Bodo Golam Fakir
interviewed at Tompson Road, Kolkata
February 25, 2015
Aditi: Please tell us how you came to choose this path/ way of life.
Bodo: The words ‘Baul’ and ‘fakir’ have several connotations. Who are the Bauls and fakirs? They are those who seek meaning amidst air, they are those that can perceive the almighty. However, fakirs have a duty to serve. Today, a lot of educated young men and women are doctors or engineers or teachers by profession. Similarly, if you want to become a fakir, you need to be duty bound towards and culpable before the almighty. Unless you perform this duty diligently, you cannot become a fakir. So what is this duty? You need to perform zikr/ utterance and worship. You also need to fast. When we visit Daata Baba’s shrine, often four or five days elapse before we realize that we have gone without food or taken a bath. We simply sit and meditate and focus our thoughts on Daata Baba and the almighty. We sit and utter His name. It is said that if you partake of the elixir of immortality, all feelings of earthly hunger secede. Performing zikr/ utterance and pranayam are synonymous to partaking of such elixir, and we forget our hungers-of-the-body. In order to become a fakir, in order for the almighty to respond to your call, you need to undergo a certain amount of penance. You observe so many people roaming amidst the wilderness, their hair unkempt and gone wild, alms bags strung across their shoulders. So many people roam the streets, calling the almighty, wanting to attain him, craving to know him.
Aditi: At what age did you get initiated into this path?
Bodo: I was initiated into this path at a very young age. My father too was a fakir. He would take an hour for every single song he performed. Why so? Within his performance, he would spend a long time simply invoking the Guru. His songs evoked a deep feeling, a sense of yearning. As children, we used to wonder in amazement at this yearning for the almighty, for Allah and for the guru. From a very early age, I have been observing penance. We became fakirs only after undergoing a certain duty towards the almighty. These days, people become fakirs in name only, without undergoing any duty at all. You have to perform a certain ethical duty towards Allah. Such duty is called pairobi. Yet, most fakirs you see today- fakirs in name only- do not even know the language of fakirs. The fakirs have their own linguistic register; yet, most do not know it at all.
Aditi: Yes, it’s true, especially for commoners like us. We don’t understand many of the words which have coded meanings.
Bodo: I will give you an example (quotes in Arabic and translates) “Says Mirazul, “I didn’t meet you today, O Supreme One!” You see, this is the Arabic language. Mirazul had an encounter with Allah Rasul. He had a meeting and a communion with the supreme one. So, what quality did Mirazul possess which enabled him to attain such proximity with the supreme one? It was the quality of Utterance. The supreme one has a hundred and one names, and one often does not know which name to invoke Him by. In order to know it, you need to initiate yourself with a guru— a pir or murshid. So, Lalan says in one of his songs—
Make no Mistake! The one who is Murshid is also Rasul! He is Allah too!
So says not Lalan, but the Q’uran!
Another song contains a similar message—
The earth has not the capability to devour this flesh!
If only your body has been burned to ashes by the Murshid’s flame!
Aditi: So your own father was your guru?
Bodo: My initial training in music was from my father. Thereafter, I have been associated with various sadhus at different points of time in life. Presently, my guru is Gani Pagol of Bangladesh. He resides in Jugirghopa village under Gangni police station.
Aditi: From what age did you embark on this path?
Bodo: I do not remember the precise age, but I was indeed very young, still in my dotted half pants, when I first picked up the dotara. Today, this dotara costs five thousand rupees. When I had bought it, it had cost only fifty rupees.
Aditi: So did you grow up in Gourbhanga?
Bodo: Yes, our house is in Gourbhanga. I kept the company of a lot of sadhus at Gourbhanga. Those days, a lot of such sadhus would visit Gourbhanga. Many like Jhoru Kol, Bhelu Kana and Tetul Das would regularly come over from Bangladesh. They would sing and perform so wonderfully. You just do not witness such performances these days. Their performances would move the onlooker to tears. They would lose themselves within their love for the divine. They would become the epitome of love itself. Their eyes would be flooded with tears and we would be moved to tears as well. These days, you have functions, but you do not witness such levels of devotion and such performances. These days, congregations of sadhus too seem to be dwindling. Instead, we have functions where people perform for money.
