This is truly an honorable position, which has been bestowed upon me by a fine group of people who have founded moulvibazar.com, website for the people of Moulvibazar. I consider this a rare privilege to write about the cultural history of Moulvibazar. This is rather a collection of my personal memoir and observation than history as such. It is always a pleasure to share my experience with others when it comes to music, art, and culture, and I shall try to the best of my ability to make it entertaining and interesting.
Writing about a community is a hard task. I am only finding it now when I actually set down to write. So many things one has to be aware of yet, the work has to be based on facts and not to be bias. Some things I say could also be blunt and to the point. It is not my intention to offend or hurt anyone’s feelings but caution us not to make the same mistakes in future.
Let me recite a phrase from a poem of our poet, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
“Into the heaven of freedom my father,
Let my country awake . . . . . . . . . .. !”
Yes, as each day goes by, I pray and wish for my country to awake with the wisdom of cultural consciousness. Without the growth of cultural consciousness, a nation cannot flourish. Cultural consciousness is not just celebrating few important events or wearing traditional costumes. It takes more then just erecting some arches and monuments and do some sing songs and perform dances.
In my article, I shall talk about individuals, groups, and communities and their activities and contribution in the cultural work of Moulvibazar. I shall try to offer my suggestions and ideas for a better working environment in the cultural scenario of Moulvibazar. If in case I have left out names of any individuals or organizations or even forgot to mention any events activities, I ask for their forgiveness.
When it came to cultural activities, Moulvibazar always took the back seat and probably is still behind in the context of greater Sylhet, in comparison. It’s sad but it’s true. Correct me if I am wrong in saying so.
In the earlier years, Music, Drama, or Literature has always been predominantly practiced and nourished by the Hindu community of Moulvibazar. I also feel that, Moulvibazar has always been a very close and conservative society, regardless of their religious or social background, which created a major impact on the cultural activities. I have known this from my practical experience.
However, as far as my memory goes, I would say that, organized cultural activities started in the late fifties or in the very early sixties. I have no record of any earlier activities. As I go back in my memory the only cultural organization I could think of, was known as “NOBARUN SANGHA.” I do not know the exact founding date of this organization, but I would say some times in the late fifties or the early sixties. The circle was created by a respectable group of citizens. Some of the founding members of this organization were namely,
¨ ¨ Mr. Radhika Mohon Goswami (Journalist, Orator, Actor and cultural activist)
¨ ¨ Mr. Bhuban Mohon Ghosh
¨ ¨ Dr. Birendra Sarkar (Dentist)
¨ ¨ Mr. Badal Guha (Manager, Moulvibazar / Sreemongal bus services)
¨ ¨ Mr. M. A. Samad (Physician)
¨ ¨ Mr. Kanu Ray (Manager, Kusumbag cinema in later years)
¨ ¨ Professor Sunirmal Kumar Deb Meen (Writer, Actor and Commentator)
¨ ¨ Mr. Syed Munir-uz-Zaman
¨ ¨ Mr. Azizur Rahman (Veteran politician, Ex-M. P., Senior political leader of Awami League)
¨ ¨ Mr. Mrinal Kanti Talukdar (Cultural activist and Founder of Moulvibazar Art’s Council)
¨ ¨ Mr. Loknath Pal (Music teacher and music director of the group)
¨ ¨ Mr. Ali Akbar Khan (Music teacher, Instrumentalist, & music director Sylhet Radio)
¨ ¨ Mr. Dilip Roy (popularly known as Durga da, Dance teacher/dance artist)
¨ ¨ Mr. Md. Ramzan Ali (every bodies Ramzan Bhai, Painter, Graphic artist, Makeup artist, and Comedy actor)
¨ ¨ Mr. Raimohan Ray (every bodies Raia da asst. to Ramzan Bhai/comedy actor)
¨ ¨ Mr. Gopal Bhattacharjee (was a promising actor, early death)
¨ ¨ Mr. Tunu Ray (Male singer)
¨ ¨ Mr. Saroj Das (Sitar player, early death)
¨ ¨ Mr. Md. Monaf Miah (Flute player)
¨ ¨ Mrs. Meera Pal (music teacher & best female singer in those days. Yet to hear a voice like hers in Moulvibazar)
¨ ¨ Mrs. Tuku Pal (younger sister to Meera Pal. also a singer) both daughters of Mr. Loknath Pal, migrated to India and became Radio singers in “Akash- Bani” Shilchar.
