The One Man Genre

What is the maximum number of novels or plays a person can write in his/her lifetime? 50? 100? 200? Will you believe me if I say here is an Odia playwright who has written more than 500 (most likely close to 800) plays?

Will you believe me if I add that most of those plays have been extremely popular among the audience—when performed on stage and/or broadcast on radio?

Yes, such a person, whose ‘prolificity’ did not, in any manner, come in the way of his ‘class’, did exist among us in flesh and blood. He still does—albeit in our collective memory.

Gopal Chhotray—whose birth centenary was celebrated yesterday—was not just an extraordinarily successful playwright; he was an institution in himself.  And before you take that as cliché, let me explain what exactly do I mean by that.

Gopal Chhotray was associated with all the possible platforms where a play could be performed—stage, radio, cinema and finally television. He experimented with all kinds of themes—social, family, historical, mythological… And when it came to performance of a play, both on stage and on radio, he was involved with all aspects of its production—from choosing of characters to dialogue delivery to music. Even when stalwarts like Pandit Balakrushna Dash or Akshaya Mohanty would be in charge of music, Chhotray would ensure that the note that he wanted sounded just right. But the unassuming way in which he would do that ensured that all he got from these great people was respect, nothing else.

Yet, the true greatness of this man lay neither in his prolificity nor in his versatility.  It lies in the fact that—and I have the advantage of saying this in hindsight—in a career spanning half a century, he almost defined and shaped Odia drama as a genre—warding off some mindless external influence that Odia theater was beginning to pick up in the post-Kavichandra phase. For long, he almost carried it on his shoulder.

Don’t get me wrong. It is not to suggest that he was better than others.

Take Manoranjan Das, probably the only other name an average Odia would take alongside Chhotray’s when quizzed about Odia drama literature. Das, incidentally, was a colleague, contemporary and very good friend of Gopal Chhotray. (Trivia info: Devdas Chhotray, Gopal Chhotray’s son and noted Odia lyricist actually performed in many of Manoranjan Das’ radio plays, not so much in his father’s plays).

As a playwright Manoranjan Das—who has inspired a lot of researchers to study his creation—was extremely talented. But if his plays impressed the critics more than the audience, it was because he experimented a lot—and many a times, was way ahead of his times.

Gopal Chhotray came from a solid theater background and always had an ear to the ground. It is to his credit that he never used that advantage to just play to the gallery. On the other hand, he experimented and introduced new ideas, both in theme and presentation—but keeping the audience in mind. He defined, shaped and ‘cultivated’ the taste of Odia drama audience.

This contribution of Chhotraty—shaping an entire genre—to my mind, is a far greater contribution than creating some great pieces of individual plays.  Alongside people like Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattnaik, Balakrushna Dash, Akshaya Mohanty and Kanhu Charan Mohanty, Chotray’s name should be taken as a great influencer of popular culture in post independent Odisha.

It is to his credit that he used this influence to do more than just ‘successful’ and ‘experimentative’ work.  Like a true cultural leader, he took it on his shoulders to do more for the community. One was to revive traditions and (as I have written above) thereby ensure that Odianess remains in Odia drama.

Take his single-handed effort to resurrect the legacy of Ganakabi Baishnab Pani’s rural street plays. By writing and composing his geetinatyas following the patterns and musical scores of Baishnab Pani’s geetinatyas for All India Radio, Chhotray, for the first time, got the poet of masses (ganakabi) to the classes. For the first time, Pani was in the drawing room of the urban households.

In fact, to the people of my generation—I grew up in the 80s—Chhotray is best remembered for these geetinatyas like Ganesha, Janmashtami, Napahu Rati Namaru Pati, Mahishasura Mardini, Sampurna Ramayana, Bindu Sagara and the like.

Janini mu kie Siba kouthi ta ghara, Kandile ki heba karindra gamana Indra ki sahaje chhadiba, Dina ganutha ganutha mesha chhiati, Bindu bindu tirthakalare purna e saroabara still reverberate in our minds.

The list, of course, willingly leaves out the most popular of them all—Patent Medicine. That deserves special discussion. If Chhotray resurrected Baishnab Pani, he gave new kind of popularity to Fakir Mohan’s Patent Medicine.  In a recent Twitter poll, we asked the Odia tweeple what their favorite Fakir Mohan work was.

Patent Medicine scored above even Chha Mana Atha Guntha (and Rebati, Daka Munsi). In the discussion that accompanied, many had no hesitation in admitting that it was Shrimati Samarjani, the geetinatya version of Patenr Medicine that is etched in their minds. Many also explicitly said it was Chhotray and Akshaya Mohanty who should share the credit for taking the work to a new level of popularity. Just to reiterate, many even tweeted lines from it—from Babu hei jebe kabu kala mote to Epakhe das sepkahe das; from Makara to helu pagala to Na Sulochana kolata chuna. By the way, it is four decades since it was first broadcast.

It is probably apt to share the genesis of the geetinatya. Gopal Chhotray had adapted works of many great writers to stage and radio plays. Among Fakir Mohan’s works, he had adapted Mamu andChha Mana Atha Guntha among others for radio. Patent medicine was, however, first written for stage. It was even staged in the Collegiate School in early 60s, with Hemant Das and Urvashi Tripathy as the lead pair of Chandramani Babu and Sulochana Dei. But after success of mythological geetinatyas on radio, Akshaya Mohanty suggested that Chhotray adapt Patent Medicine to a geetinatya form. While it was a big challenge to present a social story to a melodramatic geetinatya form with so many songs, Chhotray took it up. The rest is, as they say, history.

