Sohrab Hossain:
A titan among Nazrul artistes

Karim Waheed
Courtesy: Daily Star [BD: August 27, 2005]

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Ranaghat, West Bengal: A 9-year-old boy hears someone singing at a gathering. Drawn to the voice, the boy makes his way through the crowd to take a look at the singer. He is fascinated not only by the words--Durgamo giri kantar maru dustar parabaar hey, but also the zeal with which the artiste renders the song. It was as if, one could not separate the artiste from his song.

This is how Sohrab Hossain recalls his first encounter with Kazi Nazrul Islam. An aged Sohrab may not remember the accurate dates but the memories remain ablaze. He says, "That song Durgamo giri… made an immense impact on me. Not just me, the song became a phenomenon during the 'Quit India' Movement. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose once said about the song, 'No other song motivates me through our struggles. If it's up to me, I'd make this our anthem.

Calling Sohrab one of the pioneering Nazrul singers of our country would not be an overstatement. After the Partition, except for Abbasuddin, Feroza Begum, Laila Arjumand Banu, Bedaruddin Ahmed and Sohrab Hossain, there were hardly any quality Nazrul artistes in this land. Sohrab has been an integral part of the revival of popularity of Nazrul songs and maintaining the correct notations of the songs after they went through major distortion during the '40s and '50s. A breed of talented Nazrul artistes that include Shaheen Samad, Dalia Nausheen, Sadya Afreen Mallick, Sabiha Mahbub and Kamol Rodrigues have trained under him.

Reminiscing on the days of yore, Sohrab says, "I was born in Nodia, West Bengal. Before the Partition I used to go to Kolkata often. Artistes--K Mallick, Bedaruddin Ahmed, Bazlul Karim and I, had our get-togethers there. I had the opportunity to hear the legendary divas--Angurbala and Indubala, rendering Nazrul's songs. And how they used to perform those songs! I'd also been to the staging of the popular play Nawaab Sirajuddoula. Most of the songs featured in that play were written and composed by Nazrul. I used to like different genres of songs but as I heard more and more Nazrul songs, I felt a strong affinity towards the Rebel Poet's work."

The veteran artiste continues, "Whatever I have achieved, wouldn't have been possible without the tutelage of Zainul Abedin, Kiran De Chowdhury and Muhammad Hossain Khasru. Shudeerlal Chakravarty was my trainer for Adhunik songs. For Nazrul songs I trained under Abbasuddin and Gireen Chakravarty."

About the current state of Nazrul songs and artistes in our country, Sohrab says, "The standard of contemporary Nazrul artistes is fair. In fact, I do think that the standard of Nazrul artistes is better in our country, than in West Bengal. However, there is still room for improvement. Some artistes get a 'swollen head' from the adulation they receive from their admirers and this can be a potential block to their growth as singers.

"About the state of Nazrul's music, I must say most music schools are not doing a commendable job. Trainers in charge of molding aspiring artistes should be competent. Then there is the issue of distortion. While some ignorant hopefuls are trying to blindly imitate certain artistes and in the course, picking up inaccurate notations and styles that ruin the essence of Nazrul's songs, some popular artistes are willingly distorting the songs."

Sohrab continues, "The media also has a major role in maintaining the standard of the songs and artistes. Artistes in different parts of the country performing Nazrul songs for the divisional radio stations, don't seem to follow a uniform style."

His favourites among Nazrul songs are: Phooler jalshae, Ami chirotorey doorey choley jabo and Shobar kotha koiley. Nazrul was too busy to give Sohrab some of his time in his days of glory. The poet wasn't himself any more due to a neurological illness when he eventually had time. But as Sohrab says, "To me Nazrul is very much alive through his songs."

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