¨ ¨ Mrs. Nalini Dey (only Tabla player of Moulvibazar, up till the seventies)
Then there were creative people like:
¨ ¨ Mr. Harun-ur-Rashid (Journalist, columnist and actor/director, presently residing in the U.K.)
¨ ¨ Mr. Siddiqur Rahman (Fatik), presently residing in USA
¨ ¨ Mr. Md. Sirajul Haque (Student activist and actor) and few others who affiliated themselves with the organization.
Not every one on the list probably was an official member of the organization, but took part when and if required. Primary work of “Nobarun Sangha” was staging theaters, mostly historical plays. One such historical play out of many which I had the opportunity to attend was “Sohrabh Rustam.” They also staged few musical shows, which after so many years I do not remember, but I certainly remember the astoundingly melodious voice of Ms. Meera Pal. It still haunts me. I am sure, those who have had the opportunity to hear her song will agree with me. To know more about this organization, I am sure there are still people around us and back home, who could provide with more information.
In the mid-sixties another social organization was formed called the “Government Employees Recreational Club.” They also staged dramas. Almost all their plays were social modern dramas. Play writes of Kalyan Mitra, Bidhayek Bhattacharya and others. One such play was called “Pradip Shikha” play write by Kallyan Mitra. One thing I feel is worth mentioning as an acknowledgement and credit to the names of Late. Mr. Champa Lal Shand (Former business Tycoon of Moulvibazar) and Late Mr. Bamokesh Ghosh (Advocate). These were the people who worked as the driving force. Without their encouragement and especially their financial support things wouldn’t have gone very far. Thanks to these extra ordinary personalities. May their soul rest in peace.
We are already in the mid-sixties. Moulvibazar College student’s body also took initiative and staged some wonderful cultural shows and plays. One of the plays was “Beesh Bachor Aagey” and then “Pathor Badi.” Oh! What wonderful memory it brings back. As teenager it really inspired my friends and me. This was already mid-sixties; we started to stage plays in our school Kashinath-Alauddin High. The first play we staged was “Palasey” under the direction of Mr. N. I. Aziz-ul-Haque (Iqbal) presently the Head Master of the said school. Our veteran teacher historian, poet, and playwright late Mr. Brojendra nath Arjun wrote the play. Then we staged few more small plays like “Dui Bhai”, “Up-Train” etc. We also staged dramas and other musical shows during Durga Puja, Saraswati Puja. Friends like Shanker lal Bhattachajee (Ranju), Suleman Ali, Syed Mohsin Ali, Nupur Shome, Ketoky Roy, Shahid Ullah, Karunamoy Deb, Habibur Rahman (Abu) and many others always took part in every drama or cultural activities during our Christmas and Easter celebration. We staged dramas like “Emmanuel”, “Sign of the Cross” etc. We all took part without any hesitation. We were inseparable when it came to this kind of events. I don’t know if that sort of activities still takes place!
Sixties were the era when the air was filled with music. It was an era of musical evolution Filled with experiment and creativity through out the world.
Moulvibazar Art’s Council
In this segment I would like to take the opportunity to introduce you to a very important personality who played a vital role in paving the road to the right direction. It was his constant persuasion, convincing ability and hard work that led the authority (government) to build a permanent landmark for us Moulvibazaris which for the last four decades we have called it the “Art’s Council.” A total stranger who came to our town, made this his home and became one of us. We embraced him and in return he gave us something, which we have cherished and shall continue in doing so. Friends! Please meet Mr. Mrinal Kanti Talukdar with his own words:
Namoshkar! My name is Mrinal Kanti Talukdar. I was born on the 19th of October 1940 in Netrokona sub-division (then) in Mymansingh district. In 1961, with the hope of an employment I came to Moulvibazar. I saw the decaying cultural scenario of Moulvibazar and felt that this inactive and culturally flagging town needed some kind of moral boost and incentives to become active again. After a long and constant persuasion I was able to convince the sub-divisional officer and administrator Mr. Ekram Hussein (C.S.P.) to build a center for music and dance. My hard work was paid off and finally in 1962 with both of our effort The Art’s Council was founded. It was inaugurated by the minister of communication (then), Nawabzada Khwaza Hassan Askari. Initially Ali Akbar Khan and Meera Pal were appointed as music teachers. Later, the teaching assignment was given to Mr. Ranga Lal Deb-Choudhury and Sheikh Lal Mohammed from Rajshahi. There was no tuition fees were charged to the students. Special Cultural programs were arranged during the national day celebrations. We also held district music competitions every year.
There were two other cultural organizations, the “Nobarun Sangha” and the “Government Employees Recreational Club”. Both the said organizations used to stage dramas.