Not only did it go on to win All India Radio’s pan-India award for best radio play, it created a cult work in Odia—with a modern theme presented in traditional Odia musical style. Imagine Akshaya Mohanty using an Odissi tune To lagi gopadanda mana re kalia suna in a Fakir Mohan social!

Yet, these geetinatyas are only a small fraction of Chhotray’s work. To the older generation, his plays such as Para Kalama and Bharasa (originals) as well as the likes of Jhanja, Amada Bata and Malajanha (adaptations) are the ones that define Gopal Chhotray. He has written screenplays for more than a dozen Odia movies, including such notable movies as Shri Jagannatha, Maa, Nua Bou, Amada Bata, Abhinetri, Matira Manisha, Kie Kahara, Adina Megha, Dharitri, Bandhu Mohanty and Badhu Nirupama. As you can notice, most of them are strong adaptations. Unfortunately, not a single original of his—many of them very successful on stage—has been made into a movie. It should also be noted that for Malajahna, the movie, which got some rave reviews, especially for the music scored by Akshaya Mohanty (his first as a composer), was not based on Chhotray’s screenplay. This was because he had earlier committed to someone else for that, though that was never made. But being a man of words, he stuck to his promise and politely declined to do the screenplay for Malajahna, which Akshaya Mohanty was co-producing.

Today, Odia is a recognized classical language. Outsiders are a lot more interested in studying the language and culture of Odisha. Odia gananatyas are a multi-crore industry. Yet, somewhere the distinct yet liberal popular Odia culture, whose foundation was built by the likes of Chhotray, seems to have lost its vibrancy, between the rampant copying and ‘lifting’ culture on one hand and the ultra-conservative puritanism that frowns even at healthy cultural exchanges, on the other.

 

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Who’s the greatest Odia?

Some time back, I ran a Twitter poll for two days through an account @OdiaCulture, fairly well engaged with Odia tweeple who are active promoting Odisha and Odia on social media.

The poll asked a simple question.

Who is the greatest Odia of all time?

There were four choices given: Samrat Kharavela, Jayadeva, Utkalamani Pandit Gopabandhu Das and Biju Patnaik. Why these four? Because after considering all aspects, I came with five names, the fifth being that of Madhu Babu (Utkal Gouraba Madhusudan Das). But since Twitter allows only four options, I had to drop one. But why did I drop Madhu Babu? Based on what I was trying to find (more of that later in this piece), the more distinct their areas of contribution and time periods, the better it was for my purpose. Utkalamani and Madhu Babu were not as distinct from each other as they were from the rest. Why I chose to keep Utkalamani and not Madhu Babu is a question I can answer through some arguments, but let us, for the time being, keep it as a pure toss-up.  Maybe,  if you were at my place, you would have chosen to include Madhu Babu over Gopabandhu. For the purpose of my study, that would not have made too much of a difference.  I asked respondents to write other options through replies and not surprisingly, all the votes that came through reply option were for Madhu Babu.

As expected, a few questioned the logic of trying to compare them—all greats in their own rights, contributed in different ways, and were separated from each other in time by long periods, centuries actually. Kharavela belonged to 2nd/1st century BC, while Biju Babu died less than 20 years back.

Let us start with the basic—what was the need of comparison?

Do you think the poll was really meant to find out the greatest Odia of all times—through 40 odd expected responses (yes; that was the target)?

Of course, it is silly to even expect that. The real reason was not evaluating those great people but to gauge how today’s generation—especially those who are on Twitter and are proud of their Odia heritage—thinks. There too, the idea was not evaluate—there is no right or wrong answer—but to gauge what is important to them.

To expand, what exactly matters to those who are proud of their Odia heritage—as that is the primary reach of the handle.

Let me explain.

If we go by the literal meaning of the question, it can be restated as follows.

Who is the greatest person of all times who happens to be an Odia?

The second part (underlined) is just a factual condition here. Their being ‘Odia’ is just a filter.

The question can also be put like this.

Who out of these four is the greatest?

Ideally, answer to this question should not be different, if the respondent s an Odia or not.

Now, let us look at the survey results.

Utkalamani Gopabandhu was an emphatic top choice, followed by Kharavela and Biju Patnaik tied at a distant second position; with Jayadeva coming a poor fourth.

Now, imagine this question being asked to non-Odias. Do you think, they would answer it the same way?

From Tamil Nadu to Punjab; Maharashtra to Kashmir, Jayadeva and his Gita Govinda are fairly well known. Whether it is Mohiniattam or Bharatnatyam,  Kuchipudi or even Yakshagana, Gita Govinda has found its way into their repertoire.  Commentary on Gita Govinda has been written by Kashmiri scholars. Jayadeva is the only poet from Eastern India whose verses are included in Guru Granth Sahib.

Which other Odia is revered so much across the length and breadth of this country? Yet, it is true that when it comes to doing anything “for Odisha or Odia”, Jayadeva has little contribution.

First, he was a poet; and most (not all) poets do not make a direct impact on people’s everyday living. Two, unlike say Bhanja or Radhanath, he wrote primarily in Sanskrit and not in Odia. Yes, his contribution to Odissi music is immense. But little did he know that it would one day be called Odissi music.

It is just that he happened to be born in Odisha.

