The book is titled Sritir Pot (Canvas of memories) and contains a few memorable pieces by poet Jasimuddin. The first one amongst them is titled ‘Abbasuddin,’ and obviously this caught my eye. Usually when people write their memoirs the reminiscences are positive, and I was very amused to see a lot of criticism emerging out of Jasimuddin’s pen. This is the first time that I had heard anyone criticizing Abbasuddin as I have spent good forty plus years hearing his praise in every concert and public gathering, hence the article became very interesting to me. From my family sources I have heard many stories about the relationship between Abbasuddin and Jasimuddin. Abbasuddin hailed from Cooch Bihar of India and he weaved his way to Kolkata in the early 30s in search of name and fame as a Muslim singer. Jasimuddin hailed from Faridpur and his debut into the cultural arena and his claim to fame as a folklorist was much belated to which he has made frank admissions. Jasimuddin narrates a few incidences in his article that adds new dimensions to our knowledge about these legendary figures and their relationship.
Jasimuddin wrote about their days in Kolkata when Poet Golam Mustafa and Abbasuddin shared a room in Koreya Rd. and Jasimuddin barged in there and made himself comfortable. Abbasuddin was already a household name and Jasimuddin tried to teach him the bhatiali songs so that Abbasuddin’s popularity both among the populace and with the disc makers was utilized to the optimum. Jasimuddin mentions that Abbasuddin was very slow at learning the songs. I found it quite amusing to read that Abbasuddin who mastered songs from Nazrul Islam at the flash of an eye, took months and months to learn the bhatiali. Songs like ‘Nodir kul nai’ were taught by Jasimuddin, where he complained that he received no monetary compensation for the same. However, the tutorial scene that he described is very amusing and the picture painted is even more so. Jasimuddin writes that Abbasuddin was unable (or unwilling?) to learn any of the folk songs that he brought back as treasures of folklore. He embarks upon his laborious journeys to various rural areas and his escapades as a research zealot.
Abbasuddin, did not choose any of the songs that Jasimuddin sang out for him. Tired and frustrated Jasimuddin went to take his bath and in his bathroom he was humming yet another tune, which he had never sung for Abbasuddin. Suddenly he heard this knock on the bathroom door. As he opened to have a peep, Abbasuddin came into the washroom and asked him to sing this particular song. He sat with a pen and paper and wrote down this number, and almost learned the entire song right away. Jasimuddin took another pail of water and poured it on Abbasuddin. The latter did the same and the two of them hummed this song while throwing water at each other in their humble abode in Kolkata, much to the delight of the audience who enjoyed the output as ‘Are o Rongila Nayer Majhi’.
In another incident, Poet Jasimuddin and Abbasuddin were delivering a milad mehfil on the radio. In this case, Jasimuddin was choto moulvi and Abbasuddin boro moulvi. Jasimuddin claims that Abbasuddin forgot his assigned parts and as he read out the passages in typical moulvi tone, he also included those parts which were to be read by Jasimuddin. The latter was so amused that he started laughing and this too was being aired in the radio. Suddenly Abbasuddin told the audience that hearing the praises of Allah and fearing the darkness of the grave, choto moulvi has lost his calm and he has started crying, so as the end part, he was going to read the final doa. Jasimuddin did just that and they both came out with their gutters depressed from laughing and choking.
In this article Jasimuddin also wrote about my grandmother Begum Abbasuddin alias Aleya. Firstly, Jasimuddin complains that every weekend Abbasuddin would leave for his village town of Cooch Bihar so that he could spend time with his lovely wife Aleya (whose serene beauty is also described in the article). However, from my grandmother’s bedtime stories my earliest recollection is the pain and pathos that she felt when my grandfather could not visit her for weeks and sometimes months at a stretch. She had always narrated to me how she spent her youth actually looking at the gariyal bhai (bullock cart puller) pining to catch a glimpse of her beloved husband. This was further substantiated by innumerous letters between Abbasuddin and his wife which were later published in a book by Begum Abbasuddin. He, always short of funds and always apologetic for his absence-she, always longing for her beloved and unable to contain her pain at the disappointment.
Jasimuddin mentions that he was visiting Abbasuddin in his home in Dhaka, he found that my grandmother was upset for some reason and Abbasuddin was begging her to eat. Comprehending Abbasuddin’s predicament, Jasimuddin also pleaded to my grandmother, much to the annoyance of both, she did not eat. From having lived with my grandmother in the same bedroom for twenty-one years, I found this very difficult to digest. It was very difficult to imagine that in the early 50s my grandfather would reveal such a private matter to Jasimuddin or the two of them would be at her feet to convince her to break her fast.
In another occasion another eminent personality of this country Professor Abu Henna wrote in his book ‘Reactions and reconcilement’ about an occasion when Abbasuddin visited him in Sylhet along with his three children. Professor Abu Henna wrote about my grandmother that Abbasuddin was very lucky to have such a sweet, caring and sacrificing wife.
Abbasuddin’s wife must have possessed some special qualities worthy of being mentioned in Professor Abu Henna’s only publication during his lifetime.
In some parts of the article, Jasimuddin has mentioned about the misunderstandings that existed between the two of them. He mentions that he was angry with Abbasuddin because he didn’t show up in the rehearsals of his radio programme. He chose other artists hoping that the impact would be the same, but he admits that his songs and Abbasuddin’s voice made a unique combination which ignited fire in the music world and was not replicated by any other performance. On one occasion, Abbasuddin too was angry with Jasimuddin and much as he tried to make amends, Abbasuddin remained silent. One day, Abbasuddin sent word that he was expecting Jasimuddin to arrive at the Jagannath University premises where he was going to have a performance. Jasimuddin went there and found Abbasuddin in his farmer’s outfit and singing his song ‘O bajan chol jai chol’. As the performance ended, Abbasuddin came down from the stage and sat next to Jasimuddin and burst out into laughter with his own hilarious jokes and good humour. Thus ended their misunderstanding much to the advantage of the general public who have marveled at the combination of these two genius. All through the article, in spite of his criticism, the writing style depicts the genuine love and respect that Jasimuddin had for Abbasuddin. He begins the article with a poem written and dedicated to this songbird who mesmerized him with the folk tunes.
What this duo could achieve in just a few songs (10-12 bhatialis) was unparalleled in their impact on the Muslim community. Abbasuddin wrote in his book ‘Amar Shilpi Jeeboner Kotha’ that eighty percent of the citizens of Kolkata were based in rural areas. They lived there for the sake of their livelihood.
Abbasuddin and Jasimuddin actively set forward in a mission to popularize the Bangla folk.They performed in every university function, Scottish church college and many others thereby creating an aura of folk music unknown to the audience of Kolkata, yet so familiar and popular amongst them. The songs like ‘Prano shokhi re oi shone kodombo tole’ or ‘O amar dorodi age janle’ still persist and have been the backbone of Bengali folk music in this country. Even to the young generation these tunes have not lost their flare. This is through the active selection of poet Jasimuddin who spent his youth in search of the gems of Bengali folk and used his own expertise to transform them into palatable form. This was coupled by the choice of Abbasuddin himself who was also noted for his own selection. He chose the songs with integral value and those that he knew would be immortal. Even when he allegedly ‘took long’ to learn the songs, his intellectual mind was in search of the most appropriate number which he then grasped instantly. The two of them has left the legacy for us and we have to preserve the verses and tunes from further plagiarism. On this day of Abbasuddin’s birth anniversary, saving his songs through staff notation and singing them in the correct tune would be the greatest tribute.
The writer is Professor and Head, Population-Environment Dept, Independent University, Bangladesh. She is also the granddaughter of Abbasuddin.