Gazi Mazharul Anwar. Illustration: TBS
Gazi Mazharul Anwar. Illustration: TBS
The man was a genius. There aren’t many in our cultural climate who can claim to have composed more than 21,000 songs. Gazi Mazharul Anwar was different, made of deeper and stronger things. Ever since he started writing lyrics in the early 1960s, 1964 to be precise, he knew that was what he had to do. Along the way, he wrote screen stories and branched out into filmmaking, which was again a hallmark of his versatility.
The death of Gazi Mazharul Anwar at the age of seventy-nine takes away from us an individual whose life was based on pure art. Today, fifty-one years after the liberation of Bangladesh, it would be entirely fair to suggest that even if he had refrained from composing songs after his national success Joi Bangla Banglar Joigift to a nation in revolutionary turmoil in March 1971 and continuing the torturous course of the war of liberation, he will forever be celebrated for the lyrics that form the substance of the song.
It’s a song that has achieved immortality, for all the right reasons. But then all the other songs, or a lot of them — patriotic and romantic — that flowed from him only added to the richness that emanated from his poetic spirit. In ekbar jete de na amar chhotto shonar gayen, patriotism marries perfectly with the pastoral. And then there is ektara tui desher kotha bol re ebar bol, which evokes in the listener images of the heritage which has regularly formed the basis of the history of this country. Anwar’s lyrics, sung by the voice of Shannaz Rahmatullah, have unequivocally enriched the national musical repertoire.
Those of us whose musical education began by listening to songs on the radio in the 1960s will certainly never lose the sense of magic that filled our lives when the duo of Bashir Ahmed and Anjuman Ara Begum akaasher haate acche ek rash neel / batasher ache kicchu gondho floated through our consciousness, gently instilling in us the charm of love wrapped in the sweet feel of romance. Add to this the demand placed on social order, in the inspiring voice of Syed Abul Hadi in achhen amar moktar achhen amar avocado. But wait. What seems to be a call to society soon passes a higher stage, that of spirituality, for it is the individual who seeks union with his Creator. Anwar’s use of phrases, enhanced by rich imagery, makes inroads into the listener’s heart.
With the disappearance of Gazi Mazharul Anwar, a whole world of melodies in its higher forms, sung by the renowned singers of the nation, is pushing the door into the spaces of our collective memory. We recall the song bujhechhi moner boney rong legechhe in Farida Yasmeen’s rendition, certainly among the pioneers of Bengali music in the 1960s. Move on to the immensely popular—he still gives a powerful cadence to the soul— gaaneri khatae shorolipi likhe, sung separately by two of Bangladesh’s renowned artists, Runa Laila and Mahmudunnabi. Love, pain and pathos underpin the song, informing listeners that the romance shaped in an era soon passes beyond that era to instill love, the hurt of separation, in every generation of lovers of the melody.
Sabina Yasmeen, whose presence is etched in the country’s musical canvas, lifted the voice of Anwar ei my tomake dilam to pitches that beckon the heart to leap up to it and feel the essence of the song, getting lost in its deep recesses. A young woman in the depth of love shines, in all her emotions, in the lyrics. Anwar informs her audience that in this song comes the singer’s willingness to sacrifice the soul even as she prepares, in growing passion, for union with her lover.
The songs, or their memories, come back as we bid farewell to Gazi Mazharul Anwar. Who will ever forget Shahnaz number shagorer teer theke / mishti kichhu haowa ene? Or that of Hasina Mumtaz tondrahara noyono amar / ei madhobi rate? Or that of Sabina Yasmeen aami rojonigondha phuler moto / gondho biliye jai? The list goes on, for in Anwar shone an elongating landscape of some of the best in music that the Bengals have inherited.
That Anwar has been a powerful presence on the national musical canvas comes from the countless artists who have turned his lyrics into an everlasting melody. They owe him, in their various ways, a debt of intense gratitude for the heights they have been able to reach by lending their voice to his songs. And this omnipresence of national awards bestowed on him over a life of unrelenting creativity is a humble tribute to him by the nation.
In the passing of Gazi Mazharul Anwar, the nation lost the shepherd playing the flute in the golden glow of the sun at the end of a busy day. And yet, the inescapable truth is that the music created in this multidimensional flute work promises to endure.
The poet follows the path of all flesh. Poetry, adorned with the brilliance of melody, endures. As we say goodbye to him fondly, we return to Mahmudunnabi’s number, borho eka eka laage / tumi paashe nei boley / nishi jaaga koto kotha / mone eshe shuur tule.
(Gazi Mazharul Anwar, born on February 22, 1943, closed his eyes to life on September 4, 2022)