Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Legacy of Azam Khan - Part IV

Seventeen Years Later: A new beginning not to be

In 1992, Azam Khan summoned me for a fight.
It was to be the reunion after 17 years of the five Khalifahs, the post-Liberation Rock-Pop legends. Ferdous Waheed, Feroze Shai, Fakir Alamgir, Pilu Mumtaz and of course Azam Khan. The timing couldn't be worse as my mother was stricken with paralysis and in death bed. The organizers had no prior experience but they made that up with their enthusiasm. The show was a week later and Azam Khan wanted me to guarantee that I would take charge of everything from Management of venue (Engineers Institute) stage, light and sound.
17 Years Later Circa 1992: LTR: Ferdous Waheed, Late Pilu Mumtaz (d.2011), Fakir Alamgir, Late Azam Khan (d.2011) and Late Feroze Shai (d.1995)
When I met him, he was dead serious and spoke in crisp guerilla leader style diction. 'This is not a request; it is an order so give it all the fight you have got. There should be no let ups, no slips and the show must be a grand success. We have got to re-live those glorious moments 17 years ago when we stood like a rock and rocked'. Then he rose from his chair and dismissed me 'tui geli'(shoo). 'Yes Boss' and it was the only time in my life I stood erect and saluted him in parting. 'Good, very good'- he replied in English.
The organizers of the 1992 concert branded the show 'Shotero Bochor Por' or 'Seventeen years later'. It was meant to re-showcase the post liberation pop-rock legends on one platform for a new generation of fans who hadn't seen them LIVE due to their absence of seventeen years.
By the end of the 80's, rock in Bangladesh made a robust re-entry into our culture. The Bangladesh Musical Bands Association (BAMBA) held the Nations first ever Open Air Concert at the Dhaka University Campus on 16th December in 1990, a milestone that would give rock a much needed shot in the arm.
Bands like Souls, Chime, Obscure, FeedBack and Renaissance filled in the cultural space left vacant in the turmoil's between 1975 -1985. By 1991 MILES had launched its first Bengalee album. Bengalee Rock was back with a bang and audience size had grown manifold, with professionalism of the highest order in display. State of art sound and lighting equipments replaced the entire paradigm of showbiz and the new resurgence gave rock a degree of respect and credibility that continues to this day.
The organizers of the 'Seventeen Years later' Concert seized the opportunity of the changed times and sincerely wished the event to catapult the legends of post-liberation pop-rock to the national stage and sink the petty differences on legacy issues that was ailing the aging rockers.
To that end Ashikuzzaman Tulu the band leader of Chime (and later Ark) was given the responsibility of sourcing the best session musicians in town to have a common line-up for all five of the legends. Rehearsals began in earnest and with less than ten days to show time – it was frenetic. The excitement and fever peaked three days before the show after a press conference and all 1200 tickets for the concert at Engineers Institute were sold out in less than 24 hours!
Azam Khan never showed up for the rehearsals and no one could figure out why? Tulu called to request me so that I should go and find out directly from him what the problem was. When I met up with Azam Khan, he was cheerfully ebullient and looking forward to the show. However he will perform in the Concert with his own line-up, the band Uccharon and not with the professionals the organizers wanted him to.
It became quite clear that he did not want to let down the very young, inexperienced and unheard of musicians in what was going to be a once in a lifetime show for them too. I respected his sentiments and informed the organizers. Azam Khan always had his way with things and this time around, there was to be no exception. He wanted to end the show and everybody readily agreed to slot him as the last act.
The show was scheduled to start at 6 p.m. I reached the venue at 4 p.m. with the audience queuing up outside, the doors were still closed. Once inside, I was in for a huge surprise. There was just one solitary figure in the green room; it was Azam Khan and he had reached the venue by 2:30 p.m. ahead of everybody else!
A huge bear hug to me followed and he said that he had a good look all around the stage as well as from the wings as also checked the equipments– 'nothing can go wrong tonight'. Later from his pocket he pulled out a paper bag of jhaal moori and commanded me – 'now be seated and eat this. After that, have a cold drink and cigarette with me before you get busy again'.
That was his simplistic way of thanking me for my untiring efforts of over 10 days.
Obsession with death
Between sips of Cola, we made uncharacteristically small talks, but he was merely trying to read my mind. My mother was in death bed, suffering from paralysis and an operation did not make things any better. She could die any moment I told him. I was depressed and disturbed. He shocked me back to my senses.
'What if she dies tonight, or within the next hour? Will you leave all of us when we are in the midst of a fight?' I was stunned. Shaking my head I said no. Come what may, I will see the fight, the show right until the end. He was compassionate to my plight, but made me focus on the larger objective of the night.
He tolerated no weakness in spirit and pointed to the shirt he was wearing. His favorite guerilla green fatigue, the one he wore during the entire duration of the war.
'Mentally prepare for the worst' he admonished me, 'even for your mother's death, and make it a habit at all times. You will only come out stronger. No bonding, bindings in life is forever. Fight your weaknesses first before you can even think of fighting the enemy.'
Here was a soldier talking to me, not a rock legend or even an elder brother.
Referring to many of the song in which the subject matter was death, including his first hit 'Hey Allah Rey', as well as 'Hariye gechey khujey pabona', 'Jiboney moron keno ashey', 'Ei gaan e shesh gaan', etc the end emphasis has always been ; birth is an accident but death a reality. Impermanence is the only truth.
He found it below his dignity to use death as a means of gaining sympathy or making a huge issue. 'In 1971 we buried our dearest comrades and just moved on, there was no time to waste as the next fight was not hours but sometime minutes away'.
Back to the show, it was suave and sophistication of the 90's at its peak. The music was re-arranged, light and sound par excellence, even the outfits for the performers were custom designed by the fashion house Catseye. VHS video footage of the night, if they have not been destroyed would be a treasure trove in the history of Bangladesh rock, nearly 20 years to date.
The crowd swelled and was probably around 3000 plus by the time it was Azam Khan's slot. There was commotion at the gates and no seats were available. Getting more people in would be a security and fire risk. Azam Khan summoned me with a request.
'Go and quickly tell the organizers that they have made enough money already. Open all the doors and let the audience in. I will ask them to behave. There is nothing to fear'.
Left with no choice the doors were all opened and the crowd flooded in. Not even an inch of space was left inside the venue. Nearly 500 people were sitting right on the stage itself, with enough circular space in the middle for Azam Khan and Uccharon to perform. All on a sudden Azam Khan jumped in…and electrified the screaming audience.
His bands sound was raw; the inexperienced musicians while getting the chords of the songs right, had badly tuned guitars. It didn't really matter. The sound was rock and took us all back to the 70's. That was more important and it didn't have to be sophisticated as long as Azam Khan was on vocals. Everything else miraculously fell into place. Cacophony notwithstanding, he was in his elements.
When the show ended his fans went wild in celebration. Several encores later I was witness to one of the greatest spectacle in my life. As Azam Khan ended, all the fans on stage gave him a memorable salute. Everybody prostrated in Sijda to the great man himself. There was no way of denying than Azam Khan was much larger than life.
Without anybody even realizing it, his spirituality had peaked to the supreme. For his fans he was no longer a rock-legend. For those who knew and understood the phenomenon, he was indeed, and beyond dispute an Avatar of our times. Time in the near future will speak for the times that Azam Khan walked on planet earth.
'Shotoro Bochor Por' was a massive success but bad vibes between the pop-rock legends of the 70s were totally unexpected and embarrassing. Weeks after the mega event, bickering in press by Fakir Alamgir over some very petty episodes during the show, marred all possibilities of future reunion concert of the greats.
On 16th December 1995 Feroze Shai passed away. Pilu Mumtaz and Azam Khan a month from each other, this year
New Controversies: Did Azam Khan die of poverty or Cancer?