On the other hand, Kharavela made half of India part of Kalinga; that is a matter of pride for all of us. Biju Patnaik is the only Odia leader who could stand up to national leaders and talk of Odia pride. Utkalaamani was a social reformer, a social worker, an educationist and contributed significantly to Odisha state and language movement.

In other words, they have contributed significantly to “Odia and Odisha”.

The nationalist Odias community has, in its mind, interpreted the question as this:

Who, out of the following, has contributed maximum towards the cause of Odisha and Odia?

In other words, to be considered a true Odia, the expectation is that you must do something explicitly for the cause of Odisha and Odia; at least be identified with any aspect of it. So, a Jayanta Mohapatra could be considered less Odia than say, Sitakanta Mahapatra.

As they say, Swadeshe pujyate raja vidwan sarvantra pujyate, so nicely translated by Kabi Jadumani as

Raja sina puja pae apana deshare

Kabi puja pauthae desha videshare

Kharavela and Biju Babu were explicitly rulers. Gopabandhu, though not a ruler, was a political figure and over the years, has become a symbol of pride for Odisha, much the same way as Gandhi. So, whether you are a Leftist or Rightist or regionalist or (yes) a separatist, you swear by his name.  That could also possibly happen with Kharavela but the awareness about him is extremely low. For some reason, historians including Odia historians, have ignored his legacy. He ruled half of India, did a lot of development/welfare work for his subjects, was a great patron of dance and music and was a truly secular ruler, who despite being a Jain respected Brahmins and Buddhists. What else do you need to be called ‘great’? But that is a different story, for another day.

Coming back to the poll, is it bad? Is it good?

Actually, neither. People in most regions (Assam could be an exception) would probably vote in similar fashion. So, there’s nothing surprising about it—especially at a time, when the issue of identity—national, regional, religious—has become so important for people.

There’s one more possibility, however theoretical it may look. It is not about identity and doing something for Odisha/Odia. Maybe, people genuinely feel that statecraft and social service are far more important aspects of society than than literature and art. Quite possible, even though it is the land of excellence in art.

 

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Whither Odia Ghazal?

Recently, I came across this newly-released Odia album titled Ghazal Gajaratie. The album features eight songs written by well-known lyricists of Odisha—the likes of Devdas Chhotray, Mohit Chakraborty and Arun Mantri—set to tune by noted composer Lakshmi Kanta Palit. All the songs have been rendered by Mitali Chinara, one of the most mature voices in contemporary Odia music.

The album is the latest example of a trend in Odia music being seen in the last few years: experimentation by a few musicians who are challenging creative limits without an overtly commercial consideration—combining some of the finest lyrics with matching music, that goes beyond the ‘formula’. I wrote about the trend in this blog more than three years back. A lot has happened since then, though.

Most of the songs in the album, Ghazal Gajaratie, are clearly above the ordinary. The composer’s stubborn refusal to succumb to today’s dominant trend—excessive orchestration—contributes immensely to make the album stand out. Two songs—the title song, Ghazal gajaratiye and Mo gajara mahakigala—are extremely sensuous. Most of the lyrics are not overtly heavy and can appeal to both common listeners and connoisseurs. In short, Ghazal Gajaratie is an excellent addition to the genre of Odia experimental music.

The only issue: it is not a ghazal album. Seven out of the eight songs in the album are not ghazals, the only exception being Katha thila dine,  penned by Devdas Chhotray, the seventh song in the album.

The lyrics are great, the music is superb, rendition is heart touching; the songs would have sounded as good, even if the album was known by any other name. I do not understand what was the incentive to use the word ghazal in the title. Does the word sell more? By ‘sell’, I am not necessarily referring to commercial sales of the album but broadly the perception about the quality/stature of the work. Does it sound more artistic or intellectual?

I guess so.

Some time back, I had come across another Odia album in YouTube, called Ghazal Sandhya, sung by an artiste, Sangram Mishra, who happens to be the sole lyricist in the album. Unlike Ghazal Gajaratie, the music, lyrics and rendering are all below average, to put it mildly.

Yet, there is something that is common between the two albums: the attempt to label non-ghazals as ghazals.

What is so fascinating about calling some songs ghazals, when they are clearly not?

For the uninitiated, ghazal is NOT a form of music; it is a form of poetry with clearly defined rules. Though all poets have not followed all the rules all the times, there are some basic requirements that must be met to call a poem a ghazal.

In short, a ghazal is a collection of sher‘s of equal behr. A sher is a two line poem. Behr is the meter. It must satisfy some rules to be called a ghazal. In a ghazal, there are one/more common words that are repeated in both the lines of the first couplet (sher) and then in the second line of each subsequent couplet. These common word(s) are called radiff. There’s one more requirement. The word preceding the radiff in each couplet must rhyme. This is called kafiya. The first sher is called matla. The last sher usually contains the pen name (taqallus)of the poet. This is called maqta. The shers must independently stand on their own, though some time together they may express one central idea.

Anyone desirous of understanding it with illustration, can refer to this very good explanation here, which uses Ghalib’s famous ghazal Koi umeed bar nahin aati to illustrate. Later in the text, I will illustrate the rules using an Odia ghazal as example.

The above is a very brief description of the basic rules of poetic form. Then, of course, is the theme. Usually, ghazals are pessimistic and are a male expression. This is in contrast to thumris in Indian classical music, which are female expressions, and though often they are complaints against the beloved—as in many Radha-Krishna themed thumris—they are not pessimistic. There’s always a craving for reunion; never hopelessness.

