Wednesday, May 25

Gobinda Haldar: the 1971 war lyrist who was kept in shadow

Ananta Yusuf: Those who had experienced the trauma of the war and the exhilaration of freedom in 1971 know exactly how the broadcasts of Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, the radio station of the Bangladesh Government in exile, and the songs it played over the air, inspired millions of souls.

For some of the memorable songs we will forever be in-debted to Gobinda Haldar, the lyricist of Mora Ekti Phul Ke Bachabo Bole Juddho Kori, Purbo Digonte Shurjo Utheche and Ek Shagor Rokter Binomoye.

On March 25, 1971 – the war broke out in every corner of the country. With limited resources and abilities, people from all walks of life joined the struggle for freedom.

By the end of May, Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, a clandestine radio station of the resistance, started its second phrase, as it aired revolutionary programmes from Baliganj Circular Road, Calcutta (now Kolkata). And this became an invaluable instrument of inspiration during the war.

At that time, radio officials thought of introducing something that would break away from the tradition of playing old recorded songs and regale them with rousing music performed live.

Renowned activist and the news editor of the revolutionary radio station, Kamal Lohani, shared his desperate search to find strong lyricists with one of his friends Kamal Ahmed, who lived in Kolkata. Ahmed informed him about a young man, who wrote songs about the struggle of the people.

Lohani asked him to set up a meeting with the young lyricist. “While we were searching for a lyricist who could capture the essence of our country’s struggle, Gobinda Haldar appeared like a saviour with two notebooks loaded with 24 to 30 songs,” Lohani says.

At the beginning, Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra mostly broadcasted songs written before the war broke out. But as the war was on, there was a pressing need for new words and expressions. And that’s exactly what Lohani found in Gobinda Haldar’s diary.

The three of them met at a cafeteria in Esplanade, Kolkata. Gobinda, wearing a kurta and a pair of simple trou-sers, took out two diaries from his bag. A label was boldly stuck on the face of the white cover – ‘Joy Banglar Gaan.’

The lyrics had a sense of rhythm and went with the spirit of the war. Lohani liked the title but it was the intensity of the lyrics that left him dumbstruck. Hours passed. The young writer recited lyric after lyric from his diary, grabbing Lohani’s undivided attention.

At the end of the recitation, Lohani asked Haldar for the diaries straight away. “He was a sensitive person and for that reason alone, he could sense the essence of our war and beautifully portray it in words,” explains Lohani. When asked for the diaries, Gobinda Haldar smiled quietly before handing them to Kamal Lohani.

Mora Ekti Phul Ke Bachabo Bole Juddho Kori

At the revolutionary radio station Samar Das was one of the senior composers. Lohani gave the diaries to him for his consideration. Weeks passed. Das didn’t have the time to even open the notebooks.

One day Lohani asked composer Apel Mahmud about Haldar’s diaries, inquiring as to why nothing was being done about them. Hearing the details, Mahmud found his interest growing.

After going through Gobinda’s diary, Mahmud felt the pull of the inspiring words, and chose Mora Ekti Phul Ke Bachabo Bole Juddho Kori to render his composition. “I was quite sure this was going to be a historic song,” he wrote in the fortnightly magazine Tarokalok in 1984.

He sat with his friend Ashraful Alam at night; both were ready with a harmonium and tape recorder. They created tune after tune but nothing satisfied them. Mahmud was not happy with the results. The next day, the duo again sat down for a fresh round of creative engineering, finally getting to the iconic tune that fills one with overwhelming emotion.

Ashraful Alam was completely bowled over by the song. In the dead of night, an excited Mahmud called engineer Shorifuzzaman and musician Manna Huq. While Manna Huq played the tabla, Apel was the vocalist.

Finally, Mora Ekti Phul Ke Bachabo Bole Juddho Kori was aired on the first week of June. A great song was born, one that inspired thousands of individuals in the last 44 years.

Purbo Digonte Shujo Utheche

After its immense success Samar Das didn’t take much time and composed another legendary song from Gobinda Haldar’s diary – Purbo Digonte Shurjo Utheche.