Azam Khan in Singapore
Azam Khan was diagnosed with cancer below his tongue as early as April of 2010. The news at his insistence was kept secret, unfortunately by June of the same year it leaked out and got him embroiled in a most unwanted controversy. Enough has been written and said about the topic over the last year and since his death. Therefore in deference to his dignity and the man that he truly was, the points below are meant for clarity.
First of all, let this go loud and clear that Azam Khan was for all practical purpose middle class, with that is not meant that he rolled in money. Material wealth meant nothing to him and he was a giver, not a taker at any rate. 'Prem' or pure love as he called it was his offer to Bangladesh and millions of his fans. Yet what we have from apologists today is an effort to drive down his legacy, make it appear as if he was helpless and that everybody jumped in at the last moment to bail him out – both his financial miseries, as well as cancer. Nothing is further from the truth.
When cancer was diagnosed, he had enough money to pay for the initial treatment, but when outsiders got to know about it, the first mistakes were made. One group that knew the inside story of his financial hardship (not poverty) was keen on his treatment at the Singapore General Hospital which has a record of treating Ministers, very rich businessmen and politicians even the late husband of our Prime Minister.
The costs were affordable and being no spent-thrift, Azam Khan had enough saved over the years to handle his own affairs without anybody's assistance. The 25% extra cost required could be sourced from his family, who were affluent and would certainly help. Trouble began when a duo of musician and a TV compere insisted on Mount Elizabeth Hospital, among the 5 most expensive hospitals in the world, and one he could ill afford.
However the second group had their way in convincing Azam Khan that it was only Mount Elizabeth that could save his life. His self confidence shattered, in time, he too spoke of treatment in no other hospital. It is for the first time he capitulated to others opinion.
Enough money was raised through private appeals and in less that 48 hours was remitted to Singapore. His operation of nearly 10 hours was a complete success. He was advised 30 temotherapy (modern radiotherapy) courses but his health suffered after 21 and he returned back home.
What followed later was a shift in his priorities. When visiting Doctors from Mount Elizabeth Hospital saw him in Dhaka, they were pleased to see that there were no further cancerous growth and he had healed much better than expectation. They however insisted on his pending chemotherapy course in Singapore and/or Dhaka if money was his concern. The simple man he was, he misread the warning and went around informing everybody that the Doctors have given him a clean bill of health!
His second trip to Singapore with none other than his only son Hridoi for company would prove traumatic. The first of four recommended aggressive chemotherapy caused immense sufferings to him and his body could no longer take any more. He literally fled from hospital and upon his return home, insisted that neither money nor treatments could save him. He had resigned himself to fate
By January of this year pain in his body grew intense. A local check-up revealed two sores, one on his right shoulder and the other near his backbone. The cancer had metastasized and spread to his bones. There was to be no answers, and time was no longer on his side.
The rapidity of the cancer spreading further debilitated him and by the time he was admitted to Square Hospital on 22nd May, he had suffered a cardiac arrest. In no time he was on life support and the cancer reached his lung. Given the very frail condition of his health, his cancer could no longer be treated. Everything moved in quick succession and after being shifted to the Combined Military Hospital, the end came on Sunday the 5th June 2011.
Honor to the Honorary: His death and the last FIGHT
When I reached the graveyard for Intellectuals and Freedom Fighters in Mirpur on Monday the 6th June, the huge crowd and screams did not make it look like a burial but the boisterous concerts that Azam Khan was legendary for. I could not immediately understand the issue at hand and the slogan 'Azam Khan VIP' rang the air.
It turned out, while the Government had given him a Police Guard of Honor for a national hero earlier at his Kamlapur residence and assigned his internment in Mirpur, his grave was allocated for those with common people, where new graves would follow on top of his in three months. There would be no permanent tombstone of the legendary freedom fighter and rock legend!
He was not to be buried next to the rest of his comrades and other valiant freedom fighters over a technicality. Azam Khan had officially never received a gallantry award for his participation in the Liberation War. He could therefore not be buried next to Bir Shrestha's and Bir Uttam's?
Defiance by his fans over the injustice grew louder by the minute and all hell was breaking loose. Police on duty were powerless. In shock, I put my head down in shame. The only thought and words in my ears were Azam Khan's – FIGHT, FIGHT!
In about 90 minutes words came from the Mukti Jodda Command Council. Capitulating to wishes of the masses, the Government has assigned him a place with the rest of his comrades. Cheers went up. Azam Khan has won his last FIGHT.
As I conclude, it is with deep respect I remember my hero, with a life spent fighting for the oppressed and the many tragedies that he endured, with just a few of which I have penned. His fight was for the right to free expression and that heralded great changes in the socio-political cultural landscape of Bangladesh.
If there is any befitting honor we as a nation can pay Azam Khan is to guarantee that his immortal works are preserved as national treasure and that his children are not denied, what has been pilfered from him in life even as he lay dying? Money alone cannot ensure the continuation of his legacy. It is only when his due is guaranteed and steps taken to right all wrongs will the soul of Azam Khan ever be at peace.
Bangladesh is still a long way away from achieving emancipation for its have not's. The lessons learnt from Azam Khan must be passed on. The FIGHT must go on.
That is his enduring legacy.
New Age Op-Ed
28th June 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Legacy of Azam Khan – Part III

Maqsoodul Haque – Mac

A Big-Brother for life

It was winter of 1976 and I had made plans to hang out with my friend Popsy the-then drummer for FeedBack. He called me in the afternoon to postpone our plans as there was an out of town concert. He was playing back-up for Azam Khan and knowing of my obsession for the man, asked if I was interested to come over to see the rehearsal instead? How could I ever refuse this God sent opportunity! I begged Popsy to introduce me to the great man. 'That's no big deal Mac; Azam bhai has no star pretensions. He is very simple, straightforward and down to earth. Don't worry about a thing – just come right over' – Popsy retorted before hanging up.

By the time I reached the practice pad at 181 Bara Maghbazar at Foad Nasser Babu's place, the sound of music told me the rehearsals were already under way. Carefully opening the half shut door at the entrance I tip-toed in and sat on the floor. I felt my eyes getting moist with pent up emotions. Whoaaaaaa…..finally face-to-face with Azam Khan? I pinched myself for a reassurance that I wasn't dreaming!