Ali Akbar Khan played the Sitar, Saroj Das played the Sitar, Ronnie Prentice played the Guitar and Nalini Deb played the Tabla. Tunu Ray, Manadhir Das, Bakul Das, Dilip Ray (Durga), Deepali Biswas, Manju Deb Ray were the singers in those days.Dilip Ray and Sandhya Dhar (Lakshmi) were Dance artists. Uma Sen and Kanu Ray used to recite poetry.
Almost each and every program used to be financed by Mr. Champa Lal Sandh, Mr. Bamokesh Ghosh and other merchants of that time.
In March 1967, I was transferred to Sunamganj with my job, until then I was the secretary for the Art’s Council.
(Translated from Bangla to English --------- by: Ronnie Prentice-Roy)
Welcome back to the main article. It is about time for you to get to know few more names those who made a place for themselves in the field of music in Moulvibazar. Mind you, we are still in the sixties. By now we already have few more of our homegrown singers whose names are worth mentioning. Amongst the Male singers we had:
¨ ¨ Mr. Himangshu Biswas (Jhuntu) Successful radio singer, composer & a music director in the greater Sylhet)
¨ ¨ Mr. Dilip Bhowmic (Babul) Migrated to Calcutta in 1969.
¨ ¨ Mr. Md. A. K. Suja-ul-Karim (presently residing in Sweden)
¨ ¨ Mr. Md. Yakub Miah (From Sreemongal, a radio singer)
¨ ¨ Mr. Ranga lal Deb-Choudhury (Music Director Chittagong Radio)
¨ ¨ Mr. Md. A. K. Anam (From Dhamai T. E. a radio singer, presently residing in Sreemongal)
¨ ¨ Mr. Md. Reza Ahmed
¨ ¨ Mr. Dulal Deb (Presently residing in Sweden)
¨ ¨ Mr. Md. Idris Miah (Folk singer in radio Sylhet)
¨ ¨ Mr. Pijush Chakrabarty
¨ ¨ Mr. Md. Maruf Ahmed Choudhury
¨ ¨ Mr. Md. Jahir Miah who also played the flute.
Amongst the female singers we had:
¨ ¨ Mrs. Manju Debroy (Residing in U. K.)
¨ ¨ Ms. Dilruba Meher (Early death)
¨ ¨ Mr. Mollika Das
¨ ¨ Mr. Jhimlie Ghosh
¨ ¨ Mr. Lovely Ghosh (Khuku)
¨ ¨ Mr. Shikha Nandi
¨ ¨ Mr. Sandhya Dhar (Lakhsmi)
Then there were these couple of good music teachers such as Mr. Nalini Das from Shoiaarpur, adjacent to our town & Mr. Surendra Chandra Bain from Choitraghat. We as a community failed them from proving their quality and ability. As a community we didn’t have the intellectuality to recognize nor acknowledge their talent. I felt than that they were the victims of mean politics. Basically these two fine people were knowledgeable in classical music and they were a threat to some of them who ran the show in town.
In 1962, my family decided to send me away to a missionary boarding school in Barisal and off I went. Lots of good things happened during my three years stay in the boarding school. I received my first formal talim (vocal training) under the tutorial of Mr. Sattyen Saha. He was my first sangeet Guru. While taking music lessons, I also took part in our school drama, poetry recital and other activities. I feel, here I should mention the fact that, both my parents were well groomed in the field of music & drama. After three years, upon my return to Moulvibazar, I felt, musically I was quite matured in compression to whatever was happening locally, but, it took a while before my talent was recognized. I knew my capacity but every thing went unnoticed probably because of my age. I concentrated more with my daily practice. By this time I was also playing the Guitar and the mandolin. In 1968 I became a regular radio artist for Sylhet Radio. After finishing my high school I took admission in Madan Mohan College and moved to Sylhet permanently. In 1967 after Mr. Mrinal Talukdar had left, there was a power struggle for the position of secretary portfolio of the Art’s Council. It was quite a melee. I do not remember who became the winner in this skirmish, but Mr. N. I. Aziz-ul-Haque (Iqbal) founded a counter organization. He became the main man of this cultural club. He called it “Sargam” (just like the musical notes Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, etc.). It was short lived. After staging one cultural show, the club slowly disintegrated. I remember myself somehow being dragged in this organization and singing for that cultural shows. The occasion was the birthday celebration of poet Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam. As we all know, in Bangla we call it the “Rabinra-Nazrul Joyonti” I remember it clearly, for some reason the occasion was called “Nazrul-Rabindra Joyonti” instead. All the printed materials, invitation cards and the big writing on the back-screen of the stage read the same. Every one knew, it was intentional, and not just a mistake, but no one dared to oppose. I was too young to voice my protest, but witnessed the pettiness and the hypocrisy of some of these big brother organizers. These are the kind of people who suffer from complexity and create communal disharmony.
