Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Timeless Tales in Making of the Unforgettable 'Melay Jai Re' - 1989 by Feedback

by Sajeda Tamanna Hossain,

Pix: Shahid Ahmed Irad & Collections

Song Title: Melay Jai Re

Album Title: Mela

Date of Release: 1990

Lyrics: Maqsoodul Haque

Composition: Maqsoodul Haque and Fuad Naser Babu

Musical Arrangements: Feedback

Down Memory Lane: Floating along with the tide of time, we continue to stroll through the hall of fame. The cool sway of the summer breeze, mild sting of humidity and searing waves of sudden heat come as reminder to us, of the new calendar, new season and renewed celebrations. As the mind lies engulfed by the thoughts of 'Boishakh', as if in silent agreement, unknowingly, the footsteps were walked to the threshold of, 'Melay Jai Re' by 'Feedback' 

The Making:

Maqsoodul Haque: Bangla Noboborsho meant a lot for me, when I was very young. At the time, the residence of my family used to be at Narayanganj. Every Pohela boishakh, alongside my family, I travelled to Dhaka for a daylong visit to the Ramna Park. The occasion was celebrated with all of the Chhayanaut family. In those days, Chhayanaut was relatively small and closely knit, and somehow or the other, everyone knew my parents and were connected to them. I am speaking of a time even before the independance, say during the mid or late 60s.

Even in those days, Borsho Boron began at dawn break but the occasion was  carried out at a much smaller scale with about 300-400 people. It used to be like a picnic at Ramna, with neither as many people, nor as many cars. A child of my age then, I understood nothing of the songs that greeted Noboborsho, and therefore, spent much of the day playing with other children. Such was our remembrance of Boishakh and had become a regular practice over the years.

As I began maturing, during the days following independance, I realised that Pohela Boishakh had become a serious, conservative ordeal, met with a solemn approach. There were a set of unspoken rules and guidelines, that silently dictated, what were to be followed as, the norms of culture; as for example, dawn till mid-day, must oversee orchestrated performances of Tagore songs, conventional recitations of Nazrul's poems etc. Consequently a boredom materialized within me.

Impositions as such have been witnessed even once before, as citizens of East Pakistan! Even then, it was the rationing of the commoner's freedom of cultural expression. It was a massive issue and only grew bigger, as more people started understanding the communal attitude of the Pakistani administration prior to liberation- placing ideas such as, that Bengalis weren't Muslims and that our culture was influenced by the ideas and rituals of Hinduism! The only body of people, that resisted such notions was that which we know as, Chhayanaut!

Our elders spoke of these matters with grave concern; we overheard their conversations as children but absorbed the depth and gravity of their concerns much later as adults. And so, the seeds of rebellion, the winds of change, the freedom of expression- these were the significant catalysts for everything that subsequently wound into a new way. But as time journeyed on, the successors of the new way, developed into an obsessive cult of culture vultures! Pohela Boishakh- an occasion that once marked every Bengali's pride in his identity and symbolized cultural union through congregations at 'Boishakhi Mela'-s; a time had come that the 14th of April was yet another 'must not deviate from tradition'! Thus, all that I witnessed of Noboborsho were contradictions- proclamations were made of festivity and freedom, but no smiles or laughters on the lips that pronounced!

This repeated repulsive routine was boring the patience out of me and my generation. One Noboborsho, it agitated me so much so, that it involuntarily escaped my mouth, 'Ai chol eikhan theke jai toh! Ramnay ar bhalo lagtese na! Chol melay jai!', I told my friends. And so in mid '87, the matter, as I perceived it, finally formed a proper and organized string of ideas, settling down as words!

With reference to my the then observation, to the common man, the whole essence of Boishakh lies in the 'Mela'- indulging in the utmost of rustic rural flavors of Bengal. The Boishakhi Mela reminds us of our roots- Pohela Boishakh is not merely the first day of a new calendar; it signifies a new season of harvest, new tallies of accounts and thus brings hopes of a new year bearing newer possibilities.

In disapproval and criticism of the manipulation of cultural definitions, such were the thoughts expressed through my lyrics. On the occasion of Noboborsho, people wait for Ramna's boring session- making a display of predefined traditions- to be over and look forward to the festivities afterwards, encompassing Boishakhi Mela-s.

In an effort to draw attention to the visible changes in season, I made references to the flowers 'polash' and 'shimul'. However, at the time, I really didn't know much about flowers and their blooming seasons. And hence, contrary to the facts of botany, the floral bloom was referred to in the song- 'polash' and 'shimul', I later learned, are not blossoms of Boishakh.

My basic idea in crafting the lyrics of the song, was to be able to incorporate four main elements in relation to Noboborsho- the composition and instrumental sounds that harmoniously synchronise and appeal with a recollection of a Boishakhi mood to whoever, listening to the song; vivid and appropriate color references in the lyric to trigger visual memories of Boishakh; nostalgia jogged with references to fragrances and aromas, characteristic of the common attributes and familiar experiences of a Boishakhi Mela; provoking use of words in reference of and recalling the sensations of touch, felt only when in contact with the gifts of Boishakh. Altogether, the four elements making references to the four sensory stimuli, must appeal to the listener, having wholly engulfed him in memories building real experiences and individualized association with Boishakh.

The song also makes very subtle and sarcastic remarks encompassing the hypocrisies of society as a whole and the contradictory practices of people as individuals, such as- celebrating a Bengali festival while adorned in foreign perfumes; the congregation of Bengalis at mela-s is held to symbolize union and comradeship, and yet, the Bengali woman is still subject to harassment by their male counterparts, even on an occasion as such.

I did try to indicate that it is dynamism in culture that we have to look for; we must learn to draw a differentiating line between the former, and tradition. People need to widen their acceptance of change in perspective so that at no point in time, we face something called a 'cultural shock'; after all, what is culture today, might not be so tomorrow.

And all these ideas, thoughts and expressions gradually came together, placing themselves carefully next to each other and 'Melay Jai Re' finally came to life. It's been 20 years; when I look back, I feel no regrets!

A Memory: A very special memory attached to this song is of this woman, who regularly telephoned my residence asking for me. One day, Dio's mother, my late wife Nazreen Haque, informed me of her frequent calls, having mentioned that the lady wanted to speak to me about a special something regarding the song and that Nazreen had asked her to call back the following weekend afternoon. The lady called accordingly and I answered. The special something that she wished to speak of was regarding her 3 year old child! She said, 'Bhaiya, I really admire and respect you. This song is absolutely amazing but there is someone else in my family, who is crazier about it than myself- it's my baby! I can't possibly breast feed him on even a single occasion without the song playing in the background.  You actually have to see it to believe it.'

 PLAYLIST MAGAZINE, DHAKA, BANGLADESH, JULY 2011

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