Kalim Sharafi: Nature’s passion child

 Syed Badrul Ahsan

That deep voice, nature’s passion resonating through its winding passages, will not be heard again. For Kalim Sharafi sang to the stars. If you have heard him sing akash bhora shurjo tara, you will know. He sings of the stars and then, simultaneously, appears to be singing from the stars, about the stars. To be sure, others have placed this Tagore song — and so many others — within the refinement of their expressions, giving it a lilt not to be forgotten.

With Sharafi, though, there is that touch of the metaphysical, something out of the world, that you spot in the way he sang Tagore. A sense of distance, in terms of time and space, comes into his rendering of poob shagorer paar hote. It is the imagination that takes over in you. The sea, the waves, the endlessness of time and an infinity of space is what you feel coursing through your many-layered web of sensibilities.

There was the quintessential artiste in Kalim Sharafi. He belonged to a generation of aesthetes for whom excellence built on perfection was all. You think of him and then you think of Debabrata Biswas. There was something about these two men, about the way they approached Tagore, that truly conveyed the idea of music being a transcendental affair. And yet, given his social background, Sharafi was not supposed to be traversing the world of music at all. His clan comprised the devout. It was ground that threw up holy men. It was faith that sustained the family.

The same faith sustained Sharafi, but it did not limit his perspective on the world. He veered off into song and poetry, in that broad meaning of the term. And then, in the manner of men inspired by patriotism into a love of the land, he stepped cheerfully into politics. It was politics with a purpose that Kalim Sharafi went for. He was leftwing in his perceptions. Call him a socialist. Or call him a communist.

Like all individuals profoundly upholding a meaningful cause as a way of changing the fortunes of men, he knew that equality among men and an equitable distribution of resources were what would turn the world around. He did not waver in his convictions. The beauty of his life consisted in the deft manner in which he brought about an interplay of artistic creativity and political sophistication. His politics was aimed at the masses; his music targeted the soul.

Kalim Sharafi lived in stirring times. The Quit India movement in 1942, being a seminal event in the history of India, drew him into its fold. It was the year after Rabindranath Tagore’s death; and it was a time when poetry and politics came together to accord validity to the cause that was Indian freedom. Sharafi would go to prison, and stay incarcerated for over a year. And yet, when independence came a few years later, it was truncated liberty that defined the lives of the millions.

A secular man and therefore every inch a modern man, Sharafi nevertheless found it ironic trekking over to the newly created communal dispensation of Pakistan in the aftermath of Partition. For all the irony, though, it was liberalism resting necessarily on secular politics that Sharafi went on to wage battle in defence of in his new surroundings. East Bengal, engaged in rediscovering itself in the light of its cultural traditions, gave him the space to propound the ideas he would always hold fast to.

A disciple of Shambhu Mitra, he would go on to project Tagore in all the glory of the songs woven in varied cadences by the Master. The soul made waves in him, drawing other souls into its expansiveness. Listen to the way he sings ami tokhono chhilem-o mogono gohono ghumero ghore / jokhon brishti naamlo. You get a feel of the soul here.

It was totality of music which defined Kalim Sharafi. He brought Tagore into the cultural scene of Pakistan as early as the mid-1950s. He would later go on to set up the Bangladesh Rabindra Sangeet Shilpi Sangstha, of which organization he would remain president till the end came to him. And then he went outside the Tagore ambience, to make his mark on the landscape of adhunik songs. Recall pothey pothey dilam chhoraiya and you will know.

A man of substance was Kalim Sharafi. Humility, of the kind which underscores the lives of the truly illustrious, was the underpinning to his personality. He enjoyed good conversation, making the stray individual saying a casual hello to him go back home feeling good, feeling happy that Sharafi had given him moments he would relish for a long time.

It was a generation that passed into the ages when Kalim Sharafi died on 2 November 2010. A big chunk of music went with him. 

(Syed Badrul Ahsan: contributing columnist, Shottobani)

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