An Unusual Bangalee Evening

“Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit.”

Jawaharlal Nehru

Wifey and I like to take a little stroll around the walled-in grounds of LAMB’s compound where we live and work.

Although we don’t eat as late as many Bangladeshis do (often eating around 10 pm or later) the kids have reached the stage where homework, music practice and their own personal projects mean they need to keep going until later before eating. Wifey and I both tend to do our Masters work in that evening time too. The result is we eat around 8ish as a family and then pack Thing II off to bed and Thing I to her room to carry on writing/drawing/dancing/internet socializing.

Those meal times are special to us as a family. Without a TV we rely on DVDs of TV series like Friends, MASH, Downton Abbey or Dr Who to keep us from going crazy and we enjoy them together as our family time. Once a week we watch a movie together too. It is something we do regularly that I’m not looking forward to losing although, one day, I know we will.

But going for a walk afterwards in the cool(er) Bengali night air is time just for Wifey and me. We trot round the grounds a couple of times and enjoy the brilliant array of stars in the heavens and the eerie green firefly stars playing in the fields.

But, last night, something unusual happened as we walked past the large, school playing field. We could see, in the distance, a crowd of Bangladeshis sat on the ground with harmoniums and tabla singing songs in the dark.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen something like that. We once saw an old man sat in the same field playing a very unusual instrument in the dark (I couldn’t see it well enough to figure out what it was). But he was on his own and seemed to be practising; this was a group of a dozen or so gathered in a circle.

The next thing I knew, one of the women from the group had got up and came over to us as we walked past.

“Hi Ken,” she startled me by knowing my name, “we’re friends on Facebook. I’m here for the conference.”

I had forgotten that LAMB was hosting a conference for anaesthetists and people had come from all over to attend. I didn’t expect a Facebook friend amongst them. Even in Bangladesh, Facebook rules supreme. We chatted briefly and she invited us join them all which we gratefully accepted.

This group of professional Bengalis were simply enjoying the delightful night air, as we were, making fantastic music as most of them took turns in singing, playing tabla or accompanying on ektaras or harmonium. I had an urge to leap up, run home and bring my sitar to play to them but I knew I would only embarrass myself if I did. I felt jealous that this was so natural for these highly qualified men and women to make music together.

Instead, I closed my eyes and allowed myself to sink into the magic of music from long ago, punctuated only by clapping from the group as songs came to an end or, occasionally, gasps of surprise and joy as someone would begin a song they all knew and clearly loved so well.

It was an honour, as a bideshi foreigner to be invited into this private soiree though, by the time we left, other bideshis had heard about it and joined in. It also made me realise that I was missing out with my own sitar practice by only practising at home. I made a vow to myself that I would, in future, make time on clear, stormless nights, to come out to the field and play this beautiful instrument in a magical setting: but not, I have to admit, for a crowd – I’ll leave that to the experts.

Another wonderful memory to treasure and store away in my heart. This country never stops amazing me.

“Music is the purest form of art… therefore true poets, they who are seers, seek to express the universe in terms of music… The singer has everything within him. The notes come out from his very life. They are not materials gathered from outside.”

Rabindranath Tagore

About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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10 Responses to An Unusual Bangalee Evening

  1. audrina1759 says:

    I love all the quotes you used.. Good post.

    Like

  2. Audrey Chin says:

    Beautiful image Ken. It’s the warm nights, the fact we can sit out. Somehow, that engenders communality.

    Like

  3. Ladygardenia says:

    Uuh.. loved that post, Ken.. I would love to hear you playing that instrument and would love to make music together with u someday🙂 Such gatherings are really nice and I miss them… Last time I was invited to a Birthday here in UK, the Bengali people there were also singing and creating music with drums, guitar and one kind of an instrument i don’t even know what it’s called… i think something traditional for Bengali people…I was feeling that evening so happy and was remembering the times back to Estonia when I used to hang out with people who were also creative and interested about making music and singing. For me music is also biggest form of art🙂

    Like

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