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Tapas Das: Fashion, spirit and ethos of Mohiner Ghoraguli

Bapi-da was ahead of his times with his intellect, looks and musical prowess — bandmates Pradip, Abraham, Raja and Bishu share anecdotes

Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya | Published 28.06.23, 05:15 PM
Besides music, people remember Bapi-da for his style, flair for literature and art, and being a rock n’ roll personality

Besides music, people remember Bapi-da for his style, flair for literature and art, and being a rock n’ roll personality

Tapas Das/Facebook

Singer-songwriter Tapas Das was a man from a different planet, who carried the ardour of Mohiner Ghoraguli till his last breath. Mentored by the legendary Gautam Chattopadhyay, Das stood out for his vocal texture in the Mohin catalogue.

The horse galloped for 68 years before succumbing to cancer, but he lived like a rockstar, wore fashionable clothes and developed into a personality for youngsters to follow.

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Who else but Bapi, as he was better known, could appear at a concert in a wheelchair and a Ryle’s Tube to sing his heart out? He pulled this off at Bangla Sangeet Mela at the stroke of New Year with his group Mohin Ekhon, O Bondhura comprising young musicians.

Stylish and fashionable

Besides music, people remember Bapi-da for his style, flair for literature and art, and being a rock n’ roll personality, who would not think twice before sitting down with a group of youngsters to sing Haay bhalobashi at the Jadavpur University campus.

My Kolkata spoke to a few surviving members of Mohiner Ghoraguli, India’s first Bangla rock collective, to know more about Bapi — the human being.

Gautum’s younger brother and bandmate Pradip (Bula) recalled an incident that describes Bapi’s love for fashion and highlights the outlier image. “Bapi visited my home in Jamshedpur in the mid-nineties with Moni-da (Gautam) after almost 14 years. Moni-da told me, “‘I found him at a wayside chullu thhek [country liquor bar] in Chandil while returning from Mccluskieganj’ (laughs). Bapi was wearing a chequered blazer which I had gifted Moni-da in 1984,” said Pradip, who was the flautist and electric bass player in the group. “Bapi’s voice textures along with Moni-da and Bhanu (Tapesh Bandopadhyay) added a unique touch to the sound of Mohin. His landmark contribution was Take joto tarai dure.

Tapas Das with with Gautam Chattopadhyay

Tapas Das with with Gautam Chattopadhyay

Tapas Das/Facebook

Bishu, the third brother of Gautam and Pradip, remembers Bapi as the guy from his neighbourhood in Behala, where they all grew up. “I got to know him better during the days with the band. He brought a lot of joy with his singing. Being in a band with two older brothers and a cousin, Ranjon Ghosal, Bapi-da was a good contradiction,” says Bishu, who played drums and upright bass with the group. He shared an anecdote that highlights Bapi’s aura and fashion grammar. “My earliest memory of Bapi-da is in a local cricket match. He was in a team that played against our para. He was wearing a fashionable white shirt, trousers and a wide black leather belt,” he said.

Bapi was close to Gautam and imbibed the spirit of the great man. It helped him keep music alive amid roadblocks. “We were once performing outdoors at a venue in Kolkata where someone threw stones at Mohiner Ghoraguli on stage, but Moni-da and Bapi-da kept singing. I loved that spirit,” recalled Bishu, who has been making music in New York City in recent times.

Mohiner Ghoraguli on stage

Mohiner Ghoraguli on stage

Courtesy Gaurab Chatterjee (Gaboo)

Raja Banerjee, who joined the band after the departure of Tapesh, agreed that Bapi, much like the group Mohiner Ghoraguli, was ahead of his time. The listeners in Bengal could not accept Western culture and music beyond films. “People threw stones at my Kidderpore house when we rehearsed. People would make fun of Bapi-da for his ponytail when he moved around barefoot with a beard on his chin. He never protested,” he said.

The affectionate brother

Raja found an elder brother in Bapi. “If I had to approach Moni-da, I would first ask Bapi-da who was his shadow. Among the funny incidents, I remember Moni-da and Bapi-da laughing a lot about the song Neel sagore. There were lines like Tomar akashe amar moner pakhi, Oshohay hoye keno dana jhaaptay. Bapi-da would sing while Moni-da would mimic a bird flapping its wings,” said Raja, who currently lives in Atlanta.

Abraham Mazumdar, who played violin and piano in the group, echoed Raja’s sentiments. “Bapi-da was affectionate, caring and loving. He always had the attitude to help people. I was very young when I joined the group. Bapi-da always guided me like an elder brother,” he said.

Mohiner Ghoraguli on stage

Mohiner Ghoraguli on stage

Courtesy Gaurab Chatterjee (Gaboo)

Love for live music with Mohin

Mohin disbanded in 1981, but Bapi carried the flavour of the group throughout his life. “In 1995, Moni-da was playing at a concert in Jadavpur University. There were a few youngsters with him who are established musicians now. I was in India at that time, and was part of the gig. Suddenly, Bapi-da arrived out of nowhere and said: ‘Amra gaibo (we will sing)’. So Bula-da, Bapi-da and I did Haay Bhalobashi together,” narrates Raja.

In Mohin’s three albums, Bapi contributed partial lyrics to a couple of songs and wrote the lyrics and melody for Ei sure bohu dure. Bishu, who met Das in January at the SSKM hospital, said, “I told him we would reunite soon. Alas! We won’t reunite with Bapi-da now.”

Bapi had always wished to rest at the Garia crematorium. He could visualise his Moni-da waiting for him. Now, both of them, along with Ranjon, can design a great gig in the sky.

Last updated on 28.06.23, 10:04 PM
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