Making music with poetry

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  • Published 13.07.12

Aji hotey shotoborsho porey/ Ke tumi porichho boshi amar kobitakhani....

Tagore may have penned these lines foreseeing his continuing acceptance 100 years ahead, but elocutionist Shovansundar Bosu is unsure how long the habit of reading poetry in private will continue.

“In future, people will read poetry less, listen more,” says the performer. “This is already the trend in Europe.”

Bosu who stayed in Salt Lake ever since he shifted from his hometown Midnapore in 1992 has recently shifted to Animikha Sanjari Apartment in New Town after a marital discord. “But I still shop in IA Market,” says the man who takes poetry classes in Purbachal.

Bosu started out not by reading poetry but by mimicking students of his father’s recitation classes.

“My father Shibsundar Basu acted with Shambhu Mitra and Sisir Bhaduri. Debdulal Bandyopadhyay and he are among those who institutionalised poetry to be taught as a course.”

His father sent the 15-year-old Sovan to compete in a district-level poetry contest which he won. When he came to Calcutta to study management and law, he started taking lessons from Utpal Kundu. “I was soon part of a performing group called Sarathi, also featuring Bratati Bandyopadhyay.”

In 2002, he married his student Aishwarya and the next year they formed the poetry band Brishti with musicians.

The band created such a buzz that not only were they flooded with invitations to perform, especially in colleges, they also got to cut their maiden album with Saregama.

“I got the idea of a poetry band after watching British poet Benjamin Zephaniah recite at the British Council. He called himself a poetry performer and said he had a band called Pen Rhythm.” Sovan also mentions American poets Allen Ginsberg and Ira Cohen as his forerunners. “People danced to Cohen’s poems when he recited accompanied by music on the radio,” he says.

The success of the band launched another project — a poetry video CD. It was directed by Raja Sen, had Soumitra Chatterjee doing the narration and starred Indrani Halder. “It must have been the costliest poetry-related project in those days.”

Explaining the logic of treating poetry like music, Bosu says both are performing arts. So during recitation the entertainment value of a poem has to be kept more in mind than its literary value. “Zephaniah used to say, ‘Most people ignore poetry because poetry ignores them’. There is a tendency among people to walk out if a recitation starts. So we have to make poetry attractive to listeners.”

His favourite lyricist is Salil Chowdhury. “No one since Tagore has written such meaningful lines with modern expressions as he has,” he says. A close second is Kabir Suman. “Jaatismar is his best.”

He has close to 600 poems memorised. “I have done two-and-half hour shows solo. If there are poets in the audience, they make uncommon requests. I have to keep updating our repertoire.”

Despite differences, he hopes to keep doing shows with his ex-wife Aishwarya. “People know us professionally as a couple. Our duets add variety to a show.”

He is happy that the poetry band concept is catching on. “A student of mine has formed the band Mohul. Bands are coming up in Durgapur, Asansol and Siliguri too.”

Three must-recite poems in a show:

  • Prem-piyashi bondhu (Srijato) lChhipkhan teendaar (Satyen Dutta)
  • Rupam (Subodh Sarkar)

Three common audience requests:

  • Abar ashbo phire (Jeebanananda Das)
  • Birpurush (Rabindranath Tagore)
  • Palkir gaan (Satyen Dutta)