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Poets Printery

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Susmit Bose, A Maestro of Indo-English Music


I came across Susmit Bose one afternoon on a hot summer day at Delhi sometime in 1978. I am not sure of the year and it might be even before that. Delhi was my favourite hunting ground, hunting for poetry books, trying to sell my poetry book, hunting to fall in love again and again, it was all about love and poetry as it is still now. I have actually never met him till today.

We have a mutual friend who owns a busy café cum gift shop just below Indian Oil Bhavan on Janpath. It is there that I found Susmit Bose’s Long Playing Vinyl Record ‘Train to Calcutta’. Susmit Bose was going to be with me for the next thirty years. I have carried his LP wherever I went. This is one of my most treasured items.

Delhi of the seventies was different. Poetry and Music were emerging in an aroma of genuine Indianess. JS ‘The magazine that thinks young ‘ edited by the maverick Desmond Doig in the seventies was organising music concerts in Kolkata and bringing beat groups from Shillong, Kohima, Darjeeling, Bombay and New Dehi. Indo English Poetry had already taken roots in New Delhi. Reciting poetry near the tea shop next to Godavari at Jawaharlal Nehru University was a regular feature. Evenings and Poetry merged together in unforgettable nights. I feel proud to have been a part of that period.

Susmit Bose came as a sudden storm with simple lyrics that got embedded in permanency.He wrote on his album,

‘These songs convey my sentiments and interpretations of situations around me. I am not trying to preach in my songs but want to share my feelings with you. Having experimented in serious forms in folk music, there are two songs in this album which are the results of this experiment. They are both beautiful songs. The ‘Baul’ ( the folk song of Bengal) written by Kazi Nazrul Islam has had a great impact on me. Viva La Quinte Brigada is a song of the Spanish civil War and has been recorded before by someone whom I regard with great respect – Pete Seeger. I take this opportunity to thank all who helped me to make this dream of recording come true especially Bob Dylan who inspired me a great deal in my music.’

My favourite has always been his song whose lyrics go like this –

I wrote this song

On a Sunday morn

On a train to Calcutta bound

Of a boy who was travelling all alone

The sun went up and all was well

Till the man in the uniform

Was checking all the tickets

And was smiling

A sudden frown came on his face

As he saw the boy around…..

Susmit Bose is now known as an Urban Folk Balladeer. He sings about social issues in English to Indian audiences. His latest song on Binayak Sen, a doctor imprisoned in Chattisgarh created as much furore as my poem on him. A talented filmmaker, he’s produced several successful television shows for Doordarshan, Surabhi, a show on Indian culture being amongst the best-known. He has also released documentary films like Akha Teej on child marriage; A Revival on traditional medicine, For Who; Man Of Heart on the bauls, for IGNCA (Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts). He also arranged the song Hum Honge Kamyab with Anil Biswas and has led the All India Radio Choir. He’s performed in international folk music concerts from Cuba to Berlin, and has sung with folk music legends like Pete Seeger in the US and Canada. He has also performed with Paul Horn, an internationally acclaimed flautist, for a US/UK project on world music.

How do you speak of freedom?

When your thoughts are so in chains

How do you see the rainbow?

Without the rain

(Certain Thoughts, Public Issue, 2005)

Whenever I travel to India, I make it a point to visit the café and ask my friend about Susmit. All of us have grown old and today on my birthday I put his vinyl disc on the player and listen to his immortal songs. What a better way to celebrate a birthday by listening to a giant of Indo-English Music. I remember I had penned a few lines in 1979 –

Connaught Place Blues

We had once walked around
Connaught place for hours
Trying to solve a puzzle
Of a day in its stately columns
Holding aloft the far shores
Of an unfamiliar sky
Morning of jigsaw pieces in The Book Worm or
Mind shopping at the pavement
For love poems
Rushing to embrace
Colors, lips
At a backthought corridor in
Dhoomimal Gallery
Our legs ached
Going round and round
Just trying to be somewhere
Until the one legged man in Dass Studios
Appeared from nowhere
As Sushmit Bose’s voice from the gramophone
Bent down to pick us
Loving was an afternoon
In a season that finally fell in its
Rightful place.


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