I’m lusty old man looking for carnal pleasure: Kabir Suman (2011)
No, he hasn’t heard of ‘Kolaveri di’. And today’s music in Bengal? ‘Hopeless’. In the eye of the storm – again – for a string of political songs on his website, Kabir Suman says politics is not his cup of tea – nor even his cup of coffee. CT caught up with him over an evening adda- session
You have once again touched the raw nerve, this time through your website. Not many artistes from Bengal have managed to make their web pages half as popular as yours…
The times are such… People, particularly the media, are keeping an eye on my website for their own publicity. Otherwise, I don’t think more than 60-70 people go through it on a regular basis. Bangali bhari odbhut jati… If you are a regular on YouTube, you’ll find lakhs of people going through mediocre stuff, while the substantial, serious elements are often given a miss.
Most of your recent songs on your website – be it “The Victor”, “A song for a hero” or “A song for Jagori Baske” – are dubbed political…
Rene Descartes had said: ‘I think; therefore I am’. I, on the contrary, feel: I am; therefore I think. I gauge my existence through the life I lead, things that are happening to me and to other people. The more I live, the more I see and the more I understand. When I started out, it weren’t the doctrines of Marx, Lenin or Che Guevara that inspired me, but the khayals of ustad Amir khan. Sukumar Roy was my prophet but I also drew inspiration from the ustad. I came in contact with the master even though I was never his direct disciple. He had taught me that if I do riyaaz for two hours, I need to think for another four hours. That’s exactly what I have been doing. My day has gone, my evening has come and I have no regrets. Life is too short for regrets. I have made many mistakes, but there was always the search for a road ahead.
I was a mediocre student, an even mediocre man. As a singer, I was never too good. In my early days, I didn’t like the songs I was singing – not even Tagore, not even Himangshu Dutta. Lyrics were penned for me and my job was to put them to tune. The songs did not reflect the time, not even the politics of the time, the way I wanted to express love to a woman… not one but many. The way I loved my parents, the success, the failure… mostly failures… the acne that I had on my face… The songs weren’t reflecting these. So, I took to songwriting to express what I feel. My songs don’t talk of politics, though they are political. I am not here to do politics. It’s not my cup of tea. It’s not even my cup of coffee.
Is uploading the songs the only way of reaching out to the masses? Ever considered singing on a public platform?
For a long time now, I have stopped making songs for the market. Yes, if I sing on the street, I am sure no one will stop me. After the last government toppled, people are finally breathing but then, of course, there are certain limits to our sense of democracy. I strongly feel that I do not serve any political party, I only serve music. And right now, I am busy concentrating on adhunik Bangla gaan.
What about adhunik Bangla gaan?
The songs are discussed for all the wrong reasons. Bengalis that way are the worst listeners. Musically, we are the most backward even if the state has produced some great musicians. Nowadays, I am not a regular to the Parliament. But when I was, sometime back, we would have a great time over music. Kirti Azad, BJP MP, would have the words, while I would sing the melody. Everyone in Parliament would enjoy the sessions barring Bengalis. Just f*** politics. Varun Gandhi would come up to me and say, ‘Saab one more’. I write songs, be it “Bir” or “Bijoyi”, because I have the ability to write them.
Does the need to reflect contemporary times through music come from the fact that you were a journalist once?
Yes, there’s still the journalistic self in me, the lover, the lusty old man looking for carnal pleasure. In Germany, a group would travel from village to village, market to market singing songs. Like them, I too want to inform through music. So, I essentially want to do things that no one has done before. After “Purano shei diner katha”, I was the first one to have written a song on friendship. Now, I want to make Christmas carols in Bengali.
How about singing k h aya l in English?
Like rock can’t happen in Bengali, khayal too can’t be done in English. It’s rather stupid.
The website has mention of ‘Thus Spake Maqbool’. Is playing on your alter ego just another whim?
All this madness has been triggered off by carnal lust and music. Hasn’t PG Wodehouse asked us not to take life too seriously? I am ageing, the sexual prowess is diminishing. Ageing men don’t have an erection, even though there’s desire. Of course, there’s Viagra, but if you have high BP, you are in a mess.
Boyesh barle dushtumio barey. What’s the next big step after the “Clean and successful” video? A film?
Yes, I have a story ready. The script has to be written though. But I am worried whether I will be able to return the 40 lakh that a producer invests.
A political film?
Not at all. Actually, I have three stories ready. Often, I wonder why can’t we make films using the mobile camera. Then funds can be raised and the film can be screened at a small auditorium. My secret desire is to make a non-narrative film. “Clean and successful” too can be called a film – political, existential, philosophical. I am not just a -nihilist, I am also an anarchist and a Russellite. I liked what Ritwik Ghatak’s “Jukti Takka Aar Golpo” had to say – ‘Bhabo, bhabha practise koro’.
Are you listening to someone else’s music?
I have tried listening to different kinds of music but it’s been a hopeless attempt. Where’s the voice, where’s the finesse? I was an admirer of Sonu Nigam. I don’t know whether he sings anymore.
Coming to where we started off, you have said often important elements are often given a miss on You Tube while unimportant stuff gets thousands of hits. Have you heard “Kolaveri di”, the current rage?
No, what’s that? I had heard a certain song called “Jai ho”, which went on to win the Oscars. It’s a fourth-rate song. Had “Chaudvi ka chaand” won the same, I would have cried in joy. Alas, that’s not to be. Let’s not talk of the world, it has gone sour.