Of Spotify, Soul-itude, and Whale Songs

These are the stats from Soumya Bose's Spotify page. On the surface, it seems like a sad screenshot.

He clocks in at 22 listeners a month, and even his top listeners are lone wolves. They're listening to his songs in Cocoa Beach, Stockholm and Calgary, but they're 1 listener each. It's not a fan club type scenario. Safe to say, “This is beyond beautiful. You gotta listen!” moments are probably not happening.

And yet -- I feel oddly thrilled. And not just because I've put Edgewater on the Spotify map for Soumya Bose (yup, folks, that's me! @ No. 5 in the screenshot.)

I'm obsessive, ferret-like when it comes to music. I listen to a single song on repeat for days before I tire of it. I research the heck out of song meanings, the artiste's other works, his/her personal life, till I'm living, breathing, feeling the artiste in every part of my being.

I've listened to Soumya Bose's <a href="https://open.spotify.com/album/4hbhzvnj2IgfNFFY3SJRit">Love and Desire</a> album in this immersive fashion for the last few weeks. And I still come in at number 5. It thrills me that there are Nazrul/Bose fanboys and fangirls way obsessed than me.

<blockquote>It thrills me that there are fanboys and fangirls way obsessed than me.
</blockquote>
Soumya Bose deserves it. Nazrul, whose poetry the music is based on, deserves this kind of obsessive adulation even more.

<h2>Nostalgia</h2>
I am, I decide, in love with Nazrul. It is perhaps fitting that I should fall in love with him at this time of year.

August - October -- late summer to early fall is my annual treat &#8211; here and there. It seems as if nature conspires to put on a spectacular show for me.

Here = Maryland/fall colors/Halloween. There = Jamshedpur/festivals.

There = home. There = Steel City: Jampot, the city of my childhood; situated at the confluence of the Subarnarekha and Kharkhai rivers; hours from Nepal, Calcutta and Bangladesh. Cosmopolitan but with a strong Bangla presence.

When I was younger, I got annoyed by the Pujo throngs, the loudspeakers, the diya dances. But last few years, it's Pujo in Jampot I miss the most, even more than Diwali.

This last month, my friends have been deluging Facebook with Pujo and pandal-hopping pictures.

<h2>The Poet Strikes</h2>
I envy them and make do with Soumya Bose and Nazrul on Spotify. First, came the comfort. I settled into the familiar language, rhythms, expressions like an old friend I'd forgotten existed.

In my childhood years, I got brownie points from the diduns and dadas just for trying. I never got around to mastering Bangla. I could understand the gists of conversations, not the jokes.

Now, all these years later, I didn't <em>exactly</em> get the songs, but they sounded pleasant enough. Then they grew on me.

After two, three, ten times.. of Tagore's <a href="https://open.spotify.com/track/20VzR3uhKhNjv8Sj8wBGPg">Tumi Kemon Kore</a> on repeat, I just had to know what the words meant. I used Google Translate, stalked Tagore message boards and pieced together the song meaning.

It took me days to figure out that it was a love song, but not just a love song. It was a mystic poet's ecstasy on the wonders of the universe. A love song on a more grandiose scale than I had first imagined.

<blockquote>It took me days to figure out that it was a love song, but not just a love song -- It was a love song on a more grandiose scale than I had first imagined.
</blockquote>
But if Tagore touched me, Nazrul shook me up. His topics are more of an earthly sort, but in their everyday mundaneness, they are real. It blows my mind that till recently, I didn't know he existed; now I'm in his thrall.

<h2>The Nazrul Story</h2>
Nazrul has been long dead, of course, but he is still a beloved poet in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Soumya Bose collaborated with Nazrul's grand-daughter Anindita Kazi for the <a href="https://open.spotify.com/album/4hbhzvnj2IgfNFFY3JRit">Love and Desire</a> collection. It combined spoken word with music; Anindita read portions of her grandfather's love letter, and Soumya Bose sang the musical sections.

Slowly, it became clear, as I painstakingly deciphered the spoken sections of <a href="https://open.spotify.com/album/4hbhzvnj2IgfNFFY3SJRit">Love and Desire</a>, that the letter was written not to his Hindu wife Pramila (Nazrul was Muslim), but to a different woman called Nargis.

