|That waterfall sound in her voice . . .
Syed Badrul Ahsan travels through artistic timelessness
Banglar Gaane Pakhi
Ed Rafiqul Islam
There has always been a flowing stream imagery about Ferdausi Rahman's songs. That slight tremor in the voice, coming with that particular sense of femininity, has been a defining point about the professionalism she has consistently brought to singing. And do not forget that music has been a strong underlying theme with her family. The trendsetter was of course her father; and then there has been her sibling. In our times, a niece too has made waves in this particular genre. In a very large sense, therefore, Ferdausi belongs to that select band of music makers whose roots lie as much in their individuality as in their being part of clans made illustrious by their contributions to the shaping of melody and its various nuances.
In Banglar Gaaner Pakhi, therefore, emerges the story of Ferdausi Rahman's rise to stardom and the elements that have kept her on the heights that she was to reach. Extend the picture and you will arrive at a point where it is a whole generation of Bengali song makers and singers that stands ready to acquaint you with the many ways in which it moulded the world of modern Bengali songs. There is that unmistakeable generational quality about Ferdausi Rahman, Anjuman Ara Begum, Fauzia Khan, Farida Yasmeen, Bashir Ahmed, Abdul Jabbar, Syed Abdul Hadi, Anwaruddin Khan, Mahmudunnabi and a host of other artistes who truly came of age in the 1960s and were destined to leave an assertive imprint on the collective aesthetic consciousness. In Ferdausi's case, something of the phenomenal has been at play, given particularly the fact that she was one of those few Bengali singers who were to become subjects of adulation in both wings of pre-1971 Pakistan. The ease with which Ferdausi sang Urdu songs (you recall here such movies as Chanda, Talash and Chakori) has not quite been matched in all the decades since she and the world of music have moved on. The heart stirs through kuchh apni kahiye / kuch meri suniye. Or you could go back to humming akhian tori raah mein haari / o pardesia.
You will not miss the waterfall in Ferdausi Rahman's songs. An energy is what has generally defined her romantic songs. At the same time, poise and grace have been a hallmark of the songs she has sung (and which artistes like Shabnam and Shabana have lisped in the movies). Recall the calm wo mere saamne tasveer bane baithe hain or the frantic ye arzoo jawan jawan ye chandni dhuaan dhuaan. Ferdausi takes you by the hand as it were into a world of sad, sweetened romantic mist. Much the same quality is to be spotted in her Bengali songs, many of which have by now acquired the quality of the perennial. For those now in their mid-fifties and even later, songs like jar chhaya porhechhe / monero aaina te is yet a potent symbol of love at its most intense. Conversely, the tragic ke amar ondho moner bondho duaar fello khule / jaante cheyo na thrusts your way the old lesson of the heart being a constant prey to threats of breakage. It splinters; it leaves the world of the one who loves cracked beyond measure.
Banglar Gaaner Pakhi is, therefore, a tribute to Ferdausi Rahman's versatility. And the tributes straddle a wide range of personalities in Bangladesh's cultural ambience, each of whom has carved a niche for herself or himself on the socio-cultural canvas of the country. Atiqul Haq Chowdhury spots in her the essential artiste, while Anisuzzaman understands the substantive tones in which she has always approached music. Ashraf Siddiqui marvels at the humility which has underpinned her songs. M. Shamsher Ali recalls the interest he has taken in the artiste's hold on the popular imagination. Sadya Afreen Mallick ascribes to her the image of a floral representation of the land, and Mohsena Reza Shopna finds in her a friend to be proud of. There are others, indeed a whole procession of figures whose fascination for Ferdausi Rahman, for the quality and range of her music stand as testimony to the reputation she has earned over the decades.
In this work, therefore, comes a telling of the story of a music maker who has not been beaten by time or pushed into the sidelines by the rise of the new. Ferdausi Rahman has endured. To understand how . . . read the book.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is Editor, Star Books Review.