It is almost customary now to present Tagore’s music on a research platform for the audience to seek beyond simple listening pleasure. Organizers of programmes are often compelled these days to look for new and unexplored angles to Tagore’s songs. It is hardly surprising, therefore, to find exponents of Tagore’s music delving into the history behind the compositions.
Shailajaranjan Majumdar had been a close associate of Tagore in the 1930s, often setting the poet’s verse to tune on his request. On Majumdar’s 108th birth anniversary, Dakshin Kalikata Nandanikee presented an evening of songs by Ashish Bhattacharjee at Rabindra Sadan on July 20 — a “Barsha Mangal” that had been staged in Santiniketan in the monsoon of 1939. This particular programme was conceived between Tagore and Majumdar, and the bunch of 16 songs are some of the poet’s best, though composed with a weak and ailing body.
Bhattacharjee had the opportunity to learn all the 16 songs from Majumdar and also to present it at a similar programme, where Majumdar spoke of his experience of gently persuading the poet to compose a song a day. Gems such as Aaji jhara jhara mukharo badaro-diney, Swapney aamar money holo, Nibir megher chhayaye, Shaghana gahana ratri and Ogo tumi panchadashi were among the songs that Majumdar painstakingly wrenched out of Tagore, often resorting to a skillful play of words to bind the poet into little promises that had to be kept. Part of the programme was finally staged in the balcony of the library building, followed by the rest of it in front of the poet’s Udayan residence the next day, as an ailing Tagore had to leave midway on the first day.
Bhattacharjee offered a graceful, if a trifle sombre presentation of this 1939 version of “Barsha Mangal” — with excerpts from Majumdar’s reminiscences and vignettes of his conversation with the poet. The thoughtful shunning of all electronic musical instruments came as a pleasant surprise. Set in a variety of ragas and styles — ranging from Yaman and Behag to Bagesree, with keertan and baul influences too, the songs reached rare aesthetic heights. Bhattacharjee is almost unequalled among the current practitioners of Rabindrasangeet in his sincerity to technical correctness and adherence to Visva-Bharati’s original notations. His rendition was smooth, and his timbre pleasant to the ear. A few of the songs might have gained from a certain variation of mood and gayaki.
The singer chose some little-heard songs like Shunyo haate phiri hey nath and Je keho morey diyechho shukh for the second half, winding up quite aptly with Pipasha hay nahi mitilo.