We did not listen to English songs in Asansol. Actually cross that out, ‘we‘ didn’t, ‘they‘ probably did – the kids who stayed in bungalows and whose fathers were managers and directors in the industries that made our town an industrial town. This isn’t some class-system story, these boys and girls weren’t much different from us: we didn’t consider them as such, and neither did they, really. But there was this veneer of less-gauche, less-small-town-ness about them.
So I read about Dylan in the pages of Anandamela, that omnipresent part of the childhood of so many Bengali kids, perhaps half a decade before I listened to any song of his. Dylan, The Beatles, Bob Marley, and such names – I know who they were, what they did, and why they were important. But I didn’t know their music.
I eventually got to Dylan indirectly – in a concert by Kabir Suman, the ‘Dylan of Bengal’. He had come by to my town to perform in a concert, and I remember how he mentioned the next (and till then unreleased) song to be ‘a literal translation of a very famous song by a very famous American singer’. Suman didn’t mention the singer by name; he didn’t quite think that the name of Bob Dylan would resonate in that Springsteen-esque middle-of-nowhere town of ours. Truth to be said, he was perhaps right.
And so I heard of ‘Koto’ta Path Haant’le’, the Bengali translation of ‘How Many Roads’.
I would love to say, especially with the news we had today, that my life changed on hearing the song, or that like Springsteen again, someone kicked open the door to my mind, but it really didn’t. It was a fine song, like so many other fine songs that Kabir Suman himself had written (I was and still am a fan). But as starts go, that was that.
A year or so later, I somehow got hold of a recorded tape of various English songs, and recorded it on a blank tape. Among such fine songs as ‘Jamaica Farewell’, ‘Country Roads’, and ‘No Woman No Cry’, there were also ‘How Many Roads’. I was perhaps in the ninth standard then.
After that, I had heard a fair bit of the great singer/songwriter. A woman I once dated was a serious fan, and my knowledge (and perhaps appreciation) of Dylan increased a lot during that rather brief while. Many lines, and many verses he’s written speak to me; as they would to perhaps many of you. Indeed, if I have to quote a single verse of all music, I’d perhaps quote from The Times They Are a-Changin’:
Come mothers and fathers / Throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters / Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one / If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.
So that was my ramble about Bob Dylan. He is a genius. He can read my mind, and say the exact words I am not able to spell out. I am poetry-illiterate, just as I am music-illiterate; but I do know this much. The only other person who would do this, is another Nobel laureate who was a songwriter. Tagore.