Helen Habib

Jokhon porbe na mor payer chinno ei baate…When my footsteps will fall on this path no more…”

These magical song lyrics of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore always instantly take me back to my blissful days of childhood. I remember running around the house with my many siblings, as my father played the enchanting melody of his favorite song in our home. As we all sang and danced together, he explained the meaning of the song to the entire family.

Even though my father’s footsteps no longer fall on the path, the precious memories of the times we shared together remain etched in my heart forever. Some of my most vivid memories are filled with melodious songs and music. My father instilled the love of music in my heart at a very young age. Music was pervasive in our household, and all of my brothers, sisters, and my mother loved music and the arts. My siblings and  mother always encouraged me to sing, giving me the courage & inspiration to pursue my passion. I can still hear my mother humming her favorite melody as she walked around the house…”Ami kaan pete roi o amar apon hridoy gohon dare…I listen to the voice in the depths of my heart…”

Some of my favorite memories of childhood involved music lessons with my sister. I had two teachers, as one trained me in classical music, and the other taught me a variety of other types of songs. To complement my musical education, I took dance lessons from the Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts. During these years, the then East Pakistan used to have an annual music competition for the entire province.

I was excited to learn that my father had registered me for multiple categories: Nazrul Songs, Tagore Songs, and Recitation. I rehearsed my pieces for several months and was eager to perform. After watching so many talented artists on stage, I could hardly believe my fortune when I was selected my age group’s champion in the Tagore category, having impressed the judges with my rendition of “Tomar duar kholar dhoni”. I was humbled to have been selected by judges such as famous singer Fazle Nizami and others.

“Tumi je surer agun laagye dile mor praane…My heart is on fire with the flame of thy songs…” 

After winning the competition, my passion for music was further ignited. I continued to take lessons and perform in cultural events in my school, in the community, and at family gatherings. At every phase of my life, I found ways to incorporate music into my world. Throughout high school, college, and university, interspersed in between countless hours of classes and studying were rehearsals for performances. I even enrolled in lessons at The Chayanot, a prestigious music school in Bangladesh.

“Oje kere amai niye jai re? Jai re kon chulai re…What is taking me away, leading me to a place which I know not…?”

Life is a magical journey and we never know what adventures will be unveiled in the next chapter. I was blessed to get married and move to Hamilton, Canada to join my husband. Although the childhood dream of many in Bangladesh is to move to the western world, my heart broke at the thought of leaving my family and country behind. Although I never told my husband, deep in my heart I had the fear that perhaps I was going to lose my beloved music forever.

“Coffeehouser sei addata aaj ar nei. Kothai hariye gelo sonali bikel gulo sei…? The friendly gatherings of the past are no longer. Where have those beautiful evenings vanished away…?”

My husband & I brought a portable harmonium from Bangladesh to Canada. He had a genuine love for my music and encouraged me to continue my practice. As much as I loved my portable harmonium, I missed the actual instrument and the freedom it provided my spirit. Unfortunately, Indian musical instruments were difficult to find in the US at that time. My husband insisted we travel to New York to find a full-sized harmonium, and when he located one in a boutique shop in New York, my heart filled with joy. But I saw the
price tag and knew we could never afford such a luxurious purchase on student incomes. My loving husband insisted on purchasing the harmonium for me. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

“Keno monobone maloti bollori dole…? What causes these beautiful flowers to dance joyously in my heart…?”

Soon after the purchase of my harmonium, the famous singer Runa Laila came to Toronto for a concert. The organizers asked me to sing in the opening program. I had never opened for a famous singer, and my heart filled with joy and excitement. I performed one song by Rabindranath Tagore, and another by Atul Prasad. “Aakashe aaj choriye dilam priyo. Amar kothar phul go. Amar ganer mala go…I spread the beloved treasures of my heart into the universe…the flowers of my lyrics…the melodies of my songs…”

The next chapter of my life was when music truly became a centerpiece of our social life and happiness. Music was a common language shared by all of our expatriate friends from Bangladesh in this new community we were building, far from our homeland. We used music to share moments of joy and celebration and reminisce about our dear Bangladesh. After my husband completed his studies in Canada, we moved to Michigan. It was here that we further expanded our musical involvement in the community, and started participating in and organizing cultural events. We were among the pioneers, organizing large community events for Eid, Victory Day, and Independence Day.

“Amar rakhal mon gaan geye jai. Ei amar desh. Ei amar prem…My shepherd heart continues to sing. This is my homeland. This is my beloved…”

My husband & I also organized smaller cultural programs and hosted many famous musicians from Bangladesh and India in our own home. We organized and performed in various musical programs held in multiple states by the Bangladesh Cultural Alliance of the Midwest (BCAM). Around this time, lovers of Bengali music in Michigan received a gift when a career musician from Bangladesh, Mr. Akram Hossain, moved to Michigan. He specialized in Tagore songs which was also my specialty. We were soon connected and I learned that Akram Bhai was my husband’s classmate in Khulna, Bangladesh. My daughters, Paula and Pamela, and I took musical lessons from Akram Bhai and performed in many of his events. My daughters even produced a CD of Tagore piano melodies under his direction.

Akram Bhai greatly advanced the Bangladeshi cultural scene in Michigan. He produced many dance dramas, musical shows, and geeti alekhyas. One of his highly acclaimed programs, “Bangla Ganer Bhashya,” explained the evolution of Bengali music. Other notable productions include musical dance drama, “Obhijan,” written by very famous poet Sukanta Bhattacharya, and the Tagore musical, “Tasher Desh.” Audiences loved the programs, and the participants’ spirits were uplifted. Akram Bhai’s founding of a Bangla music school allowed him to teach music to many children and adults, a blessing for our community. I was involved with his school from its inception as he invited me to participate in cultural programs.

A little girl’s love for her father is what led to my love for music. As I have moved through different phases of life’s journey, music has been the golden thread that has always kept me connected to my spirit and to the blessings of the universe. Music is how I find comfort in the most challenging of times. It is how my spirit finds peace and how I share joy with others. And music is what always keeps my heart connected to my beloved homeland of Bangladesh. 

Purano shei diner kotha bhulbi ki re hai…Alas! How can we ever forget the olden days…?”