In the room was Popsy on drums and other members of FeedBack. Murad Rahman on Bass, Dr.Zakiur Rahman on Rhythm guitars (he was my predecessors as lead vocals for FeedBack) and Foad Nasser Babu who had by then switched to Keyboards. Ishtiaque from the old Uccharon I was told would meet up with the band directly at venue of the show to play Lead Guitar. I sat back and watched the maestro at work. It was a spell binding experience and an education as how to be a pro-active band leader.

Despite fact that there wasn't any PA system to support his voice clashing with all the electronics, he was in control. Asking the band to tone down and reduce volume, he quickly went through the ten song repertoire and I was amazed at his professionalism. His eye contact and hand signals were a class in itself. He didn't tire himself or the band by going through the songs over and over again; instead focused on the areas where there were confusions or if things needed further polishing. He insisted that by playing very loud nothing could be perfected and noise would mar their hard efforts. 'Rock is not noise; it's a circularity of punches. Make sure you get to hear the punch you deliver' were his polite words to the band, and one I would take heed for the rest of my life.

In about an hour the rehearsals were over. Popsy and Murad introduced me to him saying I was an English language vocalist. He cursorily wanted to know the songs I was covering and the name of the bands. I babbled off a long list and he in turn gave me an amused look! 'That's a lot of songs, but how about Bengalee?' Nah - I shook my head. 'Do give it a shot, after all it is your mother language' he said in the passing. After a few short words by way of briefing abut the timing and venue of the show to the band, he ambled out, took a rickshaw and was gone. His simplicity and humility were worth taking lessons. I was on a learning kerb.

Rock on the retreat

By 1977 several military coups and counter coups later, General Ziaur Rahman was in power. A former Sector Commander in the Liberation War, his men were out on the streets in aggravated moral policing. Long hair was banned and those foolish enough to sport them without knowing, (including the author of this piece) had to face humiliation of locks being sheared off in public. Azam Khan's concerts and public appearances declined. By the end of 1976 his new band the second generation Uccharon on whom he pinned so much of hope, folded up.

Guitarist Noyon Munshi would leave for Canada the same year never to return. He died in a car crash in 1981. Windy Sides of Care broke up in 1976 as well with its prolific drummer Idu leaving for the US. Its Bassist Musa Rahman tried to reform the band but never succeeded. Foad Nasser Babu and Murad Rahman moved ahead and formed FeedBack to fill the gap caused by Windy Sides of Care's departure. They were soon to become the resident band at the Chambeeli Room in Hotel Intercontinental.

With all that happening, Bengalee rock all but evaporated by the year 1978.

Survival meant to be able to perform LIVE or have a regular presence in the BTV. Azam Khan's notoriety as a 'couldn't give a damn' rocker led to his growing unpopularity with the Military dictatorship. Both avenues of expression were barred. Police permissions would not be granted for his LIVE performance added to that the sycophancy, co-opting and active collaboration with the Government of the day by his contemporaries in the Music scene, led to vulgarities and dirty politics.

Azam Khan would have none of that and although he was broke, money and fame for him was secondary, the mission more important. But victory was to prove elusive so he went on a tactical retreat, became a recluse and sulked. Although he said he was 'resting but not retired' the tragedy was true to rock traditions; he had embarked upon a self-destruct trajectory. Fond of good Whiskey, the dark times led him to hit the bottle a trifle more than he usually did. A rumor circulated about him turning alcoholic – and this time around there was some truth.

Quite understandably a financially strapped Azam Khan would not refuse any shows that came his way. He never held a job or a second profession. Music was his bread and butter – so the young guitarist Rocket, would play an important role at the time to source musicians for him and schedule rehearsals.

Incidentally for as long as he lived, he had no dearth of talented musicians all eager and waiting in the wings to back him. Even with all that reassurance, concert organizers, music distributors and several so-called 'stars' masquerading as well wishers cheated him. He knew exactly what was going on behind his back; but never complained publicly. He accepted it as his fate.

A depressed, angry and vulnerable Azam Khan would sometimes appear on stage tired and totally inebriated and in no shape to perform. His musicians started filling and would sing his song when exhaustion overcame him on stage. A delusional 'Guru worshiping' cult emerged around the time and made things worse.

These were cronies and hanger-on's overcome by the aura of Azam Khan but had no idea either about his music or his contribution in the Liberation War. Sadly they were a bunch of hooligans whose aim was to create chaos in the few and in-between Concerts he was invited to perform. They demanded free entrance and provoked violent incidents in Concerts. Further compromising and eroding his popularity, credibility and thereby reputation were most of these elements would light up Marijuana joints openly in his concerts. The Military in power was not amused.

To many it would seem that Azam Khan had created new enemies and he was powerless in correcting the situation. As far as the establishment was concerted – he was trouble. Good fortune continued to elude him despite his best intentions.

Concerts by Azam Khan were few and in-between and held in district towns whenever opportunities availed, but only under strict surveillance of Intelligence agencies. To make things easier in getting permissions, organizers would invite heads of District Administrations to 'grace the occasion' as Chief Guest! It was in Noakhali that one such Chief Guest; the Deputy Commissioner put a stop to his show and ordered the curtain pulled. In desperation Azam Khan jumped up and held on to the moving curtain – Tarzan style – and with his shrill plea of 'No, no please no' he was ejected off stage.

In 1982 General Hossain Muhammad Ershad seized power and rock was set for further destruct, degeneration and decline. He continued with the policy of his predecessor General Zia by pampering a handful of corrupt artists from the post-war generation of celebrities. Handing out largesse in form of money grants to create 'Music Academies' to taking them along on foreign jaunts – as well as offering them jobs in the Government was in vogue. Azam Khan while offered similar dole and jobs, chose not to sell his soul or betray the trust reposed on him by the people. BTV became a hallmark for all kind of crass music and Azam Khan slipped into near total oblivion.

With all of that happening around him – a see-saw with his health started. Concerned, I went to see him many times during the period, but other than complaints of fever or cold, he usually brushed aside all of that as rumors. He was brave enough never to admit what was ailing him, instead with his great sense of humor drew anecdotes of his daily trials and tribulations. I sensed correctly that more than ill-health he was depressed.

In between 1987 to 1990 a few albums were released, but one could make out that the great Azam Khan Touch was amiss. He was merely singing other peoples song and had no control over music direction. Financial difficulties meant he wouldn't refuse any offer that came either from TV or music distributors. There was nothing new on offer from Azam Khan and his popularity waned.

My indoctrination to Bengalee Rock

Although I joined FeedBack in winter of 1976, I wasn't present in the bands 1985 debut and self titled album 'FeedBack – Volume I'. Azam Khan thought it was due to a misunderstanding within the band and so sometimes in 1986 he asked me over and wanted to know why I wasn't doing anything in Bengalee. Typically I said that I find the language 'khyat and Bengalee music not my cup of tea' and he flew into his legendary and notoriously fearful rage. Before I knew it bam,bam,bam he had slapped me resoundingly and squarely across the face!

