Thursday, June 30, 2005

Transitions: Notes from Dhaka’s ‘Historical Underground’ - Part 3

We wanted to form a band. We had names ready, and Disha back from Russia with his European orientation taught us ‘Rock attitude’. Even as we debated whether we should be playing Deep Purple and Uriah Heep or ‘khyat Bengali songs’ we had no instruments or equipments, and ones we sometimes managed to beg and borrow, none of us knew how to play them!
My friend Nawshad had better ideas - ‘we gotta start somewhere man’ and so we ended up banging the table and raising hell at a neighborhood teashop every evening. That sort of built us a tiny reputation that went pretty well with our ‘flair-ed’ pants (they had to completely cover our 2 inch High Heeled shoes) and figure hugging Batik Tee shirts brought from Shade in Moghbazar. Somebody was at least thinking of dressing us up affordably, and doing a roaring business – in fact Shade to my reckoning was the first fashion and curio house in Bangladesh. We of course designed our own torn and patched up denim shirts – with the tongue wagging logo of Rolling Stones and My Foot graffiti in the back. Jeans that we all loved were not available then.

For us dudes in DOHS, we had a Timothy Leary (1920-1996) like visionary in – Yamin Chowdhury, (now teacher in Agha Khan School) maverick extraordinary and Master student of Physics in DU then. With an acid tongue of considerable notoriety he made F*** vogue in our vocabulary! His twice weekly lectures at an under construction house, on politics, philosophy and the way the world was shaping, made him an undisputed savant. In retrospect, how else am I to explain his prediction of ‘Yanks kicking Muslim Asses soon’ and invading Iraq way back in 1973? To chastise our errant ways he would lovingly quote verses from Kahlil Gibran and the English Koran, which made sense and we would fall into discipline more than the neighborhood mullah could dare dream.
In 1974 I caught up with Popsy and Murad (musician friends who could actually play the Drums and Bass) and begged them to our first practice session in Nawshad’s # 1 (old) DOHS backroom. The place was 10 feet by 12 feet with a smelly toilet next door, and to cheer us on would be a hundred friends in the garden, and something like a dozen wannabe rock stars lining up. I was ‘formally’ designated the ‘English vocalist’ – by Nawshad by then ‘Manager’ of the FIASCO band, and one performance at the Dhaka Club after a Housey (Bingo) Game later – it all ended in a huge fiasco……his Dad threw us out!
In January 1975, I joined Notre Dame College where the American Principal Father A. J. Wheeler, wouldn’t look down at our long hair, our smoking cigarettes in the canteen, or interfere in our spirit of freedom as long as we stayed OFF politics. The Famine of the same year left me a mental wreck and devastated. I was the only Muslim student that stayed back after college as a volunteer to work till late at night with the Christian Seminarians in the relief camp set up inside the campus.
We looked after 2,000 destitute and dying children and cooked, fed, bathed and clothed them. Malnourishment meant most of them had hideous skin infections. The overpowering stench of rotting corpses would hang on my clothes making it unbearable for my parents. I had therefore to wash up in the garden, and change to new clothes before I would be permitted in. They silently bore my emotional trauma, but let me continue for months – what they thought I must do.
And then came 15th August 1975, the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family. Soldiers were moral policing streets and the unspoken decree was ‘long hair’ was an act of hostility. After Nawshad was bashed up, all of us decided to ‘let it go’. Was freedom on the way out? Nah.
My backbench buddy from Class IV in Shaheen School, Rizwan bin Farouq (the one who ‘honored’ me with the first peek at Playboy and Oui magazine), worked out therapeutical ways to release us of all that pent up hurt and general state of depression.
Saturday Afternoon Party they were called, and at House 123, Road 4 Dhanmondi, Dhaka 5, (1,2,3,4, 5 – now could anybody miss that?) was the first DO and became later a regular hangout. Girls from Holy Cross College and Vicky (Viqarunnessa Noon School) would bunk classes, get to the venue by afternoon, change from their uniform into mind blowing attires and facial make ups, and we would dance until just after dusk, the tempo broken by an occasional ……’ssssh keep it low man’ whenever an Army patrol came to the neighborhood.
No AC’s those days (officially a luxury item), so we like ‘sweated into each other’ with Eagles “You can’t hide your Lyin Eyes” in the background when in came time for the grand finale - ‘close dance’ to close the evening. They were usually KISS (Keep it Short and Simple) as the girls had to clamber back to their uniforms to go home. Smooches, and TTFN’s (Ta ta for Now) later, we looked forward to the next Saturday and the next and the next. All of us were reading Harold Robbins, and some of us were falling in and out of love, and there were occasional hushed whispers among the girls about ‘missing periods’ – but look at the flip side dudes - the Icing In The Cake?
Our freedom fighter ‘boro bhais’ and their girlfriends the ‘apas’ were joining in the fun, and we were giving them the mighty ‘chheel’ when we needed money. The generational divide, remnant from our parent’s time was essentially severed at that point for GOOD. But hang on….‘Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll has arrived among children of the elite’ sermonized a leading Bengali newspaper and ‘boro bhais and boro apas’ quite rightly pleaded ‘bondho koro eishob’.
We were drawing too much attention from ‘party poopers’ – so everything kinda sadly melted.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Transitions: Notes from Dhaka’s ‘Historical Underground’ - Part 2