The third element is singing style, ghazal gayaki. That is dependent on culture and while Urdu ghazals have evolved in a particular manner which has impacted its singing style, I feel there is no reason why ghazals in other language should overtly follow that. But that is another debate, for another day. For the present discussion, I will not venture into that territory.

My idea here is to factually present some lesser known facts about Odia ghazal singing, a sort of quick history.

The history of ghazal in Odisha is not too old. And not surprisingly, the experimentation was started by the one name that we associate most experiments in modern Odia music and dance with: Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattnaik. He included a ghazal in one of his plays, way back in 1925. But I will not get too much into ghazal writing here. Some researchers like Mohammed Ayub Kabuli have written extensively on that. The subject has also been dealt with by eminent Odia poet Haraprasad Das.

I will try to keep myself to some info on ghazal singing in Odia, though ghazal writing and singing cannot be completely separated. The person who really consciously pursued writing and singing ghazal in Odia was none other than the king of all experimentation: Akshaya Mohanty. He and some of his accompanying lyricists, most notably Devdas Chhotray, did experiment a lot with ghazal writing. For some strange reasons, Khoka Bhai (as Mohanty was popularly known) recorded only a handful of his own written ghazals. He published a book of ghazals called Geeti in 1968. In 2001, a little before his death, many of his ghazals published in Geeti as well as some new ghazals were published in a book, Madhushala, edited by Dr Renubala Mishra.

But from the 50 ghazals that find a place in Madhushala,  I could locate public recording of only three, two of which I could find in YouTube and have included the links. The link for the third, Maribaku thila, is to Saregama site where one can buy the song, after a short preview. I could not locate it on YouTube.

In addition, this is another one of his own written ghazal, which is not included in Madhushala.

He has recorded a few more for All India Radio, which are not available publicly. Some such ghazals include Tuma pare ki rakhibi bahrasa muhin, Ama duhinka marame dashichhi and Dukha mo rahichhi.

Interestingly, his last recorded album brought out by Sarthak Music, too contained a ghazal, though it was not written by him. The lyricist is Devdas Chhotray. Here is a link

Akshaya Mohanty has rendered quite a few ghazals written by Devdas Chhotray, including a couple of them in movies such as Badhu Nirupama and Papa Punya. Here is one from Papa Punya, which the lyricist wrote as a poem named Umrao Jaan, which was later used by Khoka Bhai in the movie. It is rendered by Haimanti Shukla.

Though Akshaya Mohanty willingly flouted some rules of the ghazal—such as using the radiff in both the lines of the matla or using a rhyming kafiya—he stuck to the basic rules of behr and radiff. I am using his Kalankita ei nayaka akhiru to illustrate. Though in terms of poetic quality, this is not among the best of his 50 ghazals in Madhushala, I have taken this because this is by far the most popular among his ghazals and this, unlike many other, conforms to the basic rules of the ghazal more than many others.

Kalankita ei nayaka

In this, the first sher, Kalankita ei…is the matla. He has not used the same radiff in both the lines. But thereafter, he keeps to the rules, with ‘kari‘ as the radiff and rhyming kafiyas such as papa, gapa, mapa and dipa. Yes, one can repeat a kafiya. The use of maqta is evident. In all his ghazals, he uses his own name Akshaya instead of another taqallus. Interestingly, this is the most commonly flouted rule of ghazal. In filmi ghazals for example, there is little scope for the lyricist to use a maqta. So, usually you do not find maqtas in film ghazals, though someone like Khoka Bhai, with such a high self-esteem has never missed on this element. In many of his ghazals, he does not keep to the kafiya rule; i.e there are no rhyming kafiya but this one clearly has it. The sole ghazal by Devdas Chhotray in the new album Ghazal Gajaratiye that I referred to in the beginning, does not have kafiya.

Beyond the basic poetic construction, Akshaya Mohanty has always kept his ghazals in the true spirit of ghazal. They are always pessimistic, defeatist, hopeless, self-blaming…in the classic tradition of Urdu ghazals.

It is really a pity that most of his ghazals are not available in recorded form. Recordings of some of his private sessions prop up here and there and listening to them convinces one how much he internalized even ghazal gayaki. It is intriguing why he did not record them for public.

After Khoka Bhai, the real good ghazal album that was released for public after long was by Subhash Dash. Simply called Odia Ghazals, this album, based on songs penned by  poet Laxmidhar Nayak, was released by Saregama. Dash sang all the songs that were taken from poet Nayak’s ghazal compilation book, Ghazal Jharna. You can find all the songs here, though because of some technical error in Saregama site, some Sambalpuri songs of Fakir Patnaik are also shown as being part of this album.

The trio of Devdas Chhotray, composer Om Prakash Mohanty and Susmita Das, who have set a trend in Odia experimental music, have their share of contribution to Odia ghazals too. In 2008, they released an album, Hati Saja Kara, which contained two ghazals: Janha achhi aau bijuli bi achhi and Sneha ta bahuta milila jibane. Two years later, they released another album, Nua Luha Puruna Luha, which was, by far, a full-fledged ghazal album, with most songs being ghazals, though many of them did not have kafiya and same radiff, instead setting for a rhyming radiff like many of Akshaya Mohanty’s ghazals. Songs like Mu ki janithili mu nije ete sundari boli, the first song, belongs to that category; but the reason it stands out is that it explicitly refers to the shayar with a feminine adjective, a rarity in ghazal. Other ghazals include Diena sneha tike je, Mu ta bhala thili mora eka eka, Mora thila sabu bhul mu manuchi, Tume luchauchha shaha pare shaha, Chahini magini janini kemiti, Jibaku thila duraku tenu bahana khojinela, Se dinara chhabi sabu, and Dukhara dhari hata

I believe some of the ghazals of Devdas Chhotray have been rendered by other artistes too but I do not find them online anywhere.