Aditi: Do you think those older people were perhaps more honest in their music and their devotion? I just asked the same question to Akkas (fakir) in fact.
Bodo: Yes, they were. Even when they would speak, the words would come flowing from their heart. And the Almighty would hear these words uttered from the heart with such honesty. These days, people do not utter from the heart. They simply parrot what they have heard from others. Performances, too, have become so mechanical.
Aditi: So what is your opinion regarding the fakirs who are taking up this path now?
Bodo: Well, out of one hundred who take up initiation, maybe one or two become true fakirs. But not everyone can become a Baul or a fakir. There was a Lalan mela being held at Krishnanagar in the Nadia district. There was a fakir who was visiting from Bangladesh. He told me, “Golam! I have seen three kinds of sadhus in your country— one kind is the fakir who only has the garb/ dress of a fakir; another kind is the fakir who knows (janne-wala), another kind is the one who does/ acts (karne-wala). The three are not the same.” The fakir who does or acts has been around since centuries. They usually remain aloof in this world of fake fakirs; they hide themselves in their little niches. You have to seek them out and you have to know them. You need to ponder whether a fakir you meet is true or not.
Aditi: Do you have many disciples?
Bodo: Yes, I have a few disciples and followers.
Aditi: Has anyone been initiated with you as Guru?
Bodo: Yes. Just as I emulate other fakirs, there are those that also observe and emulate me. There are also those who learn songs from me and emulate me in their performance.
Aditi: At present, how many fakirs are there in Gourbhanga?
Bodo: At present, there are many fakirs in Gourbhanga. In my father’s time, there used to be only twelve or thirteen. Now, there are around two hundred. There are five ashrams in our village.
Aditi: Who do these ashrams belong to?
Bodo: There is one that was started by Munsir Fakir. There is another that was jointly begun by Akkas Fakir and me. Akkas also had his own ashram. There is another that was started by Akbar Khan, and yet another that was established by Ashraf Fakir.
Aditi: You perform at a lot of functions these days. Are there times when you also congregate among yourselves and sing devotional songs?
Bodo: Yes, of course. Such devotional songs are an integral part of our everyday life. Whenever we are congregated at our ashram, we practice music. We also discuss various things, not at all related to our family lives. The home is the place for all mundane familial matters. Such matters should not even be discussed within the ashram. If one wishes to talk about petty things, one can do so in the streets, but not in the ashram. Once seated inside the ashram, you need to focus your thoughts on the divine, speak about the divine and about the guru, and speak from your heart. You focus your mind on music and through it, on the supreme one. Such things are not possible at home and hence, we need to step into the ashram from time to time.
Aditi: Apart from your regular visits to Kolkata, which places have you travelled to?
Bodo: I have been to London thrice. I have also been to Paris, Tunisia, Switzerland, China, Denmark and Malaysia. I have been to Dhaka four times. Although my address is in India, Bangladesh is like a second home to me. In my mind, Bengal is one and I travel to and fro very often.
Aditi: Out of all these places where you have performed before an audience, which sticks out within your memory?
Bodo: I liked London and Paris the most.
Aditi: Were the people there more receptive?
Bodo: How did they receive me? How did they perceive the meaning of my words? Well, it is possible for words to be translated from Bengali to English. But more important than the exact meaning of the words is the ability to communicate feelings. I gave them love, affection and inspiration and received the same from them in turn.
Aditi: You mentioned especially liking London and Paris. Most people there do not understand Bengali. So in which language did you communicate?
