Bashir Ahmed died four years ago this month.
In remembering him we remember the substance which defined the artistry in him. For he was an artiste in the truest sense of the meaning, back in those days when both East Pakistan and West Pakistan looked to him for purposeful melodies in Bengali and Urdu. People of my generation were in primary school when we first heard him sing that famous song from the movie Talash: kuchh apni kahiye kuchh meri suniye / ye shaam ye tanhai yun chup to na rahiye. As we grew into teenage and then into youth and adulthood, that song never failed to lose its shine in our lives, for it had become a fixture with us.
In Bashir Ahmed’s voice was a lilt that can only enrich passion. And passion was in his songs, always, even in the happy, lighter songs he sang. Recall the duet, tum bhi haseen dil bhi jawan / hae ye rangeen samah / uss pe suhani ye raat hai / O masha’Allah kya baat hai. Love is being played out on the peaks of emotion. The verve and energy Bashir Ahmed epitomized is a reality that stayed with him till the last days of his life, even as he prepared for the end. With Runa Laila he sang the bi-lingual number (in an era when the ruling classes thought they were promoting national integration): ek mon matano chhonde / duti phool phutechhe gondhe / shey ki tumi aar aami. In Runa Laila’s voice comes the response, in Urdu: iss mehke hue gulshan mein / ye phool aur phool ki khushbu / ik tum ho ik mai huun.
Some of Bashir Ahmed’s best songs came through the Rahman-Shabnam starrer Darshan. Every song in the movie is a gem. Note the charm in that unforgettable happy number: ye mausam ye mast nazaare / pyaar karo to in se karo. There is then the heart-breaking chal diye tum jo dil torh kar / yun akela hamein chhorh kar / zindagi ke har ik morh par / hamesha tumhein meri kami mehsoos hogi. An equally sad number in Darshan is hum chalen chhorh kar teri mehfil sanam / dil kahin na kahin to behel jayega.
Other songs from Bashir Ahmed’s repertoire have consistently replenished our parched souls with their insistent melody. Try humming, if you will, the lyrics that make up ae pyaar shukriya tera / tu ne jo gham diya hai / mai ne usse teri qasam hans hans ke seh liya hai.
Good showmanship was a hallmark in Bashir Ahmed’s rendering of songs. If you have watched him perform, largely on television, you cannot have failed to notice the closed eyes, the swaying of the head and the absolute, almost religious devotion he brought into the singing. That was his way, in every song he sang. And each song was different from the other. If tomar kajol kesh chhorhalo bole / ei raat emon modhur epitomized the placidity of romance, pinjor khule diyechhi / ja kichhu kotha chhilo bhule giyechhi was reflective of the storm caused in the heart by the absence of the beloved. Mirth came in the relatively fast number he sang, kakon kar baaje rumjhum / noyon kar ghume ghumghum / nupur kar theke theke baaje / aahare jani na ke jeno amaye daake. And then there is the patently passionate in shojoni go / bhalobeshe ato jala / keno bolo na. That pain, that jala, is evidently missing in a relatively naughty number, chokh ferano jaaye go / tobu mon ferano jaaye na / kemon kore rakhi dheke moner khola aina.
Do you remember aami baul meghomala / bheshe berhai bataashe / kokhono duure kokhono kachhe / thikana amar akashe akashe? And that other sky-grazing number, oi akash ta ghure eshechhi / meghe meghe je koto bheshechhi / ogo tomar premer tulonae / ora kichhu noy kichhu noy / tai tomake bhalobeshechhi?
Bashir Ahmed’s is a never-ending story in the world of our music. Because it is, we keep humming that ageless number, tumhare liye iss dil mein / jitni mohabbat hai / itni mohabbat kaun karega kahan paogi / kis dil mein hogi. And main rikshawala matwala, followed by the sadder main rikshawala bechara?
The songbird has passed on. With his soul taking flight, unto a world we are told is better than the one we inhabit in corporeal form, we sing the old song, Bashir’s: onek shaadher moyna amar badhon kete jaaye / michhei taare shikol dilam ranga duti paaye.
From across the valleys come the strains of a familiar melody: mera dil na jaane kab se / tera pyaar dhoondta hai / jo khizan mein kho chuki hai / wo bahar dhoondta hai.
And in the light of the midnight moon we lapse into timeless romance with bhuul jodi hoi modhur emon / houk na bhuul.