Maya Angelou once said, “Everything in the universe has rhythm, everything dances”
As true as this saying is, not everyone has the potential to pick up these rhythms; be it the melody of flowing water or the sad tunes of gloomy moonlight. One’s music resonates with the environment they belong to or as composer Antonio Vivaldi mentioned, “Music is all about the place one comes from”.
This applies to every musician, composer around the world. One of the greatest examples of a musician influenced by environment would be S D Burman. Listening to “Sun mere bandhu re, sun mere mitwa, sun mere saathi re” by the singer and composer we can easily detect the Bhatiali notes, which belonged to the region he grew up in. With this influence, those songs became very pleasant and heart touching. His music swayed everyone and revolutionized the Bollywood music industry.
S D Burman has composed an independent style of music by mixing different east Bengal songs such as Lokgiti, Pollygiti, Bhatiali, jari, sari, dhamail etc. This influence may not have been possible if his fate had not destined his family to move to East Bengal.
Music ran through his veins as he was born to Nabadwip Chandra Dev Burman, a noted sitarist and Dhrupad singer. Sachin Dev Burman(S D Burman) was a member of the Tripura royal family, his grandfather being the king of Tripura. The Tripura royal family was one of the oldest in India that ruled for over 1500 years with 184 kings.
They reigned over a vast area, starting from Assam, currently in West Bengal, to Comilla, currently in Bangladesh. After the Sepoy Mutiny, Sachin Dev’s grandfather, Ishana Chandra Dev Burman, the 180th king of Tripura passed on the throne to his brother, Birchandra Dev Burman, before his demise, instead of his son.
This was unusual to every member since kings always give the position to their sons, but Birchandra kept the tradition going and passed the throne later to his own son. Nabadwip, feeling betrayed, went to the court to claim his position. However, his efforts were futile and his family, along with his brother, were banished from the kingdom. With a monthly salary of 528 pennies, he moved to Comilla. Thus began their lives in the East Bengal soil.
S D Burman was born on October 1st, 1906, in Comilla. His first school Kumar Boarding School in Agartala, a very prestigious institution for sons of royalty and the rich. When his father noticed that the school was more into pampering the wealthy kids than education, he decided to change his son’s school. He was first admitted to Yusuf School in Comilla and later Comilla Zilla School.
He completed his matriculation from there and joined Victoria College, Comilla. After completing his IA and BA from there, he went to Calcutta for his MA in English at Calcutta University. Soon he realized this was not his passion.
He started his formal training in music under KC Dey and later Bhishmadev Chattopadhyay, the sarangi maestro Kahifa Badal Khan, the great violin/sarod maestro Allaudin Khan, and even Kazi Nazrul Islam. Nazrul Islam used to often go to their house and spend time with him and their bond grew stronger over the period.
Growing up, he acquired his taste in music from everything around him. It is known that his fascination for music was heavily influenced by two of his house helps- Madhav and Anwar. The way Madhav read the Ramayana using simple, subtle tunes struck his chords and Anwar’s Bhatiali songs that he paired with his dotara always managed to give S D an insight on the rural life in Comilla.
This fascination for music grew over time and when he went to Kolkata, music took over his mind. After he left Calcutta University he started singing for Akashvani station (All India Radio) to pursue a career in music, but his father came to Kolkata and got him admitted to law school because he wanted his son to be a barrister.
At that time Nabadwip was the Prime Minister of Tripura and his family was against Sachin going into the music industry, Sachin was adamant. During his time in AIR, there was an English station director who advised Sachin to learn how to play the piano. Piano lessons helped him learn the facets of classical and western music. He took lessons from an Anglo-Indian teacher.
Along with him, a tall, young man would also come to take lessons. Sachin was fascinated by that impressive young man’s skill. That man later came to be one of the finest directors of all time; he was none other than Satyajit Ray. Sachin, thoroughly impressed by his persona, insisted that he sing some of his songs, but he politely declined saying it was not his “cup of tea”.
At the age of 25, Sachin received the greatest reality check of his life when his beloved father met an untimely demise. His world had shattered right in front of his eyes. At that time, he could have lived luxuriously if he would have chosen a life in Tripura or Comilla, but he decided to not go back and continued to struggle in Kolkata.
Right after his father’s death, he auditioned for HMV, a famous record company, but they rejected him saying his voice was too nasal. He always dreamt of getting his songs published from the company, but he was left disheartened. He took this rejection as a motivation to do better and continued auditioning for different companies. His career took off when he auditioned for Hindustan Music Products from which he published his first record.
He won everyone’s heart with his first two singles “dakilokokilrojbihane” and “e potheajashopriyo”. During this time Burman gained a lot of fame for his Pollygiti style music. He then recorded four songs written and composed by Kazi Nazrul Islam.
In 1934, at the All India Music Contest in Allahabad he managed to leave a mark in the industry with his extraordinary voice. His impact was so strong that famous singer K.L Saigal, who was about to go on stage, stood still in his position, mesmerized by the beauty of Burman’s voice.
He was awestruck and did not leave until the song ended. What caught his attention the most was Burman’s nasal voice, which he himself had at the start of his career. Just like Burman, Saigal faced similar criticism for his voice at HMV and got rejected. This platform started a whole new chapter of Burman’s career.
Even after all these years, S D Burman’s music still has an integral part in the Indian music industry. Not just the industry actually, but people’s hearts as well. He gained fame in both aspects of his career- as a singer as well as a composer. A few years into this journey, he opened a school of music called Sur Mandir. There he came across a student named Meera, who he fell in love with over time.
In the year 1938, Meera and Sachin decided to tie the knot in Kolkata. Meera was the granddaughter of the magistrate of Dhaka. Unlike Sachin, she did not belong to the royal family. When the couple visited his home in Tripura, Meera did not receive a grand welcome from his family. This gesture was very insulting to Sachin so he left the house with his wife and went back to Kolkata. A year later, in 1939, their only son Rahul Dev Burman was born.
His life in Kolkata was busy being the music director of a string of Bangla films. A new chapter of his life began when he left for Bombay in 1944. He was called to Bombay by Sasadhar Mukherjee to work on two of Ashok Kumar’s films, “Shikari” and “Aath Din”. From this, he began to give the music for more Hindi films. Through much of this period he went back and forth between Bombay and Calcutta as he worked for both Hindi as well as Bengali cinema.
One of the main reasons for the beauty of his songs was his perfection. Much like Beethoven, he would “compose, decompose and recompose”, until he was satisfied with his creation.
He did not know or understand Hindi or Urdu, so he would go through the effort of understanding the lyrics from the lyricists before composing his songs for the films. He would make the singers record the same verse several times and pick out the one he liked the best.
His perfection led to greater success and more people began to praise his unusual yet beautiful compositions. His unique compositions reflected his childhood in Comilla. His tunes came from the humming of Bengali farmers and boatmen- they came from the heart.
In Bengal, when he got an opportunity to meet Rabindranath Tagore, he told him that he had a tune on his mind. Tagore listened to the tune attentively and advised Sachin to save it for an equally beautiful number.
In the industry, he worked with several famous singers and directors and everyone was his fan. Though his talent was incomparable, he always doubted whether the world would remember him like Beethoven or Mozart. He must be smiling from the stars now seeing how many hearts still yearn for his songs. Even after 44 years of his death, the world has not found a second Sachin Dev Burman.
Perhaps, if the capital did not move from Dhaka, Burman could have been the greatest Bangladeshi composer. After all, he is our child- the Sachin Dev Burman of Comilla, Bangladesh. We will always be proud to have given birth to a gem of a composer who revolutionized the music industry in ways we cannot imagine.