Haraprasad Das has written some nice ghazals which, to the best of my knowledge, have not been recorded. The fascination for the word ‘ghazal’ by Odia musicians means there is a perceived value seen in ghazals. Unfortunately, few work consciously towards popularizing the genre.

I am sure there are lots of poets in Odia who have been writing ghazals. A ghazal compilation with the selection from Khoka Bhai’s ghazals as well as others down all these years, recorded in the voices of leading singers of Odisha, would be a great addition to Odia modern music.

Devdas Chhotray, as the most notable living ghazal writer in Odia; the most important personality in this new experimentation wave in Odia music; and above all, the bridge between the generation of Akshaya Mohanty and of today, could arguably be the best person to drive such a project.

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Food Songs in Odia: What they tell us about Odia culture…

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are,” said French thinker Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, considered by many to be one of the founding fathers of modern gastronomics. English art critic Clive Bell, in his famed essay Civilization, has illustrated the difference between the cultural standards of the French and British through an explicit example of differing standards in taste of food.

Over the ages, food has been one of the most important indicators of a society’s cultural status.

Measured on that account alone—yes, leaving aside all its rich (and now famous) visual and performing arts—Odias would be considered a highly civilized people. Food—and in particular, variety of food—is one of the most important defining factors of Odia culture, as exemplified by the ‘food habits’ of Lord Jagannath, not just the presiding deity of Odias but the most powerful cultural symbol of the Odia identity. Each festival or ritual in the Jagannath temple would have a specific food item in the form of prasad associated with it. Even on the day of Rath Yatra, the biggest festival in Odisha, the big chariot of Lord Jagannath, Nandighosha, actually stops on the way so that the Lord can have His favorite podapitha (a special sweet cake made in Odisha), at  His MousiMaa’s (aunt) place on the way to His destination. And when He is back to the temple after an eight-day sojourn, and the upset wife, Maa Laxmi needs some real placating, the gift that does the trick is a food item; one that you are probably familiar with: yes, the omnipresent Rasagola, which many erroneously think to have originated from Bengal. The offering was made, at least 200 (and most likely more) years before it started selling in Kolkata and was assumed to be a Bengali sweet!

Such is the importance of food in the cultural life of Odias!

It is not surprising, therefore, that food occupies an extremely important place in Odia creative arts, including its music. It is not uncommon to find reference to food in folk music around the world. But in Odisha, food gets a prominent place in not just the folk music, but its classical, semi-classical and modern popular music. Why, even devotional feeling often comes wrapped up with powerful symbols and craving for food/prasad of the Lord! In one of the most popular bhajans,  Jagannathiara SriMahaprasda pagala kala re bhai, the lyricist actually proclaims that it is the love of the Lord’s prasad that made him rush to Puri, without any delay!

While that bhajan is not explicitly about food, there are many that are completely focused on celebration of food.

Here is a look at some of the most popular among such songs. Many other songs would passingly mention food or use it as a metaphor. I have not looked for those ‘mere’ words but kept myself focused on what can really be called songs celebrating food. There are film songs, non-film modern songs, Odissi lyrics and bhajans focused on food.

So, here we go. The links are embedded in the song names.

Abadha Dali Kanika Ho Ananda Bazarre Patara Paka
This bhajan by Arabind Muduli is a celebration of abadha (though pronounced as abhada), the cooked prasad of Shri Jagannath.

Asa Jibana Dhana
The evergreen song written by Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattnaik in the voice of Pandit Balakrushna Dash, the father of modern Odia music, celebrates the most common food of Odias, pakhala.

Asa Kiese Jibare Ama Raja Ghara Khana
This is the Dakhini original from which lyricist Baikunth Nath Mohanty adapted the now popular Asa Kie Khaiba Ho. The song, sung by Gokul Mohanty, is a round-up of all Odia food traditionally associated with specific places in Odisha. So, if the government wants to apply for GI tag of the food items, the basic groundwork is done by the lyricist

Asa Kie Khaiba Ho

This song in the unique voice of Tansen Singh is based on the above song, in a slightly more contemporary style. If you wonder why the lyricist ignored Pahalla Rasagola, you have the answer. In the 30s, it was nowhere in the Rasgola map of Odisha. And so the above song had no reference to it. Lyricist of the song, while taking the idea from above song, failed to add Pahala

Chaka Pari Basitha
This is about another traditional Odia food, chuda chakata, again, in the voice of Pandit Balakrushna Dash. Though chuda or poha is eaten in many places, the way it is eaten in Odisha is fairly unique. And that is exactly what the song celebrates.

 

Kartika Masare Asila Kanji
Kanji is a typical Odia dish made from torani (water taken from Pakhala) or peja  (water taken out after boiling rice) and cooked with vegetables. Some joke that the song made it more popular across all regions of Odisha.