'You snobbish imbecile' – he roared to my red hot ears, 'if you think singing in front of few rich and drunk people at a hotel makes you a musician – boy you are dead wrong, you are only a musical prostitute'.

Rubbing salt to wound, 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 musical experience can rock in Bengalee, the Liberation War I fought for would 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 you got that?'

He was always affectionate, but on this occasion was stern and meant business, and I recall softly asking him to pray for me. A big brother hug followed and 'chesta kor chesta kor, Allah bhorsha' (keep trying, may God be with you) later – I drove home that rainy evening deep in thoughts. I had no way of knowing that my life was about to take a 360 degree turn.

A year later in 1987 when Ullash by FeedBack was released I contributed six songs in the album. The first thing I did was go over to Azam Khan, hand him over the cassette tape, and with his pleading 'shon, shon, tham, tham' (stop, stop, listen, listen) make a run for it!

A few days later I received a phone call. It was Azam Khan, and he mockingly complimented me – 'ki rey Englishman, shesh mesh Bangla gaan tui gaili?' (Hey Englishman, so at long last you are singing in Bengalee?). I broke down into uncontrolled sobs……… and it is the only time in my life I recall talking to Azam Khan on the phone. Among his many eccentricities his allergy for the device was legendary!

Although my association with Azam Khan was since 1976, we rarely met unless it was for very urgent issues. If the occasion required, he had his way of summoning me to his house through Tinku or Ejaz who would remain his trusted lieutenants till the end.

Other than that we would meet at various concerts, social occasions and/or award ceremonies. However I have always felt a deep reverential bonding towards him. He was not only a rock icon, he was also a well meaning elder brother not only me to me, but many of us in the rock fraternity. He did keep a track of what I was up to and would send in his advice or admonishments as the case would be.

He never made small talks and usually after giving me a patient listening, and with a lot of respect for my political views his last words would be 'fight ta chalaiyya jaitey hoibo – we have got to keep the fight going. Later it would be just one word whenever we parted company, fist clenched – FIGHT!

To be continued...............

New Age Op:Ed

27th June 2011


Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Legacy of Azam Khan – Part II

Maqsoodul Haque – Mac

The Making of an Icon

By mid-1973 words spread like wildfire in the youthful underground about the emergence of Azam Khan and how he has taken on the establishment of the day. As has been the case with many legends, the messages were mixed and some in mythical proportions. Most of it was disapproval and personal attacks on his lifestyle statement; unkempt long hair and beard, the symbols of revolt and defiance to parental authority. Others were guarded whispers that grew louder and scarier. The two words that our parents feared the most – 'drug addict' would haunt and malign Azam Khan quite unnecessarily.

Over all the words were about his mesmerizing presence on stage and the spirituality attached with his first big hit, 'Hey Allah Hey Allah Rey'. While he tackled the demons within him, he took pain to spread the word of Love and Peace as well as a firm belief in one God. In 'Char Kolema Shakkhi Debey Hazrat er Ummot' he was shedding off hate in his heart that the nine months long war had accumulated as a debilitating residue. He was expiating. He exposed the cult of fake Fakirs and frailties of fake lovers, in his song 'High Court er Mazar' and the refrain 'ei je duniyai - manush chara kichui nai' (nothing greater on earth than Man) - reaffirmed his spiritual connection to the ancient Bauls of Bangladesh.

Azam Khan's secretive nature notwithstanding, his covert connections to the Maizbhandari Sufi order of Chittagong could never be confirmed. It is possible that he did have an informal orientation. His closest friend at the time was Feroz Shai and in many concerts they jointly performed the scintillating hymn 'Gausal Azam baba Noor e Alam, tumi Ismey Azam baba, taran e wala'. Azam Khan confirmed to me that it was he that added the word 'Shai' (the wise one) to A.K.M Feroz Alam's name. Feroze Shai would go on to propagate the Maizbhandari lip-to-ear school of Sufi thoughts in his first hit 'Gausal Azam Maizbhandari school khuilyacchey'.

Despite all the positive razzmatazz and deeply absorbing spirituality discourses of the day, there was no denying the Marijuana (THC Delta 2, cannabis, Ganja, Shiddhi, weed etc) epidemic overpowering the Nation that led to endless and senseless debates and controversies. It was also a double edged debate. Marijuana was officially a 'Government approved controlled substance', freely available and no one could be criminalized for either its possession or use!

Reminiscing the times, I wrote an academic piece "Substance Abuse Marijuana: When Honesty is the only crime" in the weekly HOLIDAY (a sister publication of New Age) in July, 2001:

"All grade of narcotics from Marijuana, Alcohol to Heroin had imbibed the fighting spirit in mans history, and to deny that, would be denying history. Fifteen hundred years ago before prohibitions on Alcohol came in the Quran, the earliest participants in Islamic wars such as Badr, fought infidels and embraced martyrdom, high on Alcohol.

Marijuana was inducted to our young in the historic 1971, because it was also for the first time that large number of city-bred young left the confines and security of their homes for rural village communities. They lived, trained and fought for independence in villages where Marijuana was to a large degree socially acceptable. Its contribution to our Liberation War therefore must be acknowledged, because I personally know of at least a dozen past Mukti Bahini guerrillas who went into battle 'stoned out of their mind' to beat back fear and pain.

Our drug epidemic started from a generational divide, the lack of understanding and empathy, as also abject illiteracy of our pretentious literate, and its failure to address a growing social and emotional crisis that was affecting the young. The trauma of the War of Liberation in 1971 and the return of our war weary young men and women back home saw the induction of Marijuana - a natural drug, into our society at large.

To this day in the US; Korean and Vietnam War veterans regularly seek and receive psychological counseling. Conversely there were many cases of suicide among our glorious fighters who were unable to do anything to counter flashbacks of their bitter experiences in war. Yet none of our guerilla warriors were ever provided any counseling for the immense mental trauma and agony that this devastating war entailed on their psyche. Marijuana was for them the only escape to heal, or so they thought.

Therefore when the rock icon and former Mukti Bahini guerilla commander Azam Khan sang, his epic song 'Frustration' in 1973-74: 'jaala jaala jaala shudhu monay ree, jaala jaala jaala shudhu pranayree' (Burn, burn, burn my mind burns, burn, burn, burn, my Soul burns) we exactly knew what was on fire and what was 'burning'.

Not acknowledged then; Azam Khan was indeed rendering a unique social service through music. He was sending desperate signals of the young that were pleading for help. The establishment of the day or our parents in general, retorted that what has been set into motion by the 'notorious rocker' is only an effort to make a 'great fashion' out of frustration. Azam Khan's known Marijuana abuse did not help the situation."

It was summer of 1973 while preparing for my Matriculation exam that I first went to see Azam Khan LIVE in a Concert. Most musicians backing Azam Khan were members of the famed Windy Sides of Care. They were the best in the business in those days, and played heady live cover versions from Santana to Deep Purple and even Chick Corea at the Chambeeli Room, a 100 seater chic restaurant and dining facility with a band stand, at the then Hotel Intercontinental, later Dhaka Sheraton and now Hotel Ruposhi Bangla.

