Well, thus far I could not have ever imagined that this would be the moment. I have been walking all through with my long cherished dream of capturing the innocence of my soil with my ever busy camcorder. But so far what I have found was a mockery of the art… A cheap depiction of what I have long thought to be the real face of my milieu.
Nah, they are all gone…perished… lost in the tide of time, all that remains is nothing but a commercial restoration of a sacred art…a religion in itself.
Well I have been through these alleys for a number of times. The heart touching fragrance of the red soil is long known… I always come here during this time of the year… when all of the rural Bengal gathers here in this cultural womb of Tagore…The sage who eventually turned out to be a poet.
Whom I was searching for??? Well they are a well seen but truly lost tribe of my state called the BAULS – The singers who used to be nothing less than the well verse philosophers.
Tagore had this unimaginable bonding with these folks right from his days in teens. He was a sort of caretaker appointed by his father, for their estate in SILAIDAH (Now in Bangladesh). His job was to look after the peasants so that the tax paying system ran through fine throughout the year, but he ended up collecting a number of songs from some well-known folk singers of that estate including LALAN FAKIR, who was a phenomenon in his time for his songs which were deep-rooted in the mystic philosophies of BAULs…
“So much so for this place… I have started rowing again…
All my days go by clearing water out of my boat…
In the summer, in the winter, in the rains”
Like all great visionaries Tagore had a mission, a mission to make the world recognise the treasures of India that are lost in its dusty long trodden village roads. Through him the urban world came to know about this poverty stricken poetic geniuses of rural Bengal. LALAN FAKIR was discovered followed by GAGAN HARKARA, SARBAKHEPI and many more. For the first time the elite snobs were finding dusty folklores (sang with a handmade EKTARA) something to cheer for.
The wheel started rolling; Bengal’s BAULS started getting recognised by the nation and eventually by the world cultural forums. People like PURNDAS BAUL even made it to the lands of DENVERs and DYLANs.
But like every fairy tale, good things eventually come to a halt if not an end. With the rising popularity commercialism started creeping into the serene AKHARAs (ASHRAMs) of BAULs. Their little known festivals started getting sponsors, with that came electronic keyboard, hanging microphones and to top it all a number of singers who had nothing to do with this religion. Things became so worse that some of the normal singers in the rural areas started dressing up like BAULs for making their way to some easy money.
Cut to… 2010…Paushmela, Shantiniketan, Here I am sitting in my cottage in the midst of a lovely winter night writing my encounter.
Today I reached this long known place with my desire to find true BAULs who are slowly becoming extinct. Paushmela is a yearly festival in this place started by the originator who was nothing less than a true organizer of his time who created this whole University called BISWAVARATY out of nothing. He used to personally invite all the BAULs to his very own winter festival, the practice became a tradition over the years.
Like every year I am slowly making my way through this huge gathering of rural and urban India… most of who think it is fashionable to come to PAUSHMELA once in their lifetimes to have taste of TAGORE. The festival which used to be a little celebration of rural life during TAGORE’s times has slowly emerged to become a regular, famous, well known, typical, colourful, commercialised cacophony. With development come its vices even to our very own culture. Here and there the globalised BAULs are singing (or should I say performing?) their so-called BAUL songs to culture crazy fanatics. Most of the good songs were borrowed from LALAN and most of the impurities are added by the singers.
I had enough reason to feel frustrated, but suddenly something struck my auditory organ:
“Oh my lord how I can find the way to your true love…
The moral and material boundaries are restricting me to go near you…”
Well it is nevertheless a famous LALAN song… but there was something pure and authentic about the tone or the pitch or whatever you may call it, perhaps the soul which made me mesmerized.
I slowly started moving towards the origin of the melancholic prayer.