Then came Television – and all hell broke loose. It was a 6 p.m. to 9.p.m thing and we were watching the world. Daytime would be spent talking endlessly about what we had seen in the grainy, sometime half broken black-and-white transmissions. There was only one TV set in the building and something like fifty of us kids sitting transfixed till it ended with the Persian national anthem of Pakistan, every night for months, except on Monday’s – the TV station also had a weekly holiday!

My suave elder brother and hero Mahmoodul Haque, on vacations from Faujderhat Cadet College where he studied, would sit with his hair immaculately combed in front of the TV set. When the oomph Masuma Khatun made her announcements, we were convinced that she was only looking at Mahmood Bhai, NOT us! The girls would go ga-ga about Alam Rashid, the English newsreader, so we boys did our best to mimic the way he spoke.
The 1968-1969 anti-Ayub Khan political upheavals leading on to the Seventies saw Mahmood Bhai and another dear cousin Rafique Hossain (Sabu Bhai) both students of the Dhaka University then, in serious problems with the law. Sabu Bhai was exceptional – and when I caught up with him after his troubles ended, he had long hair and beard, the first real ‘Hippy’ that I had set my eyes upon, and that too in my family? He indoctrinated me into finer things in life, Comic Books, Readers Digest, Marx and Mao Tse Tung, as also a first taste of Chewing Gum. When I wanted to grow my hair long, Mum said, ‘very well, be as good in your studies as Sabu, and you can have things your way’ – but I knew I would be defying her soon, very soon.
The late sixties revolt in the US and Europe bubbling up to the seventies; questioning parental and establishment’s authority was the ‘in thing’, in pictorials of LIFE Magazine. Scenes from Vietnam on TV hung like a painful burden in my little thudding heart. Anti-war student protestors being beaten up in the US to chants of ’the whole world is watching you’ for a global TV audience came together with the first deaths. When Crosby, Still, Nash & Young sang “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we're finally on our own, this summer I hear the drumming, four dead in Ohio”, I cried in unison with the world. We weren’t pushed that Hippy by then had became a derogatory word and reading Che Guevara specially his Bolivian Diary, only ebbed the fire in me that was getting increasingly harder to control. He too had long hair and died with them, so ‘what the heck’.
In 1971 I witnessed first hand the US backed brutalities in this motherland of mine. Rape and torture victims, dead bodies and everything that went with it; there were one too many, and in no way different from the tales of millions. I wish now to forget everything, as there is nothing personally ‘heroic’ to report here of ‘fighting the enemy’ other than contending with demons within my psyche and learning the hard way that there is no such thing as a ‘humane war’. Fearing my growing sensitivity Dad held a tight ‘emotional blackmail’ like leash over me. Who wouldn’t? I was only 13 then and an only son.
Ironically it was Dad’s job in a Swiss company that saw us leave Dhaka in July of the same year and end up in Karachi where on 17th December – the newspapers ran a terse 24-word statement, that I can still recall from memory: “Following an agreement made between the local commanders of the Eastern Front, fighting has ceased in East Pakistan, and Indian troops have entered Dacca”, confirming what the BBC Radio broadcast the previous evening, the bloody birth of Bangladesh.