Bodo: They understood the language of feelings as well as the language of music. Devotional feeling has its own language and so does music. These languages can be performed as well as emulated, without necessarily comprehending the precise meanings of the words sung. It is possible to glean the essence of a song through music and feeling alone. The person will understand what your heart wants to say. This is how I would communicate with them and they were pleased.
Aditi: So you have two kinds of disciples— those that understand the essence of your songs and those like us who do not understand the language at all. Who do you think enjoys your songs more?
Bodo: I am from Bengal. Those who understand Bengali will be able to comprehend some of the meaning of my songs. I have performed abroad a number of times. And yet, among those who do not have any grasp over Bengali, I have seen people being deeply moved. On such occasions, someone would often translate a couple of words or sometimes provide a gist of the song. So, we found a good audience abroad who were receptive to these songs, although the lyrics were in Bengali.
Aditi: Are there a lot of Arabic and Persian words in the songs?
Bodo: Yes, I already mentioned an example of the use of Arabic words in our songs. There are a lot of regional words too. So, the songs of fakirs, especially those by Lalan Shah, are very poly-lingual. They have words which are distinctly regional in original, along with Bengali, Arabic, Persian and Urdu words. You will find the influence of a diverse gamut of languages if you have a keen ear for them.
Aditi: How do you like this way of life that you have selected for yourself?
Bodo: This path for me has given me the very meaning of my life. This is my path of love, my path to attain the almighty. This is also the path for the liberation of the soul. The songs that I perform are not so much meant for an audience, but rather as sustenance for my own soul. The songs I sing are meant to be sung solely for my own self. There is no problem in there being an audience. There is also no problem if someone gets up and leaves in the middle of a performance. The songs are intended solely for the self. I am the performer and the listener too. There is a song—
Music is food for my love,
Consuming purges my soul,
Fasting is a punishment,
My body perishes…
Aditi: You perform both in cities as well as in villages. What differences do you perceive in an audience from a village and an audience in a big town?
Bodo: There was a time when we would perform only in villages. The people in the big cities only knew us later, once they became familiar with the essence of our songs. It is only then that we began performing in the big cities as well. If people in cities were non-receptive, why would we keep coming back to perform? Increasingly, people not just in big cities, but also abroad, have become more and more receptive to our kind of music.
Aditi: Music has its own language after all.
Bodo: Well, you can give me any American beat or rhythm, and I can compose and perform a song to it. I have experienced such a thing before. Music from all across the world synthesize into one. Sometimes, when we perform abroad, the hoardings we put up ask the people to know and pass on that knowledge, to hear and sing with us. Each time I travel abroad, I wish to gain some knowledge and also wish to pass on some of what I know.
Aditi: Do you have any foreign disciples?
Bodo: I have a Portuguese disciple from Spain who is a journalist. I also have friends in London and Denmark. They also try to learn Bengali from me.
Aditi: Have you also taught them music?
Bodo: No, not yet. But they want to know the meaning of my songs and I, through casual conversation, try and explain the meanings of the words. I have another friend from Jamaica.
Aditi: Jamaicans have a keen sense of music.
Bodo: Indeed, they do have a fascinating sense of music. My eyes perceive every one as a sadhu.
Aditi: Maybe, because you yourself a sadhu, you perceive every person as such. So, what do you feel was your strongest impediment in this path of sadhana?
Bodo: I cannot give you the answer in words. Rather, let me attempt to sing and provide you with an answer. Let me narrate an incident! Goutam Ghosh, the director and a close friend of mine, wanted me to give him a Sufi song for a television soap he was making on the life of Rammohun Roy. I wanted him to listen to five songs and select one. However, right after I performed the first, he selected it. I asked him why not listen to the second song before making a choice. Your question reminds me of this incident. Let me now attempt to formulate an answer through a song, “Who are you submerging yourself on the banks of the river?” What is this river? This is a song based upon the metaphysics of the body (deha-tattva). This river resides inside the human body. It is not a physical river like the Khori or the Mayurakshi. It is not a meandering river. It is constantly in flow within the body. So the song goes—
Who are you submerging yourself on the banks of the river?
