Bicharpoti tomar bichar korbe jara
Aaj jegechhe shei jonota…
The public who will judge you
Has woken up today, Your Honour.
Your guns, your hangings, your prison tortures
Will be crushed by their weight.
Salil wrote this song in 1945, two years before India’s independence. It was a diatribe against the farce that was often carried out in the name of judicial hearing of Indian freedom fighters. The 1940s was also the decade when Salil Chowdhury joined the Indian Peoples Theatre Association or IPTA, an organisation of artistes and writers, born to address the conscientious role of the artistic community. As part of IPTA, Salil wrote many songs, beseeching his fellow countrymen to take power into their hands and rebel against exploitation by those in power. He wrote in simple Bengali, using words village folk spoke and voicing issues that concerned them.
Come o brother,
Let’s cut the paddy and
Stock the harvest in our granaries.
Thus went his anthem for poor peasants who were perennially robbed off the rewards of their toil by shrewd, profit-minded landlords. The poet-composer didn’t stop at his creation, though. He took these songs to villages and soon these became people’s songs in the truest sense.
It’s easy to see what inspired Salil to feel for the disadvantaged members of his community. As a young boy, he grew up in the tea gardens of Assam, where his father was a doctor. Chowdhury senior would routinely rope in the poorly paid coolies of the tea gardens to organise and stage plays against British exploitation. He also took part in many anti-British rallies, quite an audacious feat when the British were still ruling India.
Although in the mid-fifties this brilliant song-writer-musician matured into an exceptional self-taught composer with the onset of his professional career in film music, he never lost touch with the man within who hoped for a classless society and envisioned an India that wasn’t touched by religious differences. He wrote his last mass song in the early 1990s, shortly after the demolition of the Babri Mosque by Hindu fundamentalist forces.
O aalor potho jatri, E je ratri
Ekhane themo na
E balur chore ashar
Toroni tomar jeno bendho na
O traveller of the light path
It is night; don’t stop here.
Don’t anchor your boat of hope
On this sand shore.
For more information and recordings of Salil Chowdhury’s brilliant compositions, visit The World of Salil Chowdhury.