jOI Bangla I hugged Dad and Mum amidst sobs and tears, and it was NO political slogan those days, neither did my head hang in shame as it does today
While in Karachi, Mum never asked me why I had stopped going to the barber which I had promised myself would be only in Bangladesh. In November 1972, following a failed attempt to escape via Quetta, then a second in 1973, when we were locked up in custody for over 12 hours by Pakistani border guards, who looted our money, we managed to reach Kabul in Afghanistan via Kandahar in near stages of destitution. Snow, which I saw for the first time in my life – invigorated me – Free at last.
On 22nd February 1973, we reached Dacca (Dhaka today), and on 7th March – off went my shoulder length hair, as started a new regimented life at the Adamjee Cantonment College. I had lost three precious years of schooling and times were hard in this new Sonar Bangla of ours. Broke and in brink of famine, down to every man on the street, my family could be no exception. The TCB (Trading Corporation of Bangladesh – who me and friends renamed ‘Thog, Chor O Butpaar’ for good reasons) offered us ‘fair price goods’ – and in a way it was nice, because all of us wore the same tetron fiber pants, and pink polyester shirts! Socialism was working in a round about way – we had ‘very cheap’ Mod Russian shoes to wear. The only problem was, we had to riotously sieve through a whole pile in TCB shops to get a matching fit.
We had earful of The Concert For Bangladesh LP’s at our friend Taimur’s in DOHS (old) where we tore his house down with the very loud ‘turn tables’ (record players by then had a new term), together with months of Wood Stock ’69 - 3 Days of Peace and Music – and all our heroes from Santana, Rolling Stones, Sly & The Family Stones, The Who, CSNY, CCR, Jimi Hendrix, even Ravi Shankar, you name it, every body was there – screaming for FREEDOM.
In independent Bangladesh the global concept of freedom couldn’t have had a better time. Cannabis smoke hung like a ‘thick cloud’ from the floor to the roof of the Engineers Institute auditorium in 1974, and with chants of ‘Gausal Azam hoo hah’ in the psychedelic haze, on stage would appear a Christ like figure, bearded and hair flowing past his shoulder, a former Mukti Bahini guerrilla Commander, Azam Khan. He would proceed to blow our minds with music from his band Uccharon – and shape our fearless attitude much to the consternation of our parents.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Transitions: Notes from Dhaka’s ‘Historical Underground’ - Part 1

‘Transition’ is a word loaded with uncertainties for it narrows the width of examining issues over a time frame and leaves us pleasantly surprised at how much or how little we have managed to achieve. For instance, if we are to look at the transition in air transportation, from the Wright Brothers attempt to fly a ‘machine’ in 1903, to supersonic Concords, Man on the Moon in 1969, the Space Shuttles, Stealth bombers that defy radars, or the Aerial predator Drones that go into battle with no humanoid on board: all of it happened within the span of the last hundred years, a century that defied mans achievements in technology to the one that preceded it.

This write-up is about my transitional experience in Bangladesh over the last forty years of the century gone by. From the sixties, on to this new millennium it’s all about the icons that made me emotive, frustrated or sensitized but for most part, kept me happy. I am sure many have shared similar transitions – bitter, as they may have been in some cases, they never failed to percolate hope. Hope is the essence of mans survival; no capital has to be expended other than expanding the spirit of a Soul, that understands precious little, but to move forward. Nature moves us on from a ‘cell’, to an embryo, a fetus, an infant, and child, pre-teen, post-teen. When we become ‘gray haired forty-something’ we take stock and say with futile benediction – ‘life itself is a transition’ and ‘hope for a better world way beyond’ what our limited faculty of the imagination affords us, for granted. Even in death man is programmed to remain hopeful.

The First ‘Steps’ in Transition – for me was waking up to pitter-patter sounds of my feet encased in paper shoes. The year 1960, and I was less than 3 years old in Narayangang where I was born. Next, would be spending hours before the mirror figuring what this ‘deflected reflection’ is all about, a ‘name’ that I would respond to, and then the gift of speech, ‘hey world I have arrived’ and there was to be no looking back.