Hours of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazi_Nazrul_Islam">Wikipedia</a> and other <a href="http://www.nazrul.org/nazrul_works/articles/others_trans/letter_nargis.htm">Internet</a> <a href="http://www.nazrul.org/nazrul_life/marriage_story.htm">research</a> later, here's what I found about Nazrul and Nargis:

Nazrul was an up-and-coming poet when he met Nargis in 1921. She was the niece of a man Nazrul knew. The uncle, Ali Akbar Khan, invited Nazrul to stay at his home in Daulatpur. It was during this time that Nazrul met Nargis and fell in love with her.

Family members arranged for a marriage between the youngsters (Nazrul was in his twenties, Nargis was in her teens). There is confusion about what transpired, but Nazrul scholars say the marriage was solemnized but never consummated.

Right before the wedding, Nargis' uncle tossed in an additional condition into the marriage contract &#8211; that Nazrul should stay in the village of Daulatpur after marriage. Nazrul, who had already gained some fame for his writing by this time, couldn't agree to such a clause. There is also one account which says that he witnessed some unsavory relations between <a href="http://now2gether.org/submissions/Sunanda%20Ghosh%20Biodata/Three%20faces%20of%20Eve%20in%20Nazrul's%20life.pdf">Nargis and her uncle</a> on the day of the wedding (the uncle was apparently helping the bride wear her saree. Ick.).

Nazrul left right after the wedding. Nargis waited for him to return, but he didn't. Instead he went back to Calcutta where he met a different woman, Pramila Devi. Pramila and Nazrul were married in 1924.

In 1934, Nargis and her uncle traveled to Calcutta to meet with Nazrul and ask for him to take her back. Nazrul encouraged them to move to present-day Bangladesh, saying he would settle issues with Pramila and follow them there. He never did. He wrote Nargis one letter, months later, reminiscing about their fleeting romance, and encouraging her to move on with her life. It is this letter that Nazrul's grand-daughter reads out in Love and Desire. One measly letter to end a marriage.

<blockquote>One measly letter to end a marriage.
</blockquote>
Nargis finally married a different man the following year. She became a writer herself. She died in the US in 1985.

Nazrul suffered from a series of financial difficulties, personal and health problems. He took up Bangladeshi citizenship and was honored as the Poet Laureate of that country. He died in Dhaka in 1976 and was buried on the campus of University of Dhaka, per his wishes.

<h2>Chub Slyme and Whale Songs</h2>
The Nazrul-Nargis story is one of what couldn't be. It is one aspect of Nazrul's life. Perhaps it is the fuel that charged him up to write his patriotic poetry and love-poems. We will never know. One letter is all we have to go by.

I think often about the unbearable fragility of life. It has been hard lately to put pen to paper. I write, a lot. Business stuff, work stuff. But the stories, my words, my witticisms &#8211; somehow the well has dried.

I troll the internet, looking for writing prompts, to kickstart my dying creativity. I find this Tumblr <a href="http://writingprompts.tumblr.com/image/121938829795">writing prompt</a> that makes me want to cry and sing all at the same time: &#8220;This world seems pretty boring till you stop to think that there are 90 ft long, 300,000 lb animals that just swim around singing sad songs.&#8221;

Many sea mammals use sound for communication. The rhythmic pattern of vocalization produced by dolphins, whales and porpoises has been compared to music. Male humpback whales are said to be particularly good at this. And as with much else in nature, these &#8220;songs&#8221; have to do with courtship. Pretty fabulous, even if the vocalizations are low and sad-sounding. These creatures swim around all day, singing sad songs to the females of their species.

<blockquote>This world seems pretty boring till you stop to think that there are 90 ft long, 300,000 lb animals that just swim around singing sad songs. @Rhonda_doy
</blockquote>
The quote is attributed to a @Rhonda_doy. I look up this woman on Twitter and her name is Chub Slyme LLC. I almost snort coffee through my nose.

Write the lyrics, says the Tumblr prompt, to a sad whale song. No way, I think. I can't write sad whale songs. Not after <a href="http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=chub">Chub</a> Slyme.

I write this post instead. I think about Nazrul's songs. I dredge up Soumya Bose's statistics.

I think about each of us top 5 listeners, what our individual life situations are. I imagine Nazrul's trembling hands, reaching out of our laptop screens, offering us his poetry to read.

I grab the papers he proffers. I pore over his words. The script is wholly unfamiliar and the language semi-foreign, but I smile in the darkness. These are now mine to savor.

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