The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Abiding tale of love & revolt

Pallikabi (village bard) Jasimuddin was born on the first day of 1903, and his birth centenary is being observed this year. But is he merely a village bard or, like Robert Burns, a remarkable poet who challenged the rural-urban and rustic-refined divide' When one reads his lyrics, like Gourigirir meye (a sensitive yet heartfelt invocation to Goddess Durga) and Anurodh (a chiselled love poem woven in folk rhythm) and then goes on to respond to his two evergreen dramatic poems Naksi-kanthar Math and Sojonbadiar Ghat, one concludes that the label ‘village-bard’ is an example of inadequate salutation.

Both these ballads cross the prescribed limits of folk poetry. In fact, they articulate a secular and humanist vision in a diction that is earth-sprung and elegant. No wonder, both these ‘modern’ ballads, replete with social conflicts, have been dramatised. While Naksi-kanthar Math was given a vibrant, dramatic form by Kalyani Natya Charcha Kendra in 2001, Nandikar’s latest venture has transformed Sojonbadiar Ghat into a collective spectacle. The guiding spirit behind both these splendid productions is Gautam Halder, who has proved with his friends that Jasimuddin can inspire exciting theatre. Perhaps, ‘theatre’ is not the apposite descriptive. For, Nandikar’s centenary homage to the poet integrates the musical, dance-theatre and dialogue-based drama into one indivisible format.

The closely-entwined personal and social layers, both equally intense in this dramatisation, convey the abiding message of love and revolt. While the Muslim village lad Sojon and his heartthrob Duli, a Nomosudra belle, trample barriers to come together, their village, Simultali, experiences bloody clashes between the two communities, engineered by the high-caste Hindu nayeb of the local landlord. Ultimately, the star-crossed lovers choose death and their last act of defiance perpetuates the message of deathless harmony. In all, 21 musical instruments, 40 singers and 51 actors merge and clash, coalesce and collide on the stage to embody the poet’s ideal. Jasimuddin’s flowing verse leaps and sparkles as the actors and singers turn his words into war cries and laments.

Jasimuddin, who loved to infuse the lyric with the dramatic, would have loved two particular scenes. In the first, Duli lovingly explains the Hindu and Muslim themes of her paintings to Sojon, in an atmosphere of conjugal warmth. In the second, this syncretic ambience is shattered by the outbreak of sectarian vendetta. Incited by the crafty nayeb, fierce Nomosudras confront vengeful Muslims and their furious dance exposes the futility of it all. A fine excess of songs recreating the world of baul-bhatiyali-ajan-kirtan weaves the protesting, choric design.

We recall Sojon and Duli with a sense of special urgency in our divisive times. They impart the mantra of love and tolerance in world vitiated by the Talibans and Togadias. Finicky post-moderns might find the ‘secular’ storyline grossly simplistic, even Utopian. But neither Jasimuddin nor Nandikar, anchored to the soil, have whitewashed the vitriol and violence ingrained in us. We confront their awesome might but then aspire for the resplendent Utopia from the sphere of our soiled lives.

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