The Glorious Sixties – was exploding around me. Among the first icon was the large Murphy Radio set that Dad hooked up to a wire-mesh antennae inside the living room, which came up with strange voices, and even stranger human expressions most of which I didn’t understand. I could conjure a million images, and they were all patently mine. Music and songs filled my life; everything from Pakistani crooner Ahmed Rushdie’s Urdu song, ‘Co Co Coreena’ jive, or ‘Hello, hello Mr.Abdul Ghani’ was the rage.

Sunday afternoon it was Top of the Pop ‘western music’ time, as Dad would explain. I was too young to understand the lyrics, but Elvis Presley’s ‘Aint Nothin but a Hound dog’, hounded me like nothing else did. I discovered I could dance (The Twist it was called) ta da da! I was communicating telepathically with beings in another continent, another world, and the Morning News daily had Elvis’s photograph and while I loved that puffed up, greased slick back, hairstyle, mine were ‘crew-cut’ coat brush like short and it better be that way. My hero then was Cassius Marcellus Clay, aka Muhammad Ali the boxer, and I had a large scrapbook filled with his photographs!

Morning News held copyrights to an icon of intellectual stimulation which my father, Uncles and other elders would pore hours over, the Get A Word – crossword puzzle, which would leave me….well ‘puzzled’! Weren’t soap or cell companies dishing out money as ‘sponsor’ – nor was there any inducement to ‘buy one and get two free’. People were paid cash prizes by the daily for ‘brain power’…any takers today?

And then came this very heavy black device that technicians took more than a day to hook up. The Telephone it was called then and ‘land lines’ today? This was more fun than the Radio, as it talked back to me, and I would run wherever I was, and stop whatever I was doing to sing in a cheery ‘Hello’ whenever it tring-tringed! Amazing, in that many years of transition nobody has managed to translate ‘Hello’ into Bengali – ‘ohey’?

Fridays, Dad would drag me along to the mosque, and while I never understood a word of Arabic, things were scary. For reasons best known to gOD and Dad’s great annoyance, I would be pushed way, way, back, to the last row of the congregation, apparently an ‘appropriate place’ for an ‘improper child’ like me by some design of the Maker! The horror of saying prayers to the ‘Almighty’, with complete strangers, and then crying out loud when I couldn’t trace Dad after it all ended, makes the hair in my arms rise to this day.

The other BIG scare was the attack during khutbas on Hindus, who were the ‘lowest of the low’ as we were made to believe, in the eyes of Allah and not ‘worthy of friendship of the faithful’. Yet I couldn’t figure out why my parents never stopped me from playing with Oomla Agarwal, my best friend and son of a rich Marwari jute merchant, in the building complex we lived? When I asked Oomla the very innocent question of how we were ‘different’ – he promptly dropped his shorts and asked me to do the same. Our difference was clearly, only about a quarter centimeter of flesh taken ‘off’ our respective ‘you know what’!

In Narayangang Preparatory School where I had my earliest schooling, on Guy Fawkes Day, we burnt effigies of the traitor, and when I would narrate this with excitement to my stern Arabic teacher at home, he would chastise me for attending a ‘Christian ceremony’, making me a Muslim of lesser faith. With that began my revolt against ‘faith’, and I discovered quite early in life, that ‘this’ was destined to be my new FAITH. I remained Arabic illiterate by choice.

Transitions: Notes from Dhaka's Historical Underground - Part 6

Amidst all the euphoria things were beginning to trouble me. A previously undiscovered spiritual fire was lit by my association with the Bauls in 1988. As I moved even closer to them, I was beginning to reject everything around me. It really wasn’t a ‘born again’ phase, but more a ‘look inward guilt trip’ and discovering my personal frailties and the fragility of my existence. My knowledge absorption capacity was rarely ever so taxed in the many years of school, college or university than by what this new ‘school’ was beginning to teach me, and the more I learnt, the more I began to think. I saw the emergence of a new trait in my character - HUMILITY.

