A tribute to Rajanikanta


When my eldest bro visited us a couple of years back, he left me a CD of Rajanikanta’s songs. It’s the only thing that he has given me that didn’t give me a painful purple bump that we Bengalis call a ‘kalsheetay’. Those stopped when we grew up of course. The first song on the CD is the one below that I have excerpted and I am astonished at how closely it reflects my situation.

“Aami akriti adham boleo to
Kichu kom korey morey dao ni
Ja diyecho tari ajagya bhabia
Kereo to kichu nao ni

Aamay rakhitey cheyecho badhoney aatia
Shoto bar jai badhon katia
Bhabi chere gecho, firey cheye dekhi
Ak pao chere jao ni.”

I am aware some of you are Bengali-challenged Bengalis and some outright non-Bengalis. Meaning you haven’t yet reached the top of the food chain. Don’t worry, you’re simply going through a process of purification that Hindus believe all humans pass through. Like rye, repeatedly distilled, till it ends up being good scotch. Consider this Facebook Group as a half-way house in that cleansing process. After a few rebirths, when you finally start smelling like Black Label, you’ll know you are a Bengali. Till then I shall have to continue to enlighten you for free. Sigh, the crosses one has to bear for the hoi-polloi.

Please, put down the rolling pin, stop unscrewing the kitchen sink. I was just kidding. Bengalis are in no way different from any other folk. Maybe in one aspect, though. They’re wimpier than the rest, intimidated by size, no question about it. A Bong will never pick a fight with, say, a Sardarji. Also there’s the gas. A result of chomping at so many hot green peppers all the time. Even when you’re upwind in a gale, you can still smell a Bengali a mile away. Our gas behaves like salmon swimming up river to spawn.

A hundred and thirteen years after a brilliantly melancholy composer called Rajanikanta Sen wrote this beautiful devotional song, another Bengali, who is no less brilliant and lives on a little island that he owns off the city of Montreal, slipped the CD into his car stereo and lost himself in it. The ticket that he got as a result of speeding through an unmanned railroad crossing, with just millimeters separating his ass from the cowcatcher of a 4500hp Canadian Pacific diesel engine of which he had been oblivious, was for an amount of 346 dollars and 65 cents.

You’ve guessed by now who that other Bengali was, of course. Kidding about the locomotive. Kidding about owning an island. With me, a pinch of salt simply isn’t enough. You have to  intake so much salt that if you drank a lot of water and placed an anode in your mouth and a cathode up the other end, you could light a bulb easily.

Rajanikanta Sen invariably stirs me and makes me attain a state where I’m oblivious to my surroundings. That afternoon, if I’d been splattered all over the rail tracks near the Kahnawake Indian Reserve, I would have had no regrets. Listening to Rajanikanta while being mashed by a 200ton locomotive, its an end I wouldn’t mind by any means. Bunty, my Honda Civic, might not see it that way though. Touchy she is. Six years old is middle aged, for women like her and she knows it.

Now the translation…

“I’m a sinner who scoffed
At the possibility that you exist
Yet, you gave, never refused
Whatever were my desires

You must have known
That I was undeserving
But you have never made
To snatch it all back

When you did clasp me
To your bosom
I wriggled out
Sprang free and ran

And after a while
When I turned and
Looked behind to see
If I’d finally rid myself of you

There you were, as always
Right there, following
Your arms outstretched
I knew you had never left me.”

Rajanikanta’s verses are lucid and simple everyday Bengali, easy to identify with, not that high-flown version that most Bengali prose has. His song writing is marked by an overwhelmingly deep devotion toward the Almighty. At the same time, I have sensed an underlying feeling of remorse, as if seeking forgiveness for taking the Lord for granted. From what I’ve read about his life, his was a middle class home and he had never been known to indulge in any excesses or live a profligate lifestyle that musicians and creative folk were sometimes known to live. It seems therefore strange as to why he seemed so guilt ridden.

Here is Hemonto Mukherjee’s rendition of the song……


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