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CELEBRATING THE 43RD VICTORY DAY

Remembering the choir of freedom

Monwarul Islam

A file photo shows artistes of Bangladesh Mukti Sangrami Shilpi Sangstha perform in a live programme in 1971.  Courtesy: Lear LevinA file photo shows artistes of Bangladesh Mukti Sangrami Shilpi Sangstha perform in a live programme in 1971. Courtesy: Lear Levin

Bangladesh Mukti Sangrami Shilpi Sangstha, a travelling troupe of singers and musicians, played a significant role in boosting the freedom fighters’ spirit at the camps during the war of independence in 1971.
In addition to performing live at the freedom fighters’ camps, the troupe also performed at several fund-raising concerts in Kolakta to support the over 10 million refugees, who took shelter in India.
Just a month after the declaration of independence, this musical troupe was formed in May 1971 in Kolkata by Bangladeshi artistes under the leadership of the late cultural personality Wahidul Haque and with substantial support from some Kolkata-based Indian musicians.
The troupe included Sanjida Khatun, president of the Sangstha, Mahmudur Rahman Benu, secretary, Bipul Bhattacharya, Shahin Samad, Nyla Khan, Tarik Ali, Swapan Chowdhury, Sharmilee Bandopaddhay, Mithila Ali, Debu Bhattacharya, Sharmin Murshid and a number of other artistes who regularly used to perform in the choir.
‘In a state of war, we wanted to do something for the people and the nation. We, therefore, decided to form a platform to raise funds to help the refugees and, at the same time, motivate others to join the war,’ Mahmudur Rahman Benu told New Age. 
The travelling troupe began performing at different places of Paschim Banga presenting mainly inspirational patriotic songs and traditional songs. 
Two months later the troupe started to perform in the camps. ‘Since then, we began travelling to refugee camps and to training camps,’ added Benu.
The millions of mentally-shattered refugees were in an indescribable state. And the artistes of the Sangstha tried to infuse the zeal of freedom in them through their songs such as Janatar sangram cholbei, Karar oi lauho kapat, Shikal bhangar chhal, Pak pashuder hotya, Gahi Banglar gaan, Amar pratibader bhasha, Phul khelbar din noy, Jessore khulna pabna and Ore bisham doirare. 
Presentation of inspirational and patriotic songs also strengthened the minds of trainee and the already trained fighters who took the oath to fight for the country till their last breath.
‘Songs are not substitutes for guns in war. But we could mobilise the passion of many to join the war and be part of the history,’ said Dalia Nowshin, a member of Mukti Sangrami Shilpi Sangstha.
The troupe also used to visit liberated zones inside the border of Bangladesh. But that was less in number and only if they had got assurance of security. In one such visit to a liberated zone near Benapole, the troupe fell under long-range shots by Pakistani army.
‘It was perhaps in the middle of July that we came to perform in a liberated zone near Benapole. Pakistani army somehow got the news and began shooting. We could, by the grace of Allah, escape the place,’ said Mahmudur Rahman Benu. 
‘It was hard days for all of us, as often some bad and cruel news was in the air. We had to go through an unforgettable juncture of history of collective hardships and sorrows, dreams and nightmares, losses and victory,’ Shahin Samad, another member of the troupe said. 
The activities of the troupe were kept in celluloid form by one American filmmaker, Lear Levin. ‘Lear Levin was with us to take footages of our activities for a film that he intended to make but did not complete. After almost 25 years in 1995 Tareque Masud and his wife Catherine Masud collected the footages and made the only documentary titled Muktir Gaan on us,’ shared Benu.
Evaluating the contribution of the troupe, researcher and cultural activist Lubna Marium says, ‘The Bangladesh Mukti Shongrami Shilpi Shangstha played important role to motivate and inspire the demoralised and heart-broken refugees. There were performances in Calcutta, Shantiniketan and Delhi, too, to increase the awareness of the plight of Bangladesh.’
‘But the matter of sorrow, not for the singers of freedom, but for us as a nation, is that the government so far has not conferred even a single accolade on Bangladesh Mukti Sangrami Shilpi Sangstha,’ she exclaimed. 
Seasoned singer Shahin Samad, however, does not regret. ‘None of us thought of national honour or awards. We did what we could do for the country. I think none of us regret being not awarded,’ she said.




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