The musicians were – Idu on Drums, Ishtiaque on Lead guitar and my friend the late Larry Barnaby on Bass, Nilu on Rhythm Guitar, Gabriel on the Keyboards and the unforgettable Babu on Tambourine and vocal harmonies. If anybody knew anything about rock in Bangladesh back then, it was them and with Azam Khan they blended perfectly, creating an entirely new genre. Bengalee Rock as a LIVE phenomenon had arrived.

I wrote in "Transitions: Notes from Dhaka's Historical Underground" in New Age in 2005:

"In independent Bangladesh the global concept of freedom couldn't have had a better time. Marijuana smoke hung like a 'thick cloud' from the floor to the roof of the Engineers Institute auditorium in 1973. With audience chanting 'Gausal Azam hoo hah' in the psychedelic haze, on stage would appear a Christ like figure, bearded and hair flowing past his shoulder. He was a former Mukti Bahini guerrilla Commander. His name; Azam Khan, and he proceeded to blow our minds with music from his band Uccharon and shape our fearless attitude much to the consternation of our parents."

From Audio to Video

What followed next was a two single 33 rpm record. 'Orey Saleka, Orey Maleka, Orey Ful Banu parli na bachatey' and 'High Court er Mazarey' went on to establish Azam Khan as a household name. His Concerts nationwide were packed to capacity and often tethering dangerously at the seams. His fan following was wild and enthusiastic and it wasn't uncommon for fights to break out as they attempted to gain entry into Cinema halls and auditoriums to see the legend. Worse was to follow.

A gunfight outside the Jonaki Cinema Hall in Dhaka while his concert was ongoing led to one death and several injuries. The Police Force in those days were ill equipped and in no way trained to deal with music fans. Bad press further eroded Azam Khan's reputation but indomitable Bengalee Rock nonetheless moved on to newer heights.

It was sometimes in 1974 that Professor Abdullah Abu Sayeed a charismatic teacher of Dhaka College would host a show for entertainment starved Bangladesh in the only TV station available then. The state run BTV was conservative and feudal to a fault. So it was a welcome surprise and filled us with great pride when an announcement was made that the show next week would feature Azam Khan and his band Uccharon!

We waited with bated breath in front of our Black and White TV screens. When Azam Khan came on, he was at his elements. Head banging in raptures he opened with 'Orey Saleka, Orey maleka' followed by (my all time favorite) 'Ashi ashi boley tumi ar eley na'. As he came in for the last of his three song set, he made an elliptic announcement. 'This is a brand new song dedicated to the dead or dying' – WHAT? We were zapped and electrified with what came next.

The heart rendering cry in his voice and refrain - 'Rail line er oi bostitey jonmechilo ekti cheley, maa tar kandey, cheleyti morey gachey, hai re hai Bangladesh' – made our blood curdle. The song 'Bangladesh' was a monster hit and went right through the roof. But that was not all. The Government of the day had underestimated Azam Khan's fan following. Millions were tuned in to watch the performance.

As BTV didn't have VTR (Video Tape Recording) facilities, it meant programs were uncensored, real-time LIVE! By evening of the next day the song was on everybody's lip and even our parents and elders were moved by the fact that somebody focused attention to the sad events surrounding our lives. It was an epochal man-made disaster and one Azam Khan had predicted would be erased from our history, the great famine of 1974 in which an estimated 1.5 million people died of hunger. His song would relive and commemorate that period of infamy; and the only song to date about the famine.

The poignant lyrics for 'Bangladesh' was written in the backdrop of Azam Khan's being eye witness to hundreds upon thousands of starving people arriving in Kamlapur Railway Station from all over the country and then dying. He lived a walking distance from the station and the helplessness of it all paralyzed him. He gave away all the money he earned from music to the destitute, but the underlying tragedy of the 1974 famine was; money could no longer save lives. The Taka because of devaluation was a worthless currency.

The poor, dispossessed, marginalized and distressed would ONLY beg for food and all hell broke loose. The unending cry for food and little children and elderly dropping dead was happening in unison. It was maddening and the sight of a mother wailing over the body of her toddler, a common phenomenon in those times, moved and overwhelmed the sensitive Azam Khan.

Compounding to his woes, the song led to an unofficial ban being served on his performances by the Government run BTV. His strained relationship with the Late Sheikh Kamal (a freedom fighter and eldest son of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman), were to be severed forever. Further Marijuana abuse and his distraught condition made a nervous breakdown inevitable. He was interned for weeks at the Holy Family Hospital.

Regaining his health took a long time and in the subsequent days of 1974 until 1975 would see Azam Khan in dire straits. He had lost his back-up band during the time he was interned and political and societal pressures were intense. Alienation and rejection was complete. There were no concerts and a rumor circulating much to our dismay was he was suffering from oral cancer. It proved not to be true as a few months after the assassination of Bangabandhu on 15th August 1975; Azam Khan took upon a new challenge.

He gave a press statement about reforming Uccharon and that was not all, he was looking for and has found fresh young musicians; but NOT from his own generation. It wasn't an easy decision. His back-up band and musicians from Windy Sides of Care were thought by many to be irreplaceable. Most had earlier either by choice or compulsion joined the Sheikh Kamal backed and inspired band Spondon.

Others moved to regular employment in performances that the Hotel Intercontinental offered. Studios hired many as session musicians. Ego conflicts, jealously and petty disputes led to some of his closest musical allies abandoning him. In a round about way, money, interference and political machinations managed to split Bengalee rock right through the middle.

Although dejected, Azam Khan was undaunted. He threw in his lot with an emerging new generation of rockers and was confident about their talent and abilities. Through the legendary rock-guitarist the late Noyon Munshi he sent words to the house band playing cover music at Dimple Restaurant (near where Arong is located in Mohammadpur today) about his plans.

Foad Nasser Babu on Bass and Pearo Khan on Drums (now in FeedBack), together with Dulal on Rhythm guitar readily agreed. It was an umpteenth honor to play with an icon and they pulled their lot behind Azam Khan. He didn't want any keyboard player so that's how things were. Three guitars, drums and vocals were good enough to kick up a storm. Rehearsals started quietly by the October of 1975. Given the political crisis and wind of change sweeping the country, Azam Khan readied himself for a new role, that of a modern day minstrel of rock.

By early 1976 he was back with a bang and once again stole the limelight in a five song special for BTV. This was a clear signal that his bruising psychological duel with the establishment was all but over. They had to capitulate given the sheer enormity of his fan following and the power and appeal of the extra-ordinary new songs that he had recorded at Ipsha Studios with his new line-up.

When he came on screen, we were however in for a rude shock. He had cropped his long hair short and his clean shaven look made him unrecognizable! No, he wasn't cut out at all to be a rock and roll renegade so what we were seeing was only visual noise and one we had to get used to. The 'new look' incidentally stayed with him till he died.