Shilpokala Academy (Arts’ Council) was closed down during the independent war and remained so until after liberation. Finally one of our comrade and my personal friend freedom fighter and a cultural activist Suleman Ali took the initiative to reopen the institute. Mr. N. I. Aziz-ul-Haque was appointed as the secretary and a committee was formed consisting of few members from the community.
We all know about what happened during this period, from ‘68 till December ’71, the victory day. I call that an era of fire, a time when we were able to rise up as a race and a nation. I wonder, after thirty years how much of that we have cherished as an independent nation? I’m sure that question is always there haunts us, especially those of us who actually went to war and survived through it. I think and wonder where did we go wrong?
Anyway, getting back to the subject, the whole nation could feel a change in the air. Something was simmering; you could feel it in your bones. The cultural scenario was taking a turn. A nation was preparing for a powerful sociopolitical change, a movement. We were heading towards freedom, for an independent nation. The message was pouring out through our music, literature, drama, dance, and through our paintings and graffiti’s. I should say everything we thought, said or did had only one goal, independent and nothing less. Moulvibazar was not sitting idol. After the historical speech on the 7th. of March ’71 by our great leader Banga Bandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, I left Sylhet and came home. I was restless and wanted to do something. Something to contribute towards the revolution. Soon my prayer was granted, I was asked to attend a meeting at Mr. Bomokesh Ghosh’s (Everyone’s Tema Da) resident. Responsibility was given to me to arrange for a musical evening of revolutionary songs (Gana Sangeeter Asor). On the 21st. of March ’71 a manifestation was held. We went around the town singing revolutionary songs. On the 23rd. of March ’71 the said event was held at Jana Milan Kendra under my musical direction under the banner of “Moulvibazar Buddhijibi O Shilpi Sangstha”. It was a grand success. The people enjoyed the performance immensely. So many other events took place during that period. It’s hard to remember all. This was how the artists and the intellectuals of Moulvibazar contributed their talent in support of the independent movement.
I went back to Sylhet to continue with my studies and also became very busy with my music. Some of my fellow musician friends and I formed a Group called Nabaraag Shilpi Goshthy. We also founded a music school with the same name Nabaraag.
Some of my old friends back in Moulvibazar Sahabuddin Ahmed (Bacchu), Swapan Dey; Ajoy Biswas founded a cultural group for the children Called “Uttaron Khelaghar”. They also had some young teenagers such as Minhaz Ahmed (Shammu), Syed Afsar, Jaya Dey, Hena Biswas, Stayabrot Das Swapon (Choto Swapon) and few more who were very active with that organization. Whenever I came to Moulvibazar, I use to give music lessons in exchange I received overwhelming love and admiration. I clearly remember the day when I broke the news to these little ones, saying that I was soon leaving for Canada. They were shattered and broke into tears. A special farewell was arranged for me. I felt I was leaving behind a big part of myself and that emptiness remained with me for quite a long time. Some of them even wrote to me for some times. It was the end of June 1974, I left my beloved Moulvibazar. Before I come to the end, I feel I should mention some of the names those who worked in the field of literature. Some of them also published fortnightly and monthly magazines and other forms of booklets. I almost forgot in initial stage of my memoir. Writers and Journalists like Radhikamohon Goswami, Sunirmal Kumar Deb Meen, N.I. Azizul Haque Iqbal, Harun- ur- Rashid. Then there was my close friend Sontosh Debroy and Ajoy Biswas. In the eighties my friend from the school days Syed Abu Jafar published a weekly called “MANU BARTA”. This was the only newspaper in those days. Recently I came to know that there are some new weekly newspapers named “PATA-KUNDI”, “MOULVIBAZAR BARTA” are trying to survive and serve people in Moulvibazar. I must admit that I have very little or no information at all in this field that’s why I couldn’t provide you with much information. Lot of things has happened since I left home in the last twenty-eight years. I do get some news of some of the activities, but I shall leave that episode for some others who have been actively involved during that period.
And finally, I have tried to my best to enlighten you with as much as information I had in my possession. As I said it is my personal memoir. I am sure there are others who have their own experience to share.
I hope you have enjoyed the article. It was an honor and pleasure to share my thoughts with you all. Thank you all.
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