Madaa Daani Dhaana Chaula Muga Nadia Padi
This song in the voice of Arjun Charan Samal, a singer known for his rendition of palligeetis, is a craving and description for traditional food prepared in Odia homes in villages.

Manda Pitha Gol Gol
A round up of all Odia pithas (indigenous cakes) and their shapes, it is not fully about food or anything. The inimitable style of Akshaya Mohanty just uses some rhyming words to appeal to the average man on the street. While the lyrics is not exactly world class, most of the words are colloquial Odia words and connect immediately.

Mudhi Nadia
This celebration of eating mudhi (or moori, as some write it as) in the Odia style completes the triology of food songs by Pandit Balakrushna Dash. Though not as popular as the pakhala song, this one explicitly makes a claim: that only an Odia recognizes the pleasure of eating mudhi with nadia (coconut) and then goes on to describe the right setting and the preparation to maximize the pleasure!

Radhika Boile Duti Go
In this Odisssi lyrics, rendered by great Odia singer and composer, Prafulla Kar, Radha craves for diet, all of which bear the name of Krishna.

There are many more. These are just some of the more popular Odia songs celebrating food.

As Odias are all set to celebrate the 1st Rasagola Dibasa on 30th July, let’s have plenty of music, food and music about food.

[Anyone, who needs a quick primer on Odia food associated with places, can go through the third one in the list, Asa kie khaiba ho. Apart from Pahala Rasagola, what are the other such local food that the song does not mention?]

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Incomparable SD Burman: The best biographical work on Hindi film music

Incomparable SD Burman is actually a 2011 book, though I read it only recently. Though that is not enough justification for doing a book review after four years, I decided to go ahead because it is a real gem. Moreover, few in India know about it.

The book, written by HQ Chowdhury, a Bangladesh-based professional and researcher, is published by Toitomboor, a publishing house in Dhaka. After looking for it for months (trying my luck with its only distributor in India, who insisted that someone needed to physically collect the book from their Kolkata office by paying cash), I finally got it from the author himself, who fulfilled his promise made to me on a Facebook conversation some months back  to send it to me when he would be in Kolkata next.

Incomp_SDB

Being a reader and collector of books on Hindi film music (written in English)—See the list I maintain on the same here—I  can say with some confidence that this is one of the best books to be published in the genre. But that is still not the best way to describe the book. There are multiple books in the area that stand out. Gregory Booth’s book on musicians is a first-rate work of ethnomusicology; Raju Bharatan’s books on Naushad and Lata are excellent account of the musical and not-so-musical equations between composers, singers, lyricists and film makers; Akshay Manwani’s book on Sahir is an excellent work of research and is immensely readable; Ashok Ranade’s book on Hindi film music is one of the few critic’s perspectives; Manek Premchand’s book on musical moments is an essential connoisseur’s collection.

What should be specifically mentioned about Incomparable SD Burman is that it rises above the genre. The book is what a good narrative non-fiction should be. In other words, it is for anyone who loves reading and has a general interest about the subject. Few pages into the book, you develop a bond with the protagonist—the incomparable S D Burman, in this case—and start living with him.

And mind you, there are three books on SD Burman in English and I have read all of them. While the book by Sathya Saran is nowhere near the other two, the book by Khagesh Dev Burman, originally written in Bengali, is clearly for the reader who is well-entrenched in Bengali music; so much so that, if you are not, you cannot appreciate a significant portion of the book.

Of course, a basic background of Kolkata’s music scene of those days is essential, if one wants to fully appreciate the genesis of S D Burman’s as a musician. It is not that a great researcher and narrator like Chowdhury is not sensitive to that need. In fact, that is where his book really stands out and as I earlier said, rises above the genre books. Instead of assuming that the reader knows about it, he has taken it on himself to give those lessons, in right doses. That is what makes it so valuable as a book. The reader, while learning about SD Burman’s evolution as a composer-singer, gets more than adequate knowledge about the music scene of Kolkata of the 30s and early 40s.

And what a place it was! Not only was Kolkata a musical experimentation hub with such personalities as Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Dilip Kumar Roy, Himangshu Dutt and musicologists like Dhurjoti Prasad Mukherji, it was also the predecessor of the Bombay film music with such greats as R C Boral, Pankaj Mullick, K L Saigal, K C Dey, Vismadev Chatterjee, and Dada Burman himself establishing the rules of modern cine music, which got imported to Bombay. Though it got enriched there, drawing from various regional streams, it must be mentioned that others responsible for that basic foundations such as Naushad, C Ramachandra and O P Nayyar acquired their musical personality in Bombay while the Bengal musicians were already popular in their homeland and established names, Dada included. That is why it is essential to understand Kolkata’s musical scene of 30s in order to appreciate the evolution of Bombay film music. Chowdhury makes you live through that period. I wish the book was available more widely. It is a recommended read for any serious student of musicology of modern Indian music.

Again, unlike Khagesh Dev Burman’s book, Bombay days is not a mechanical, linear description. Some of the best narratives in the book are about S D Burman’s days in Bombay. It does get into popular myths and folklore in adequate doses. For example, the author devotes significant space to dispel the myth that Pancham (junior Burman) mostly scored for Aradhana. It is an important debates in Hindi film musicology because it is not just about one movie; it has significant implications for the Rafi-Kishore debate. Those who think Pancham scored for Aradhana assume that it is he who brought in Kishore Kumar in place of Rafi, who was the earlier choice for Dada Burman. And all of us know what it did to Kishore Kumar’s career!