Markedly different were the new songs: 'Alal o Dulal, 'Je meye chokhey dekhe na', 'Prem chiro din durey durey ek hoye thak na', and the only semi-classical experiment in his career, 'Amar bodhua ki gaitey janey gaan'. The revolutionary rock hero had simmered down considerably. None of the anti-establishment rhetoric's or spirituality in his early music was noticeable any more, but it wasn't the case that he discarded his earlier songs altogether. The new line-up made further improvisations on the old songs which led to larger outreach to his fan base.

Over all he concentrated on melody and what we were in for was a huge dosage of unrequited love songs that would firmly place his music amongst the greatest Bengalee romantic songs of our times. A new era for Azam Khan and music in general had dawned.

It would be short lived.

To be continued.................

New Age Op-Ed

26th June 2011


Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Legacy of Azam Khan – Part I

Dear All,

New Age is serializing a slightly abridged version of my 4 part essay on Azam Khan beginning today - Saturday the 25th July until Tuesday the 28th July.

This is all about my impression of a man who charted the course of our history as well as Rock. I hope all of you will find it interesting and informative.



The Legacy of Azam Khan – Part I
Maqsoodul Haque – Mac

Baptism in Fire: From Guerrilla to Rock Hero

It was a rain drenched night in June, 1971. A three man squad of fierce Mukti Bahini guerrillas has been crawling head down for well over an hour. A well fortified Pakistan Army forward bunker in Saldah, Comilla, is their target. Earlier they had walked nonstop from their secret camp within liberated Bangladesh for 4 hours. Exhaustion, blood sucking leeches, mosquitoes, insects, and slimy mud covering their bodies, made progress slow and tortuous. Pain numbed their senses and snakes were everywhere.

Worse, the only homing element to target the enemy was beacons coming off several Petromax lamps (hejag batti in Bengalee) visible only as a blur in the distance. The orders from the Sector Commander were precise. Crawl till the enemy is sighted and in line of fire before executing the ambush. Optical illusions made figuring distances exacting. The element of surprise could not be betrayed. This was to be the young warrior's baptism in fire.

Yet it was the guerrillas who were in for a bigger surprise, almost to points of bewilderment. Before they could figure out and gather their bearings, they realized that they were less than half a meter away from target! From their vantage point, on the top of the bunker and about three meters below, they saw the dreaded enemy. Six burly Pakistani soldiers huddled together for dinner under a tarpaulin cover.

The rain was bearing down hard - and no, there wasn't any sentry on duty. The guerrilla's, heart thudding with excitement waited. They had to be doubly sure. Those were early days of the war, and weapons were few. The leader, a Section Commander of this special ops squad clutched a vintage World War II 9 mm Sten gun with an extra magazine of bullets. The others had a pistol and 4 grenades between them. In awe they eyed the enemy's assortment of weapons.

They soon realized this was no ordinary bunker. It was a heavy machine gun nest! They had to go for a precision kill, so the leader signaled his comrades to lie perfectly still until he opens fire. Rising stealthily from crawl to a crouch and then standing upright he readied his weapon. The enemy had only to look up and they would have seen him, but they were in midst of a happy pre-meal chit chat.

Wafting in the air was the aroma of beef, rice, lentils and generous amounts of salad and vegetables. The guerrillas felt a stomach cramp. They hadn't eaten proper food in months since the war began. They were hungry and it was distracting. With seconds to go, the leader was overcome by sense of remorse and pity. It was after all going to be the last meal for the Pakistani soldiers, so he let the enemy gulp a few morsels of food. The other members of the squad were getting anxious by the seconds because of the delay.

The leader steeled himself for the kill and with his great sense of wry humor, thought quickly; 'How about singing them a song, in a language the enemy understands before they die, a befitting goodbye'? He chose a 60's Hindi film song popular in East Pakistan and India.

And so it was with his shrill voice and the song - 'eisa mouka phir kaha mileyga' (when will I ever get a chance like this again) a staccato of rat,tat,tat,tat,tat …….Sten gun fire pierced the silence of the night. The first magazine was emptied. The enemy had no chance and as they lay moaning, the second magazine of 28 bullets was swiftly brush-fired in a final coup de grace.

The operation was over in less then five minutes. Before they retreated to base, the final count was six Pakistani soldiers shot dead, several weapons captured and the bunker blown up.

The 21 year old guerrilla leader and a Section Commander of Sector 2, on the secret mission was none other than Azam Khan a.k.a. Mahbubul Haque Khan who passed away in Dhaka on Sunday the 5th June 2011 aged 61.

Successive Governments post-1971 made a sordid mess of our history. Each new version had to be colored to accommodate requisite post-Independence political expediencies. Although Azam Khan participated in no less than 30 frontal fights and innumerable hit-and-run operations during the war, not much is known or documented about his valor and heroism during the 1971 Bangladesh War of Liberation.

It is thought that his pre-war leftist orientation was the reason why he never received a gallantry award. After the war, barring a handful, he maintained a discreet distance from the rest of his former comrades. Whenever he spoke of the Liberation war his words were limited only to details of how he left home and his return. At most he would describe his training in Melaghar, Agartala. That was all.

It therefore took me years of persuasion for him to come up with the first person account above. Sadly it's the only one he ever divulged to me and that too because of my insatiable curiosity. There were other reasons why he chose to maintain his stoic silence.

He explained to me in 1992: while the Mukti Bahini was a guerilla force it nonetheless fought under a formal and structured military chain of command divided into sectors, sub-sectors and sections. True, they were a rag-tag group of irregulars and volunteers; however the call of war meant the participants had to undertake an oath of secrecy. They were soldiers for the Nation. It was an oath he chose not to renege upon for as long as he could.

During my intense probing on the subject, there were times he would give me an anguished look and much to my frustration, slip back into deafening silence.

Since official war citations were rarely if ever recorded, he loathed the emerging hero worshipping cult of 'Bir Mukti Joddhas' (heroic freedom fighters). He found it shocking and reprehensible that some of his former comrades were game to megalomania. Many were going about dishing stories of their exploits in the War, with some exaggerating way out of proportions in breach of the oath of secrecy.

In 1992 in sheer despair he told me:

'When your mother and sisters are raped in front of your eyes, your father and brothers mercilessly tortured and killed; you do what you have to do. Fighting for the motherland is no obligation – it's a duty. In fighting the war, I did no 'favor' to my Nation – neither do I expect any favors for what I did in return'

Bangladesh – Post 1971: Emergence of the Rock Hero

To understand Azam Khan and his music one has got to look at the way the World was shaped in 1971 and the tumultuous events that followed in the years thereafter. It was nearing times for the Vietnam War of 21 bloody years to come to an eventual conclusion (1975). In the US, a new movement evolved to address the consciousness of the young. Disparagingly they were termed 'hippies' – in other words social outcasts, riff raffs, good for nothings.

War and senseless brutalities was no longer fashionable. When millions thronged The Woodstock Concert - 3 Days of Peace and Music in 1969 – all our rock heroes from Santana, Rolling Stones, Sly & The Family Stones, The Who, Crosby Still Nash & Young (CSNY), Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR), Jimi Hendrix, even Ravi Shankar participated. With screams of FREEDOM, the mass assembly was a peace missive fired by citizens of America, aimed at the Soul and Conscience of all Mankind. The White House turned a deaf ear to it all. Music meant nothing – or so it thought.

