other lyrics that strengthened the national resolve to be free of Pakistan. ‘Banglar Mukh Aami Dekhiyachhi’ and ‘Oi Pohailo Timir Ratri’are two such instances of music fortifying patriotism in the Bengali. Add to these . Bandh Bhenge Dao’ and ‘Durgomogiri Kantar Moru’ and you experience that old surge of defiance of the enemy in your soul. There were ‘Nongor Tolo Tolo’ and ‘Joi Joi Nobojat Bangladesh’. The soul could only feel its expectations of victory soar with such songs as ‘Janatar Shongram Cholbe’ and ‘Banglar Hindu Banglar Bouddho Banglar Khrishtan Banglar Mussulman / Amra Shobai Bangali’. ‘Jonmo Amar Dhonno Holo Maa-go’ and ‘Muktiro Mondiro Shopano Tole Koto Pran Holo Bolidaan’ are songs that are yet recalled by the generation that was part of history as it shaped itself in 1971.

When the struggle drew to a close in December 1971, it was time for new songs, all a follow-up to those sung in wartime, to arise in free Bangladesh. Shahnaz Rahmatullah’s ‘Ek Nodi Rokto Periye’ remains a tribute to the valour of unsung Muktijoddhas. Saiful Islam sang ‘Bangladesher Kobi Aami Shobcheye Bhaggoban / Aami Likhte Perechhi Bishsher Shera Muktir Itihash’. As Bangabandhu came back home from the darkness of imprisonment in Pakistan, Sandhya Mukherjee burst upon us with a moving number: ‘Bangabandhu Phire Ele Tomar Shopner Shwadhin Banglaye’. In ‘Ogo Bondhu Tumi Chinte Paro Ki Bangla Tomar Bangla /Jaake Rekhe Gachho Pnochishe Raater Aagey’, it is a silent, emotional reminder of a world left in ruins as Pakistan went into the horrible job of exterminating Bengalis on 25 March.

Dreams came on the wings of the songs we heard in 1971. Endless tales of heritage and culture were part of the lyrics. In the final reckoning, every song was an embodiment of a nation steadfast in refusal to yield to the immorality of force and the crudity of lies. Our songs gave us verve. They proved to be a reason to be alive in an annus horribilis that would soon translate into an annus mirabilis.