Chowdhury is clearly a huge fan of SD Burman, as he admits unequivocally. But his book does not suffer from the typical problems you have come to expect from such books in India—that is adulatory, meaningless lines filling up pages; both facts and narration becoming victim to the author’s own opinion and so on. Chowdhury’s book is a solid work of research, ably supported by good narration and story telling. Even when he brings in subjective analyses—you cannot avoid that in a book on any art form/artist—it is always in the featurish style of supporting with quotes, incidents and facts—in the true tradition of narrative non-fiction. Rarely will you find a high-nosed opinion which he thrusts weaving through jugglery of words. In fact sincere efforts like this are probably the best tribute to one’s idol.

Books like these make one hopeful about the future of non-fiction writing on subjects other than history and politics. But the next moment, the availability issues reminds you of the stark ground reality of distribution.

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Pandit Balakrushna Dash: The Father of Modern Odia Music

My blog describes itself as celebrating excellence in the less discussed. I have usually discussed comparatively unsung heroes such as Madhukar Rajasthani or Lucila Pacheco or highlighted the unsung works (Utkala Bhramanam) of famous creative geniuses or comparatively lesser discussed aspects of some of them (Kavichandra or Ravi).

Sangeeta Sudhakar Balakrushna Dash does not quite belong to any of those categories. Not only is he popular across Odisha; unlike, say, Kavichandra, his work and his contribution is well-acknowledged by people from Shyamamani Devi to Lopita Mishra. He is everyone’s Sir.

Yet, on his birthday, there is little news about any celebration.Media has almost no coverage except that of the awards announced in his honour by a Foundation named after him. However, that itself is not surprising about Odisha and Odias. And I do not want to go into that aspect in this post. I have already done enough of that in my post on Kavichandra.

What I wanted to highlight, on the other hand, is this: despite all the acknowledgement about his contribution to Odia music and despite the huge respect for him as an artist and an individual, we (that is most common Odias), still know very little about the immense talent (ପ୍ରଚଣ୍ଡ ପ୍ରତିଭା) that Pandit Balakrushna Dash possessed. The same is true about about many of his direct and indirect contribution to Odia music.

This post is not about measuring/analyzing his entire contribution. It will be a presumption on my part to even try doing that. All I will do here is to highlight a couple of lesser discussed/known aspects of his numerous contributions, without any claim whatsoever about the importance of these aspects vis-a-vis other known/unknown and acknowledged/unrecognized aspects of his music. I must admit that the headline is not quite apt for the post; a better suggestion is more than welcome.

First, let’s attempt to understand his music a little better. What kind of music is Pandit Balakrushna Dash’s music? Especially if he is so many things to so many people: a great performing virtuoso himself; a popular composer of the masses; a leading innovator; and a revered guru.

We all know that it is Pandit Dash who shaped/established what has come to be known as the Kataki style/school of Odissi singing, known for the importance that it attaches to bhava (mood), as compared to the dominance of layakari in the Puri school led by Simhari Shyamsundar Kar and the gamak-pradhan style of Dakhini school (of Tarini Charan Patra and others) ostensibly influenced by the Carnatic style.

Apart from the subtle musical differences, what does it translate to, practically? That becomes clear if we look at the repertoire of the songs that Pandit Balakrushna Dash is famous for. Despite singing traditional Odissi, Champu and Bhajans written by the medieval poets, his signature tunes are not those but a Bitilata jamini; a Nayana sunayanare;  maybe, to a lesser extent Aakula rajani pahi jae... All these are in modern Odia language, written by modern Odia poets. The first two are by Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattnaik while the last one is by Narayan Prasad Singh.

Listen to Bitilata jaimini carefully and you are bound to notice the influence of Ka karoon sajni, one of the most well-known thumris of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who was Pandit Dash’s guru. While the influence of his training in Hindustani music (and thumri in particular) is clearly visible, a discerning listener of thumris and Odia music would notice that Pandit Balakrushna Dash’s own singing had little similarity with the Punjab ang (full throated, faster tempo) thumri style sung by Khan Saheb. In fact, I often feel traces of  Purab ang thumri when I am listening to him, though the uniqueness of his Odissi style is clear. It must be said that the bhava in Odissi music is more about the stress on the mood of the entire lyric rather than a lot of emphasis on a few words. So, Odissi compositions are full length songs and not just three-four lines for music to ride on, unlike in most of thumris.

Pandit Balakrushna Dash’s evolution could be compared more with his mentor R C Boral, whom he assisted for some time in Kolkata and who, despite having strong background in classical music, is today identified as one of the founding fathers of Bengali (and even Hindi) film music. Pandit Balakrushna Dash, surely, is one of the two founding fathers of Odia film music in particular and modern Odia music in general (the other, of course, is  Pandit Bhubaneswar Mishra, with whom he scored music for the 1954 Odia film, Kedar Gouri and 1957 movie Bhai Bhai, before going solo in Sri Loknath in 1960). And like Boral and Sachin Dev Burman, Pandit Balakrushna Dash himself rarely sang in movies despite being the most prolific composer of Odia film music in the 1960s. He sang less than ten songs in films in the entire two decades of 50s and 60s.

