interviewed at HMV Studio, Dum Dum, Kolkata, West Bengal
- My name is Dibakar Das Baul.
- Where is your home?
- My home is in Birbhum.
- Where in Birbhum?
- Around 19 kilometers from Santiniketan, there is a village called Nanur. My house is a good 5 kilometers before this village, about 14 kilometers from Santiniketan. The place is called Beluti.
- Where do you now reside?
- For the past eighteen to nineteen years, I have been residing at Paruldanga. Paruldanga is quite close to Santiniketan. One has to take the red-mud road from here. Many people here are familiar with the name of the place. Earlier, on every Saturday, there would be Baul congregations at Paruldanga.
- Tell us why you chose to become a Baul.
- Both my grandfather as well as my father used to sing. My father used to play the flute.
- What is the name of your father?
- His name is Badal Chandra Das. My father could also play the tabla. There was a musical group in our village, called Manasha-Mandala, for which my father played the flute and the tabla. My elder brother used to sing for the group. Gradually, he began singing Baul songs. As a very young boy, I used to listen to my elder brother sing. That is how the desire to become a singer was instilled within me. That is how I embarked upon this path.
- Who did you learn music from?
- At first, I learnt from my father and my elder brother. Thereafter, I travelled on work to a place where I met a young man named Prafulla Bairagi. He was a student of Purna Das. He was looking for someone to reside with him and learn music. I always had a desire to learn Baul music. I told him I would myself stay with him. Prafulla appreciated my desire to learn Baul music and brought me to the house of Purna Das. I began living with Purna Das and learning from him. During his rehearsals before a recording, I would play the kartal as he sang. I would memorize the songs he rehearsed and performed. I could pick up his songs really fast! I once sang these for him. He appreciated the same! I have performed with him on various programmes recorded for television and radio. I have also travelled with Purna Das to Orissa to perform. After thus staying with him for while, I returned home. Thereafter a Baul named Narad took me to Jaydev Mela to perform. I sang a couple of songs on the stage there and thus became familiar to the audience.
- How old were you then?
- This was around twenty or twenty-two years ago. I was a young boy then, clad in shorts. Once I had performed a song on stage; and the elder sister of Purna Das, Radharani, and her husband, happened to be present on the occasion. My performance moved them to tears! After I finished my song, they came and hugged and kissed me. I used the money I earned from that performance at Jaydev Mela to buy myself a dotara. I learnt the dotara and have performed with it ever since.
- What was the song you had sung on that occasion?
- I had sung a song about motherhood and the process of giving birth.
- Can you sing a couple of lines of the song for us?
- The pain a mother goes through during pregnancy and birth, the father or the son cannot understand. Only the mother knows that pain! As the child grows up, she or he neglects and forgets the mother. We see a mother with four sons, yet none of the sons feed her. The poor mother has to beg for alms and some rice. This was the crux of the song I had performed. I had performed it at a very high pitch then.
Do not die, O mother!
I implore you by touching your feet!
You cannot find another mother,
If she dies,
Even as you search the three worlds!
Those whose mothers have died
Are miserable and directionless!
They roam the streets of the crazy ones,
And are despised by the citizens of the earth!
Do not die, O Mother!
Only the mother knows the pain of death,
The motherless one knows no happiness!
The sadness of the motherless—
Only Nilkantha(1) knows!
Do not die, O Mother!
-Who did you learn singing from? Purna Das?
- Yes, mostly from him! Purna Das’s elder son himself taught me a few songs on the harmonium. I have received a lot from Purna Das.
- Who taught you to play the instruments?
- Many people have taught me!
- What instruments do you play?
- I play the dotara, iktara, duggi, kartal and harmonium.
- Do you also play the khamak?
- I cannot play the khamak so well.
- To which places have you travelled?
- I picked up a melody from Purna Das and sung his song at a Baul congregation in Santiniketan. Among the audience, there was a lady from Paris who invited me to go and perform there! She bought me a jacket and many other things! She was the one who arranged a musical tour for me in Paris. This was in the year 2000. Thereafter, her daughter once again got in touch with me and arranged another performance in Paris in 2007. Recently, on September 13, I performed at the Asia Festival.
- Where did it take place?
- It took place in Spain.
- Did you enjoy performing at these places?
- Yes, I enjoyed a lot. My two previous performances in Paris did not have a very big audience. However, during the Asia Festival, people from all over Europe had come to listen! It was a whole-night program. All the shops around were kept open throughout the night! The program took place in Madrid. I have never before performed in front of such a huge audience abroad! I have only ever seen such a huge turnout of people at the Jaydev Mela here! I performed many songs there in Madrid. I really enjoyed the experience!
- So what do you have to say about this Baul way of life?
- It is indeed a very fulfilling experience! There is much happiness to be had from this life.
I do not seek happiness,
Bestow complete sadness
Within my heart!
Let me attain birth
Within the house of Baul
Again and again!
I have found happiness in this way of life, and I have managed to give happiness to others. I hope to be able to continue doing the same. Yet, one day I shall die. It is my prayer to the Supreme Being to reincarnate me within a Baul household. Such is my desire!
- A lot of people these days say that the essence of Baul has disappeared and the older generation of Bauls has now ceased to exist. Do you hold a similar opinion?
- No! The essence of Baul remains the same. Some artists, especially in the big cities, have picked up Baul songs and adapted them for a modern city audience. At the Baul congregation at Kenduli, you can see such artists dressed in a kurta and an expensive tunic performing with the microphone. Sometimes, the real Bauls do not even get an opportunity to perform before the public. And yet, there are those people that seek the real Baul. These modern artists learn their songs from us and then, they attempt to pass themselves off as Bauls.
- I have seen several such performers last year at the Baul congregation at Sonamukhi. I was shocked!
- Yes! These artists have learnt their songs from us! They cannot sing with the iktara like us! Many of them do not even know the actual melody of a particular song and sing it the way they want to! Many of them do not even have an idea about scales. If you play a scale for them (C Sharp or D Sharp), they may not even be able to sing in tune! However, a true Baul can sing only with an iktara.
- All right then! Jay Guru!
1. A synonym referring to the Hindu god Shiva. ‘Nilkantha’ literally translates as ‘the one with the blue throat,’ referring to the myth of Shiva drinking the poison which emanated from the churning of the sea.
Recorded at HMV Studios, Dum Dum, Kolkata on October 10, 2009
Interviewed by Aditi Sircar
Camera by Shubra Dutta
Translated by Parjanya Sen