We will have great fun finding out—
Who are you, on the banks of the river, at a time when Kartick flies?
When the fire takes hold within your body,
You will tie holy threads and medallions on your neck,
Will these redeem you if the water inside your mind has run dry?
Where does the water run dry? On the banks of the river! If you want to practice true sadhana and attain liberation from the body, you have to first conquer the demons inside you. Such an injunction is also given in the Q’uran— “Do not turn amanat (loyalty) into khayanat (breach of trust)!” There is another song—
Do not obstruct the direction, from which the river flows,
The Q’uran says it is immortal!
You cannot obstruct the flow of the river. If you intend to do so, the river will run dry and on the dry soil, a thousand ants will gather and devour you. But if you can maintain the flow, even the lord Yama will bow before you. It is indeed very difficult to become a fakir. There are many impediments and inner struggles. You have to continuously perform Ibadat/ Devotion through an utterance of the name of the divine. Only the person who has already embarked on this path knows these struggles. It is impossible for others to know. I cannot even explain these to someone who is uninitiated. I cannot express through words what I feel within my heart. In case you happen to embark on this path, you shall attain such realization yourself. Once, a gathering comprising me and others embarked from Delhi to the dargah of Khwaja Baba in Ajmer Sharif. Hundred and sixty people began the walk, but only seventeen completed it. I and my brother were among the seventeen. The road isn’t a physical one. It’s a metaphorical journey through human hell. Only after you manage to cross it, can you walk on the other road— that of ideal sadhana. If you fail on this road, you fail on that too. So how does one become a fakir? There are many struggles, many duties and many forms of ibadat to be performed. You need to forget to take your meals and keep uttering the names of Allah and Daata Baba. When we visit the shrine of Daata Baba, we feel his presence around us all the time; we feel as if he has come and sat down with us. But he never reveals his identity. He is clever. It is you who has to perceive him. If you call him, he will respond. If you call Allah, He too shall respond. After all, you are His disciple, bound to Him. So He is compelled to respond to your call.
Aditi: Have you ever perceived the Almighty?
Bodo: Yes, I have. He listens to you. He will come to you and yet is clever enough not to reveal Himself.
Aditi: How many members are there in your family?
Bodo: I have three sons, two daughters-in-law, my grandchildren and the one who presides over the kitchen— my wife.
Aditi: Have all of them embarked upon this path?
Bodo: One of my sons is initiated into Baul music. The other two love music, but they mostly tend to ours fields and crops. Maybe, they too shall become fakirs one day.
Aditi: How many siblings do you have?
Bodo: We are four brothers and four sisters. All of us four brothers are fakirs. My sisters too are initiated with gurus. Although they are now part of their husband’s families and have become home-makers, they have been initiated with gurus. They have also influenced their husbands into seeking out gurus.
Aditi: Tell us the names of your brothers.
Bodo: The name of my eldest brother is Abdul Rashid Khan, the one after him is called Arman Ali Khan Fakir, I, Golam Fakir, am the third, and my younger brother is named Babu Fakir.
Aditi: I would like to know a little more about women and the fakir way of life. Are women, too, allowed to become fakirs?
Bodo: How are women like? See, if women want, they can inspire you to become a fakir. Death, life and love are in their hands. If men are kites, they are the kite-flyers, as they are the ones that hold the spool of thread. They can make us saints. They can also lead us astray. They protect and nurture us. There is a song—
If you know the ground on which to sow,
A hundred and thirty harvests will you grow;
Allah is angered by loud cries and wails.
The Kazis, Mullahs old and young say—
Namaaz is a debt we all need to repay.
So says Lalan, unless you know where to pray,
What use is namaaz anyway?
We fakirs consider that place as synonymous with the Rahmah. The namaaz is to be dedicated to it. You have to repay your debt to it through namaaz. Otherwise, your prayer will prove meaningless. But these are things that should not be said. You cannot explain it to most people as most would not understand.