I went not just looking for songs that I could replicate - I had to understand their inherent meaning, and the process blew my mind. Men of wisdom guided me but never disapproved of what I believed in strongly. I told FEEDBACK that the next album, sadly my last with them, would be called Bauliana. Released in 1996, it was a shock to Dhaka’s urbanised fan base. Everything that goes around comes around and I was, for the first time in my life, labelled a ‘khyat’. What a compliment! That didn’t upset me, because delighting me were the thousands of letters pouring in from villages all over the country. The Rock Revolution was by now very silently becoming a mass phenomenon, no longer restricted to Dhaka. What a relief!

It was Paul McCartney who once said, ‘Music is pleasure - once it quits being a pleasure, one must quit.’ And so in the winter of 1996 came the time to bid farewell to Feedback. After 20 years with the outfit, in my resolve to leave, there were no emotions, no tears, just a few curt handshakes and adios guys. ‘Many�’ who thought we were competition were secretly delighted; others were shocked and I had to face a barrage of questions, and till today do not or WILL not give a specific answer.

I could never explain to anyone that I had entered a phase in my life where money, fame or popularity were not the most important things to me. I valued my inner peace and the opportunity to work with a lot of young and very talented musicians - thus Maqsood O’ dHAKA was born. I have never been happier.

The first dHAKA album ‘Prapto Boyeshker Nishiddho’ of 1997 was my ‘hell hath no fury’ condemnation of rotten politics and a polluted social structure that provides opportunity for criminalisation of all aspects of national life, sparing none - not even the youngest. I didn’t attempt to put square pegs into round holes in my lyrics; they had to be as true as my conscience would dictate, and they had to be brutally honest.

My attack on the establishment through music made me predictably its only casualty. The petty politics that a handful of rock musicians were involved in meant I would not be permitted to appear in any concert, and in the earliest dHAKA shows I would be asked to get down even as I was in the midst of my second on third song. I remained defiant and never let that happen even as Dhaka concert-goers were getting rubbished by fake fakir wannabes and sometimes bald sometimes bandana-ed what else have we jokers. My mission and that of my band was and remains giving it our best - no short change.

In 1999 the second dHAKA album ‘Ogo Bhalobasha’, the first jazz-rock fusion album from Bangladesh, was scuttled by my dear old friends, the culture vultures! My apparent blasphemy in daring to render a fusion version of a Tagore song made me the Public Cultural Renegade # 1, and I am happy with that! With friends such as these, do I really need enemies? The album is the least heard of my works, and it is a shame, because I thought this is the best work I had done in all my life. Bad luck!

And now?

My personal transitions have thus been stormy and never easy. I had to pass strenuous acid tests each step of my way. Suffer as I may have, my commitment is to the future of Bangladesh, especially the young to whom I have dedicated this one life, the only one I will ever have.

It is nonetheless with joy that I note so many new developments around me, and wish to wrap up by listing them. Pardon me if this sounds like a ‘coded, hooded’ sermon.

Most of my boro bhais own newspapers and ad agencies. Like it or not, they are ‘promoting’ and ‘patronising’ musicians and Rock bands, because there is a lot of money to be made from fizz and soap companies and cell phone operators through advertisements and television slot bookings. While I intend no disrespect, the truth remains that they have been idea constipated all along, but never failed to jump on one when they knew money could be made - great! Making money is no crime.

The generation divide is the now more acute than it was in our times. We actually failed here as the ‘new generation’ is no more than any other commodity up for sale, with ‘perform or perish’ mantras of event managers or sponsors being the underlying reality of it all. Making money is no crime - everybody needs money?

Dudes, don’t expect favours, do your own thing, and don’t bend - ever. Join the system to beat the system should be the new mantra - and hey, making money is no crime as long as you do it honestly, but do demand what is certainly yours. Don’t be taken for a ride with promises of a video shoot and night out in Mumbai! Again, making money is no crime but blowing foreign currency on idle Idol-like dreams is.

Country (folk) music is no longer khyat, and Baul is chic. Good. I appreciate the fact that so many are latching on to my dream of a huge revival of our more than 2000-year-old tradition, and whether they are doing it right or wrong is debatable. I am happy that they are doing it after all - so clap clap. Make no mistake, however; providence will deal us a very cruel blow if what we steal is intellectual property and somebody is staking a claim. Making money is no crime - but make sure the sick, starving and dying Baul Abdul Karim of Sylhet gets paid for YOUR use of HIS songs.