Never officially acknowledged by the Bangladesh Government were efforts by likes of Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan and George Harrison in 1971 to garner support for our Liberation War and the plight of millions of refugees then in India. On 1st of August 1971 over 40,000 people thronged Madison Square Garden in New York and George Harrison's epic rock rallying anthem 'Bangladesh' would instantly propel him to the center stage of world history. The triple album on the concert went gold in days after its release.

It was a 'worlds first'. A concert to raise awareness is tough call when the issue is political. Holding the concert in US soil with its Government opposed and hostile to the just cause of our people was an even more daunting challenge. In today's context it would be equal to rock musicians raising funds in a 'Concert for the Talibans in Afghanistan' – in Los Angeles!

Had there been no Concert for Bangladesh, the war mongers in Washington would surely have intervened to assist the Pakistan Army in days ahead of our liberation. Victory for us just didn't mean the surrender of the Pakistan Army in Dhaka on the 16th December 1971, a flag and a map. Largely erased from our history and public memory is the humiliating withdrawal of the US Navy's 7th Fleet armada stationed in the Bay of Bengal.

The Concert for Bangladesh changed music globally. World Music became what it is really meant to be – bullets hitting the Soul of conscious people and thereby forcing changes in lifestyle and attitude among the masses, as also policies of Governments.

Cultural Renaissance: A generations fight for freedom of expression

It was precisely the time for the US, Europe and rest of the West, to lap up Indian Classical Music which has gone on to establish its firm grip thereafter. Ravi Shankar, Ustad Alauddin Khan, and Allah Rakkha popularized the Sitar, Sarod and Tabla. Similarly, Indian Guru's and Sufi preachers were the rage and gave comfort and counseling to those in spiritual ill health in the troubled times.

Azam Khan had an earlier fascination for The Beatles and George Harrison in particular. It was only natural for him as a freedom fighter to acknowledge wholeheartedly his (Harrison's) huge contribution to our cause as also, his pure spirituality.

Rock until the late sixties was unheard of in our part of the world in its native language. 1971 is significant. We had entered a truly happening global cross-cultural exchange phase in the history of the world. The fall-out in Bangladesh was marked in the persona of Azam Khan. Guitar, drums and keyboards made its bold entry into our cultural domain.

Accusations of cultural revisionism were in the air. Our elders and the teeming middle class in general, not familiar with the emerging new soundscape gave it a sinister label 'Oposhongskriti' or counter-culture. The parochial and stagnant notion of mainstream Bengalee culture from our grandparent's times was set to be literally brutalized into much needed reforms. This was going to be no win-win situation for rockers, therefore politicized and abusive culture vultures were deployed by the establishment to confront the disquiet.

However the shape, definition and course of culture would change for the better in the years to come, and something our puritanical patronizing cultural cognisanti could ever imagine - not even in their wildest dreams. Never in history did Bengal ever have a renaissance of such a magnitude.

It is therefore absurd to even suggest that anybody other than Azam Khan could have risen up to the occasion and taken on Rock's mantle on his lean shoulders for yet - another fight. He bore all insults and ignominy heaped on him with fortitude, resilience and humor. He was the penultimate hero. Neither his credibility as a front line freedom fighter nor his patriotism could ever be questioned. The simplistic yet powerful messages emerging from his songs could not be rubbished. The son of the Muses in Bengal had arrived and he was destined to change our attitude and importantly the music scene of our country forever.

Nothing in the world stood between him and his mission. This was to be no guerrilla theater; it was far more arduous and hazardous than bargained for. The Government of the day as much as our parents was uneasy with this errant yet mercurial former freedom fighter.

What unfolded would change the course of our cultural history forever.

The Jhanki Philosophy : Azam Khan's meteoric rise

People without a basic education in Western Music or culture term Azam Khan's music as pop. Some have gone further than that, and have branded him either a 'Pop Guru' or 'Pop Shamrat' (Emperor). Nothing could be more ridiculous and for records, he despised both terms.

Pop as a word may mean 'popular' yet as a genre it has an altogether different and negative connotation; 'crass' - as in 'unrefined as to be lacking in discrimination and sensibility'. To explain it further, Pop music is wall paper music. It is neither painting nor sculptor i.e. it has no permanence. Shelf life or public memory for pop does not go beyond 3 to 5 years. In today's Bangladesh it is not unsurprising that pop music attracts huge public following. A 'one-time-use product', media overkill and corporate packaging guarantee skyrocketing sale and that too for a very limited time frame. Pop projects and propels less than mediocre idiots to 'superstardom'!

Azam Khan's music is all about what pop is NOT. It has lasted for over 38 years and it will last for centuries. Yes Azam Khan was 'popular' – but so were Nazrul and Tagore but can anyone dare use the term pop before their musical genre? Also do we ever hear about our 'pop Prime Minister'!

Rock on the contrary, is just not a Western musical genre. It is a comprehensive philosophy and lifestyle statement, which at its finest rejects status quo, establishment i.e. any form of exploitation or subjugation of fellow man. It is a derivative of the words 'Rock and Roll' or to shake and rattle listeners to act, free their spirit, wake up and rise up in revolt against all scum's of the earth.

On the flipside it is also a self-destruct philosophy and it isn't as if Azam Khan was unaware of it. He had volunteered for several hazardous near-death encounters during the Liberation War and survived. Our Liberation, as far as he was concerned, meant just the culmination of many skirmishes – the final battles were never fought, the war as such never ended? Independence means freeing the Nation ensnared in mental slavery and as in War and so in peace; he chose to take sides with the toiling masses. His weapon would be Music.

It is only appropriate that Azam Khan gave the philosophy an amusing Bengalee coinage – 'Jhanki o Dola' – later settling for just 'Jhanki' or Rock. His favorite quip whenever he saw me was – 'jhanki ditey hoibo' (we gottta rock it)! How more 'Western' can you get to describe Rock in Bengalee than just that one punch word – 'Jhanki'?

In retrospect I think it was simply brilliant! \m/

To be continued..........

