A visit to this man is a reward in itself. Naren Roy, an instrument maker by profession, not a social worker or an activist but a man living in isolation with his passion, practicing it and perfecting the art of Dotara making through four decades.
Visiting him in his village Kalirhaat, was, as it seemed to me, a need to buy a Dotara, but I believe in midst of this business transaction I wanted to meet the man whose craftsmanship overcame time and space, whose handcrafted instruments traveled across the Atlantic to reach Canada.
His figure is so known, his language so familiar, that I could easily picture the wise-old-man in him. As our conversation proceeded, my eyes constricted. Being asked whether he would like to take me as his pupil, he answered “I am still a learner. I don’t teach so technically I am not a Guru. But I can always help you if you wish to learn.”
It is said that paradoxes make life and the very reflection of life in his words voiced an inner enlightened person who is Guru not by choice but the epitome of that word, a seer whose very words are sermons.
His soothsaying “education can aid an artist more than anything else; a great singer can reward himself by his knowledge through education.” resonates those voices which are the passing of the dead. It seemed as if he instantly translated the memories in words, those of the great voices which faded early and those of great minds that prospered. His evaluation is not bigoted, neither is he dismissive of the gracious voices which need nothing more than a human body to live but simply appreciating the ones who in this age of forgetfulness embraces the rural, less popular folk songs.
This returning back to Bhawaiya which is intricately meshed with Rajbangshi culture and lifestyle is a cultural transition. This moment of revival is a cumulative effort of many great men and women who devoted their private life to revive the golden past. He is one of the harbingers of change. Thus his presence in the Rajbangshi community of North Bengal at this very moment is historical. It may sound a bit exaggerated, but how many artists dare to look for diamonds in mine, or trod the brambled path? The folk genre is a forest, and Bhawaiya a path which was recovered by men like him so that we could follow.
As he suggested “Bhawaiya songs have a very symbolic meaning. One listens only to please himself and not to understand”. As someone said Bhawaiya is now for visual and auditory pleasure only performed in glittering stages with blinding lights, not capable of unfolding any meaningful narrative.
Naren Roy, elaborating on the richness of Bhawaiya, says “What does phan stand for, in the song Phande poriya boga kandeyre?” He explained that phan is the symbol of inevitable pain that one has to endure, being part of this mortal earth.
Phande poriare boga, kore hai re hai…
Phande poriare boga, kore tana tuna…
Falling into the trap, the crane cries in pain.
It is the trap of life which grapples all living soul once you are part of it. It is the fall from the innocence of not being to the state of being. And with a sigh pointed towards a photo frame saying, “Mor bogi o mok chariya palan dishe” (My wife also flew away to embrace death like the crane in the song).
Referring to another song Nodi na jaiyo boido he said the unclean river mentioned “gholare ghola pani” is the stream, which is from its very source contaminated or tainted. He left us to think the further associations of the untainted or polluted feminine river from which the women in the song persuades his beloved to abstain.
Nodi na jaiyo re
Oho re Boido
Nodiro, gholare gholaha pani.
Don’t go to the river (beloved), the river is unclean.
Finally, he claimed as a Dotora maestro that learning to play it is beyond one-way transaction between “what I play and what you write down. You will learn nothing if you write. First, you need to listen and observe and then follow.” His words suggest returning back to those traditions when knowledge was attained through listening. And why not, this instrument is as old and as golden as those eras were.
What I have gathered from him is just an ounce of dust from his monument of knowledge. How smoothly he shifted from the strings of Dotara to the art of playing it to the rhythm of doriya or chatka is magnificent. He has certainly given me a new dimension to contemplate the depth of Bhawaiya and Dotara, the disseminating duo of Rajbangshi community.
-NABANITA ROY (NOYA)