If only one could figure out ways to reach out to people down in the villages (whose music it is anyway) and find out more about their lives, their daily struggle and what the lyrics really mean. This will contribute to fine tuning our socio-cultural activism. Making money is no crime, but surely we shouldn’t mind that villagers make as much for they hold the proprietorship to dreams that can never pass your mind!

I know most of you personally down in the ‘new underground and I know things suck. You are only as good as your last album, your last video or your last concert, and the underlying tragedy is the way the word last is brandished like a sword over your heads. I wish things were easier, and I wish you had boro bhais whose priorities were different from piggybacking on your success and thinking about upping or dumping you. Some of you had the courage to say things that must be said. And heck, who the hell are they to ask you to ‘behave yourself’ - when they are behaving this bad? Imagine third grade bands like Junoon and Strings from Pakistan flying in and out of a concert in helicopters, while Azam Khan who fought their fathers for your freedom takes a rickshaw ride back home in independent Bangladesh? From March 1971 to March 2005 we have marched into dangerous territory, dudes. Making money is no crime, but tell them not to borrow somebody else’s watch to tell us the time.

I am a lousy advisor and actually hate that term, but here is my suggestion on what must be done.

First, hang in there and do what you are doing, and give it your best shot at all times.

Second, go cross-section (or cross over) - while we all love your metal riffs and head banging, 99.9% out there don’t - so do something that reaches out to an audience of all classes and all backgrounds, and there will be no turning back. You will have widespread appeal and it will be time to dump that ‘underground’ tag, for you deserve to be more than mainstream - you deserve to go global. You are pretty much kissing the skies. Making money is no crime - and don’t ever forget that’s the last word I said.

Transitions, like life itself, are not smooth. One can never make it from A to Z, but if there is such a thing called conviction, and if one can glide over and have the ability to make the best out of any situation, the task, hard though it may be, usually gets done. Enjoy what you are doing but never forget to keep notes of your millstones and milestones. I look forward to Notes from Dhaka’s ‘New Underground’ in about 40 years from now - if I live to be 88.

A life without a fight is a life not worth living. Remember Bob Marley? ‘Stand up for your right, Never give up the fight.’


Published in New Age

Transitions: Notes from Dhaka's Historical Underground - Part 5

I blame my snobbery for not being part of Feedback’s first self-titled album Volume 1 of 1985. I was unable to reconcile myself with the idea that I had to do Bangla songs and was mentally not all prepared to be part of a Souls-like soft rock band which was already big by that time.

It was in 1986 that Azam Khan asked me over to his place and wanted to know why I wasn’t doing anything in Bangla. Typically I said that I found the language 'khyat and not my cup of tea', and he understandably lost his temper. 'If you think singing in front of a few rich and drunk people at a hotel makes you a musician, boy, you are wrong, you are only a musical prostitute!'

No greater shame overwhelmed me more in life, because what he said next was prophetic, 'If educated guys like you with so many years of experience can rock in Bangla, the Liberation War I fought will lead us on to real independence, the independence from narrowness of our vision, of our mentalities, and there is not much more time that can be wasted now got that?'

He was stern and meant business, and I recall softly asking him to pray for me. After a big brotherly hug he said, 'Cheshta kor, cheshta kor, Allah bhorsha.' I drove home that rainy evening deep in thought. I had no way of knowing that my life was about to take a U-turn.

By 1987 I wrote and composed Majhi, Chithi and Chokh in the Ullash album by Feedback. Foad Nasser Babu, the bandleader and my lifelong musical guru composed Mousumi Part 1, and Bangla to my surprise proved to be a more difficult and complex language than I had earlier thought!

'Famous' in the Nineties

When 1990 arrived, by some strange dispensation of the Supreme Being, I 'allegedly' became FAMOUS! Melai Jairay from the Mela album of the same year was a monster and getting very hard to control.