Aditi: Do you have any CDs of your songs? How many?
Bodo: Quite a few! Around four or five I think. I do not particularly wish to keep any copy with me.
Aditi: Do you like being recorded?
Bodo: I do not like to listen to recorded voices. I would rather hear myself sing.
Aditi: Haven’t you also worked in the movies?
Bodo: Yes, in the film Moner Manush. Goutam Ghosh had approached me for the role. After I had given him the Sufi song for his television soap, he called me again and invited me over to the house of the actor Prosenjit. Seated in chairs, we heard Ghosh read out the whole script to us. Prosenjit himself was seated on my right. I told him, “Listen! O crazy one! I do not watch films or television. But I have heard from peoples’ mouths that you are a major actor of Bengali cinema. So, if you want to play the role of the Great Fakir, you have to inculcate the mannerisms of one, as you are not a real fakir. If you study the mannerisms of real fakirs and then proceed to shoot the film, it will prove greatly beneficial for you.” He immediately touched my feet and asked me to guide him. I said that I could not shoulder such a great responsibility. So I asked my second eldest brother to assist him. My brother strived a lot in his efforts to guide him. I too assisted them. He is a very good human being. Whatever we would instruct him, he tried his best to follow.
Aditi: How did you like working in and being part of the film?
Bodo: I had a new experience in life. It was also an achievement for us that a film on Bauls and fakirs became the talk of every household and was screened in every home on television sets. People came to know and understand more about fakirs. Lalan has said, “It is easy to awaken desire, hard to awaken the mind.” Let people know and understand the meaning of these words. Lalan has said in another song—
Love is but one, though the paths are two
Some to heaven travel, others to hell go!
Both paths in this very world dwell
So hear what Lalan has to tell—
Let not the wrong love hold its sway!
If to love you yearn, let the sadhu show the way!
Indeed, love is the same, although some end up taking the path to hell, and others end up walking to heaven.
Aditi: Do you indeed think that this is the path to liberation?
Bodo: I think every human being, irrespective of whether he or she is Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jain or Buddhist, needs to at least know this path. Let them try to follow it a little, let them search within themselves. Let them at least attempt to understand what we are trying to say through our songs. There is saying, “Think before you act, after-thought is of no use!” If you wish to embark on this path, you need to think before you do so. There is another song-
Within the heart there is a strange factory,
Only by diving in will you find the jewel,
If you keep floating, it will elude you.
Such is the essence of the Baul way of life. But before you to dive in, you first need to observe and attempt to learn.
Aditi: Do you have any other profession?
Bodo: No, this is my only way of life. My only duty is to the almighty. I go wherever I find the man-of-the-heart.
Aditi: Have you found many such people?
Bodo: I believe everyone is innately good and has the capacity of becoming a fakir or a sadhu. As I told you before, my eyes perceive in every person a sadhu.
Aditi: So the “easy man” has to be sought.
Bodo: Yes the “easy man” has to be sought, perceived and known.
Aditi: And that is what is precisely so difficult to do.
Bodo: Yes, finding him is difficult. Thus goes a song—
Go about your Salaat O Learned Momin!
Know him without the aid of namaaz,
The true believer alone can find him,
In this life itself, not post death!
Unless I find Allah or Khwaja Baba or Daata Baba in this life, what use is attaining Him after death?
Aditi: Do you believe in rebirth?
Bodo: No! I don’t believe in there being anything after death. Unless I find meaning and happiness in this life, what use are these to me after death? Lalan has said, “When in this life I could not attain you, can I attain you after death!” Unless I cannot communicate with the Divine in this very life, there is no guarantee that I shall do so after death. Sadhu! Sadhu!
Recorded at Townsend Rd, Kolkata on February 25, 2015
Interviewer and Director: Aditi Sircar
Camera: Jesse Alk
Sound: Koustav Sinha
Camera Assistant: Rajib Kuila
Translated by Parjanya Sen