In short, not only was Pandit Ballakrushna Dash doing his experimentation, he was very clear about what exactly he was trying to achieve. That becomes even clearer when we carefully examine his selection of songs. While others kept to Upendra Bhanja, Gopalakrushna, Kavisurya, Abhimanyu Samant Singhar, Dinakrushna and Banamali; Pandit Balakrushna Dash was the principal voice for the songs of Kavichandra, who himself was a great experimentalist and to whom goes the credit of ushering in modernity in Odia music and theater. Just listen to these songs — Bitilata jamini, Nayana sunayanarePatha anai jhuri, Tore jhuri sangataand you will appreciate what I am saying. They were all songs that carefully transformed us to modernity while keeping the base of our tradition.

And with what superb elan, Pandit Balakrushna Dash composed and sang them? The idea here is not to rake up a controversy. But just listen to Nayana Sunayanare  and listen to Abhi na jao chhodkar, scored by Jayadev for Hum Dono, more than a decade later…and you will never ever say Bollywood never got its inspiration from Odia music!

Though I am not sure about the fact, apparently Bimal Roy had offered Pandit Balakrushna Dash to score music for his films. But Pandit Dash did not like leaving Odisha and settling in Bombay. If that is true, that opens up yet another aspect of this great individual.

Another aspect of him that needs a mention is that while he was singing/teaching Odissi and composing for films, he never forgot the palligeeti. In fact, he popularized it.  His Asa jibana dhana mora pakhala kansa is an anthem; probably as popular as a Bitilata Jamini. Here too, combination of his music with Kavichandra’s lyrics was a winner. Another such combination, Chaiiti ratile mahula katire was also very popular. In fact, Asa jibana dhana, along with Mudhi nadia and Chaka pari basi tha—the trilogy of songs celebrating traditional Odia food—are today seeing renewed interest among Odias, as many, especially those leaving outside crave for the food.

Among his lesser known works is a beautiful album called Geeta Bhratruhari, released by Saregama in the 90s, in which he set into tune a selection of songs from the Odia translation of Bhratruhari’s Shatakatrayi, in traditional Odissi style. He himself sang a beautiful song, Naba jaubani e, one of the most explicit in the album, from the Shrungara Shataka. The translation was by late Janaki Ballav Pattnaik.

The contribution of Pandit Balakrushna Dash cannot be emphasized enough in a post like this. I promised not to get into this but it is difficult to resist asking this question: when will we learn to respect our talent? On one hand, all of us are very sensitized to the demand of Odissi music being accorded classical status. On the other, we do not even care for stopping for a moment and pay our tribute to the greatest name in Odissi music in modern times. And we blame everyone other than ourselves for our problems!

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A Tribute to Pakhala

Today is World Pakhala Day.  I do not know who decided on this and what was the basis of choosing this date, though I wholeheartedly welcome a day to celebrate the most staple diet of traditional Odia household. Considering that this is being celebrated on March 20 and not in the peak summer of May/June, this seems like more of welcoming the summer than celebrating it.

Pakahala is mother’s milk for Odias. This cooked rice soaked in water (and slightly fermented) is eaten throughout Eastern India. But in Odisha, it is more than a food; it is part of the culture. Why, it is the culture itself. Arguably, only Lord Jagannath is more  ingrained in Odia culture than pakhala, such is its status.

[BTW, for the uninitiated, here is the link to Wikipedia entry on pakhala]

Apart from it being a regular and ubiquitous food, pakhala always has had a special place in the socio-cultural life of Odisha. It in a pakhala bowl with saag floating in it that Bhakta Dasia (a great devotee of Lord Jagannath) could “see” the face of the Lord. By the way, it is part of the Lord’s diet plan itself, in the Puri temple. In many regions of Odisha, it is an essential part of the marriage rituals. The groom is served with pakhala after the marriage by the sisters-in-law.  Dahi pakhala,  or a special pakhala made with curd, is a  ceremonial dish eaten together after the bisarjan (immersion) of idols in Durga Puja. The list is long.

Celebrating pakhala is thus celebrating our roots; celebrating Odia culture. On this day, I present here a song that beautifully articulates the emotion that Odias have towards pakhala. The song, with versions sung by Pandita Balakrushna Dash and Srimati Shyamamani Pattnaik was written by Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattnaik.

Kavichandra who is known both for bringing in modernism into Odia songs and theater as well as for establishing the classical nature of Odissi,  shows here his third side: capturing both the pakhala culture and the affinity of Odias towards pakhala.  Here is the full lyrics in English script. If you want it in Odia script, you can download the pdf here.

Asa jibana dhana mora pakhala kansa

Asa jibana dhana

Sajanire to bihuna udila hamsa

Asa jibana dhana mora pakhala kansa

Asa jibana dhana…

Bahilani ana sakhi jhanja pavana

Athamari gala tunda jae jibana

To bina pakhala go 

Phatila kapala go

Torani sangare mishi hara mo trusha

Asa jibana dhana mora pakhala kansa

Asa jibana dhana…

Sanga thakurani pita sukhua rani

To lagi niaan re sati jhasa deleni

Piaja khari dare

Chhala chhindai mare

Maricha kahuchi mote to tule misha

Asa jibana dhana mora pakhala kansa

Asa jibana dhana…

Odia jibana dhua saga pakhala

Jagannatha rasithae mane tu bhala

Chakhi nahin je thare

Dhika ta janamare

Manisha bhitare se ta anapurusha

Asa jibana dhana mora pakhala kansa

Asa jibana dhana…

Here is the version sung by Pandita Balakrushna Dash

And here is the version sung by Smt Shyamamani Pattnaik

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