Chapter 47

I wonder when I will get to see my people of the northern region of Bangladesh, the uttor anchol, again. I was sick in their midst in February and March this year. They gave me what I needed. As my fever was rising, I could hear them singing and playing the dotara, the dhol or the sarinda. I know they were concerned about me. Some even thought I might die there and then. 

A medical doctor may have wanted to hospitalise me. At least, he asked the question. But hospitals are dangerous places sometimes. For me, a hospital would have meant leaving my people behind. No, thank you, I said. I need no hospital. 

I was cured, with antibiotics and grassroots commitment and care, within the community where I belong. I was fed and looked after in an extended family of sons and daughters to whom I had not given birth. On days when weakness was not overwhelming, I could listen and speak in intimate ways to one, two or three of the young ones. I could listen to the pains and the paths of their still so short lives. May they be blessed and live and make music in a community, on a soil, on a planet that will not be damaged by water and fire. May they always have food. They are amazing people. Some of them have an address in the song tradition of the land as well as in their own singing. I am lucky to be the witness. 

Writing this, a memory comes back to me: I was waiting at Kolkata airport for my flight to Dhaka. I had a couple of years earlier started studying the Bengali language and I had been with the bauls in West Bengal several times. Their way of singing and dancing had caught my mind. I was drawn towards their directness – until I had to witness the commercialisation of many minds and the damaging use of marihuana. I was, or my illusions were, profoundly shaken. Still, the feeling of immense gratitude remained. India had given me a gift I cannot and will not shake away. 

One does not have to repay gifts and I could not repay this one. I somehow had to bow down to it. And I bowed down, not in India, but in Bangladesh.

It could not have been done in West Bengal. Too many foreigners were around the folk-musicians much of the time during winter – when I was there too. In the northern region of Bangladesh, another gift – the one of down to earth simplicity, nothing extraordinary at all – was given to me, with a kind of singing which was not self-conscious. Those who sung were not aware of their own preciousness. They gave what they had heard a long time ago, or again and again. Their own ego was unimportant. They did not perform in front of a real or an imagined audience. 

At the airport in Kolkata that day, I suddenly heard the words thiikana batasheFrom which corner of the room in front of the gate did those words some? I do not know. Who spoke those words? I do not know. “Address in the wind”. Yes. I walked on with that knowledge. I am amazed by the fact that I knew those two words that early in my linguistic career! Somebody at the airport said thiikana batashe (or was it batashe thiikana?) and it resonated within me.

The young ones, the adults of different ages with whom I stay in the northern region have become or founded a community. They may be “in the wind” when they sing. But they must pronounce each and every word distinctly and correctly! So says the teacher. They are rooted in villages. In order for a community to become and remain strong and creative, a shared vision and a methodology about how to move from the inner eye to the practical mind and the physical and real hands are needed. 

We know where we come from – from the Unknown, from our parents and teachers, from each other and from the path that is sangit. It means MUSIC. This music has got texts. Some of the texts are very old. Our people do not practise all kinds of music but this particular kind of music: the folk-tunes and folk-songs that used to comfort and enlighten people´s minds as they worked on the land or rowed their boats or left their mother and father´s home to get married (for the girls). The songs comfort us still. They had lied dormant for a while when we started hunting for the tunes and the texts. We are hunting and collecting still.  

The sarinda teacher comes regularly to teach young ones how to play the sarinda. The behala master as well, as does the tabla master. The teachers are in their fiftees or sixties. The students are eager to learn. The masters are surprised. The sarinda teacher most probably had not expected to teach young boys and girls, yes girls, any more. All of a sudden, they find themselves surrounded by fourten to eighteen year olds, each one of them holding a sarinda near their chest. 

These songs and tunes wake us up. They are wiser than we are. 

I am writing this as I am making a new and lasting order in my book shelves in the city of Oslo. I call it lasting. Most probably, it will not last when I do not live here any more. One thousand books down from the shelves, some reorganising needed, very dear books to be kept close to my writing desk, others further away, some books to be given away. (May there always be readers of books.) From time to time, I am happily interrupted, for example by a phone call or a message from my uttor anchol. I am reminded of my double or triple thiikana, address. Yes, I am here, with books read and written. And I am there, with my young and not so young people singing and practising their sarinda, behala or tabla. When I am there, in Bangladesh or in India, my mode of being is very different. Wherever I go to bed and get up from bed again, I do my best to practise a regular time rhythm and a very moderate form of yoga.

Could we one day found a small library as well, I am asking myself as I remove dust from my books in languages my Bengali people will not understand. Some of the young ones do know a bit of basic English, most do not. 

May there be no war to separate us. May our planet earth remain habitable and a strong crowd of people love to make it fruitful.