I didn't realise then that what I had done was write an anthem that a whole new generation would lap up. Innocently I was only talking about partying and having great fun on the Bangla New Year’s Day, which was till then supposed to be a very dull, boring and ‘serious’ affair. The song came from an apprehension that the only ‘fashionable’ thing one could possibly do on the first day of Naba Barsha was to eat Ilish maach, panta bhaat and chilled Coke at the Ramna Batamul, while the fed-up entertainment-starved younger crowd by then was milling about to ‘see’ girls and create disorder! Confrontation was inevitable.

To enliven the day, Rock concerts on Pohela Boishakh was my dream, till then considered a thought bordering on ‘insanity’ as a prominent culture vulture pointed out. ‘Real Bengalis will resist such adulteration of culture.’ In disgust I raised my middle finger and told him, ‘Neither will real Bengalis permit this funeral parlour music you call high culture for too long.’

I detested this ‘kosherisation’ of what a real Bengali is, and questioned relentlessly the entire paradigm of the so-called ‘refined culture’. Most of my boro bhais and boro apas who had partied and revelled with us in the seventies were joining the puritanical and chauvinistic culture vultures at the expense of hugely disappointing the young.

Melai Jairay was thus designed to move a generation away from these misplaced culture junkies and their very pathetic highbrow obsession to places where we could party. And what better place than the mela or the fair? You could buy, you could sell, you could socialise, you could play, and you could eat and drink and, most important, do your own thing without anybody dictating terms or looking down their noses. There weren’t any fast food shops or cool joints those days to hang out in, so what better choice did we have?

Thankfully concerts today that go on till the wee hours of the morning are the ones that dominate Boishakh festivities each year. Sadly, programmes at Ramna Batamul, where the revolt against Pakistan-backed communalism and hate was confronted in the early ‘60s, has been reduced to a meaningless and token mass ritual.

The Bangladesh Musical Bands Association (BAMBA) had the honour of holding the first ever open-air rock concert in this nation’s history on the DU campus on December 16, 1990. A new beginning had dawned on our fate as the hated dictator, General Ershad, was overthrown by a people’s revolt on December 10. It is a small matter that I was leading the charge of the Rockers as president of the association; more important was to send a clear message across to whoever the powers may be, that Rock is destined to have its feet firmly placed on the soil of this precious motherland of ours. There would be no messing about and

I knew I didn’t have to try very hard.

When Feedback finished its set the same evening with Melai Jairay, and a 30,000-plus audience of men, women and children of all ages, sexes and religions kicked up a dust storm just by dancing, the very ugly face of ‘cultural fascists’ had been slapped resoundingly and blackened for good, for ever. The BAMBA was not keen on leading by diktat, but by example, and bugles for the Rock Revolution to commence in full force were blowing triumphantly in the wind.

There were good reasons to name the Feedback’s seminal 1994 album Bangabda 1400.Very rarely in life does a generation get to see a new century begin, and here we were approaching the end of a Bengali century in which the greatest cultural and literary figures of our history, from Kazi Nazrul Islam to Rabindranath Tagore, had composed their immortal works. In six years time there would be a new millennium in the Gregorian calendar, and I was absolutely sure that I would survive to see that as well.

While in London work had feverishly begun to construct the Millennium Dome to commemorate the coming of a new century, in Dhaka our culture vultures were busy splitting hairs as to whether 1400 would begin on April 14, 1994 or 1995! The debate, as I had expected, ended inconclusively, yet little did anybody realise how much we were falling behind in leaving a footprint on this once in a lifetime historical event, or is it opportunity?

Roummy and Dora of Cats Eye helped in designing our outfits for the cover and posters, and the album went on to become history. History just didn’t end with the album; the year later and the years since keep reminding me that to commemorate Bangabda 1400 in Bangladesh, there were no art works, no sculpture, no films, no books, no first-day cover or postage stamps.


What a shame that we ‘great Bengalis’ have NOTHING as a public testimony to remember a new century, so I am blissfully reassured that the Feedback album will perhaps be the ONLY public record on Bengalis doing something tangible for Bangabda 1500 to remember us by. I may be completely wrong but at the risk of sounding arrogant I must say that this was our humble stamp on history, a statement that Rock in Bangladesh didn’t just sit back and stay laid back.