An assorted programme with a set of sub-programmes like Dar-pan (where people spoke in Bangla), Recitation, Ranaveri (reports from different sectors), Kabikantha (poems recited by poets) were aired by the radio station called Agnishikha. Oikatan, one of the sub-programmes, which aired patriotic songs, was also a part of it. Purbo Digonte was aired at that programme.

Praise and criticism came hand in hand following the broadcast. Few people in Kolkata didn’t approve of the lyrics Mora Ekti Phul Ke Bachabo Bole Juddho Kori and one of Kamal Lohani’s friends asked him, “Are you fighting a war or falling in love?” Lohani replied, “It is a beautiful metaphor. And of course, one cannot fight for one’s soil without being in love with it.”

Ek Shagor e Rokter Binimoye

On December 20, Haldar penned another masterpiece – Ek Shagor e Rokter Binimoye – a true tribute to martyrs. It was written at the request of Apel Mahmud since the radio station was once again in need of a song that represented our struggle. They were in need of a song to pay tribute to those who laid down their lives to free the country. Gobinda Haldar took one day to write this legendary song.

Apel Mahmud and Gobinda Haldar sat in a small room at the radio station. Apel enthusiastically tried to compose the music. The first three lines went well. As Gobinda wrote in Tarokalok in 1985, the initial three lines touched his heart but Apel found it difficult to follow this train of thought. “It became more and more difficult to compose the following lines.

The phrases were lengthy. So at Apel’s humble request, I had to remove some words to help him compose the tune.” It took two days to finalise the whole song. Almost immediately afterwards, Apel Mahmud began rehearsing the song with Swapna Roy, who was the lead vocalist of the song.

Attempts to wipe off war songs from 1975

In 1983, Major General Amin Ahmed Chowdhury, Chairman of the Muktijoddha Kalyan Trust (Freedom Fight-ers’ Welfare Trust) produced two cassettes on the songs written during the liberation war, titled Mora Ekti Phool Ke Bachabo Bole Juddho Kori. He faced resistance. Dictator Ershad was unhappy with the production, says re-nowned composer of Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, Sujeya Soiam. “Amin had to leave his job after this,” adds Soiam.

In fact after 1975, all the records of the songs and the instruments that were used during their production at the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra arbitrarily disappeared. “Those who carried out the coup in 1975 tried their best to demolish all the inheritance of war. Now it is time to rethink about it and the government should re-release the songs with the accurate tunes and notes,” says Soiam.

Problems with crediting Gobinda

During the war, Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra had a rule that no foreigners could write or perform songs for the station. Thus, Gobinda Haldar’s name was not mentioned in the title list. Even after Bangladesh gained its inde-pendence, his name remained absent from the credit list.

“In June 1972 I went to Bangladesh to inform the Bangladesh Betar authorities about my concerns. After a bilat-eral agreement, they signed me on as an official lyricist and finally my name appeared on the title list of the songs,” wrote Gobinda Haldar in Tarokalok in 1985.

But he was not given any royalty for 12 years for unknown reasons.

His legacy

Haldar, who had visited Bangladesh once in 1972, had written nearly 3,500 semi-classical, folk, baul, kirtan and modern Bangla songs before glaucoma impaired his sight and writing capacity.

Artists from All India Radio and Doordarshan did also sing some of his songs from other genres but Haldar never got the acknowledgement he deserved. Most of his works, both songs and poetry, remain unpublished and unknown.

Haldar’s first book on poetry had been a success. The 500-odd copies that the writer had managed to print in 1989 sold out. Unfortunately, he did not have the means to reprint Door Digonte, a collection of his poems.

His daughter Gopa Haldar informed The Daily Star that about 3,000 songs of his father were yet to be published.

In recognition of his contribution to the war of liberation, the government in 2012 awarded him as a foreign friend of Bangladesh.

The revolutionary lyricist died at the age of 84 on January 17 2015. In the month of victory it’s now time for us to show our gratitude once more to the man whose words inspired millions to survive and emerge victorious over the genocide of 1971.