New Age OP-ED

25th June 2011


Friday, June 24, 2011

Of Dead Heroes, Culture Vultures, Hyenas and Kosher Patriotism

Maqsoodul Haque – Mac

"Patriotism is the last vestige of scoundrels" Samuel Johnson

Azam Khan, February 28, 1950 - June 5, 2011 R.I.P
  • On 5th June the rock icon and former freedom fighter Azam Khan died after a year-long battle with cancer. In our history one cannot recall any other public figure receiving the number of tributes filling media space and is ongoing as I write. A colleague from New Age sent me an SMS to say that Azam Khan has outstripped Sheikh Mujib, General Zia even Moulana Bhashani in the outpouring of grief and media coverage, in print, TV as well as in Internet social medias. It is the truth.
  • That said, post his death the Government of the day seemed to be at a loss as how to handle honors due to him. There were conflicting and confusing signals, whether he should be treated as a former freedom fighter or a rock legend? In the end politicians and partisan activists with no knowledge of either culture or rock, were bent upon highlighting only his role in the Liberation War. Fair enough, but there was a glaring loophole. Despite his bravery and heroism in the nine month long war as a front line guerrilla leader, no post-Independence Government as such ever awarded him a medal for gallantry!
  • Azam Khan's known pre-war leftist leanings and commitment to the people as opposed to petty partisan interest meant; he was never a blue-eyed boy of the establishment. Further, his 38 years of unflinching dedication and devotion to rock saw him identifying with aspirations of the masses and his faith in a new generation of musicians. He spent most of his adult life and quality time with them. For as long as he lived, his graying and fossilized contemporaries found his musical activism repulsive, infantile and not worthy a contribution to our culture. Forgotten was fact that by default he was also a youth leader par excellence.
  • His cancer led to unauthorized fund raising initiatives by opportunist as well as sincere well-wishers both at home and abroad. Ironically much of it was pilfered and never reached the ailing hero. The Government, particularly the Prime Ministers contribution of Taka 5 lakhs was a pittance at best, covering less that 1 percent of the total cost of the treatment. Yet one couldn't help overlook that each and every newspaper and media report never failed to rub-in her 'great contribution'! Is Taka 5 lakh all that the Government could cough up to absolve itself? Why couldn't the Prime Minister or the Government takeover full responsibility for the treatment of Azam Khan, when much lesser mortals of repute (or disrepute) have been afforded so?
  • Part of the problem is in our ingrained attitude whenever an artist is reported ill or dying; we start to criminally degrade them. Dushtho Shilpi or destitute artist is the coinage. Poverty apparently is 'crime' in a nation where most citizens live well below levels of basic subsistence? However the brunt is faced only by artists who are deliberately pauperized, their hard earned respect, honor and dignity shamelessly brutalized. In Azam Khan's death it was no different, only that it carried a shocking due entendre. Together with Dushtho Shilpi he was also a Dushtho Mukti Joddha ?
  • Now come on, there cannot be any such thing. We after all have a Freedom Fighters Welfare Ministry and are led to believe that 'the greatest sons of the soil are all being looked after'. Deleted from cumulative memory are 90 percent of our unheard and unknown heroes of the War were from villages. Forget also that those who participated in the war from urban areas are without a doubt its greatest beneficiary today. The thonga of Mukti Juddho is 'hot commodity' in cities, enough money is on offer and has been made and much more is yet to be. There are no end to salivating elements out there fine tuning their act to fine art. Azam Khan chose not to be party to such chicanery.
  • The Liberation War hero, the only half-hearted Guard of Honor offered by the Government was a hastily arranged Police detail near his residence before his body was moved for funeral prayers and burial. Partisan politics which Azam Khan hated in his lifetime came in next to hijack opportunities that presented itself in the planned chaos.
  • The pro-Government Sammilito Sangskrtik Jote (SSJ) of which Azam Khan was never a member, quickly seized his corpse and put it up for public display at the Central Shaheed Minar under its ghastly banner. A fascist organization, the SSJ has no representation from Bangladesh's teeming rock fraternity and given its reactionary character, especially its post 90's co-opting to MNC's exploitative interest, makes it a sworn enemy for all rockers and conscious people of Bangladesh.
  • That done, what came on next was a huge media circus, with music 'celebrities' and TV personalities jockeying for space to expose their unwanted faces. On TV cameras they talked endlessly about the great man without inkling as to what he really stood for. Gone amiss from the circus was an issue Azam Khan held in the deepest of contempt; the corporatization of our culture and Media exploitation which had also befallen his fate.
  • Alas as his corpse lay in the CMH morgue Azam Khan's worst nightmares were coming alive. TV and radio channels in deference to pretentious 'respect, tribute and adoration for the Guru and Pop Shamrat' Azam Khan kept up non-stop relay of his songs, Music Videos and LIVE TV performances. There would have been no complaints had it not been, that added to the shenanigan, all the programs were sponsored by cell phones, soap and toiletries makers and even kitchen masala companies!
  • No one asked how much money has already been made by the TV and radio stations in their maya kanna post Azam Khan's death? As of now, there are no records to confirm that the media volunteered to share any revenue it earned since his death with members of his family, the ultimate and rightful beneficiary to his immortal works. Crores of Takas has already been pocketed.
  • The unnecessary controversy and degrading of his dignity over money raised for his treatment could well have been addressed, if Azam Khan's final request to the media was heeded and/or serious steps taken to demand what was due to him. His immortal works is invaluable and in a simplistic message before he went to Singapore, he pleaded :
  • 'I don't want pity, largesse, contribution or financial help from anyone. If the TV and Radio channels just pay the royalties due to me, I should have more than enough to cover my treatment with my own money'. No one in the media took heed. All they wanted was to project a 'destitute artist' and they got away with it unchallenged. That didn't stop even after he died.
  • Post death, his family (a daughter and two sons) continues to be hounded by culture vultures and media hyenas. However, the scenario has changed slightly. Everybody now wants to hand out tokenistic dole to them, with a catch. 'How about signing this legal paper, authorizing so and so to come up with a tribute album, concert or TV show?' Add to that the horror and humiliation they felt when Channel I went ahead with a LIVE sponsored TV show on 19th June featuring Asif Akbar murderously singing Azam Khan's song and the Producer on request and plea from the family, arrogantly not giving a hoot?
  • Or how do we explain a statement by the notorious plagiarist Ayub Bacchu 'if we do not perform Azam Khan's song, they will simply die'? When will this two bit megalomaniac ever realize that an Ayub Bacchu as such is not required to save Azam Khan's songs? The original audio and video recordings of Azam Khan that are available in the public domain are more than enough to perform that yeomen service.
  • We pride ourselves with the number of TV and Radio Channels that have mushroomed over the years and yes they do have permissions from all Government bodies and even the BTRA. On papers they may be legit, but as far as their dealing with artists, repertoire and broadcast of music and video are concerned; they are COMPLETELY ILLEGAL. For all practical purpose these entities are nothing more than pirate Radio and TV stations as they do no comply with the Copyright laws of Bangladesh which is in effect from 2005, and do not offer royalties on the original software's of the CREATOR, the artist!
  • At the end of the equation it is greed and a lack of transparency that will derail this nation if it has not been already. On 16th of June the Government conceded to US pressure and signed off our gas resources to ConocoPhillips. With pressure building up from activists groups opposed to the move the flippant and obtuse Finance Minister in presence of his 'future masters' could only come up with his oft repeated abuse 'utter nonsense'. With a secret deal aimed at usurping our national wealth only one-upped patriotism could come into play.
  • And so it was left to none but our Prime Minister to copyright patriotism in her name only, leaving rest of us scoundrels that dare resists 'unpatriotic'? Be it, but wasn't it Edward Abbey that said, "A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government"?
  • Azam Khan R.I.P - dream on my Hero. There will be no copyright to the 'utter rubbish and nonsensical cans' of history. Time and tide will wait for none. This Nation of braves will surely rise and revolt.

New Age XTRA

Print Version, Friday 24th June 2011