The last time I met Robin Ghosh was months before he passed away three years ago. He was not his usual self and it was obvious his health was on the wane. But he did appear happy when I went up to him --- it was a rooftop dinner --- to say hello. There was always this joy of being in his company and in that of his wife, the very reputed actress Shabnam, ever since our very good friends Humayun Chowdhury and Sharmeen Murshid introduced me to the couple years ago.
I remember that first meeting, when I recalled the compositions Ghosh had done for movies in what used to be West Pakistan in the pre-Liberation days. But, of course, there was too such lasting melody as that streaming forth from K.G. Mostafa’s unforgettable lyrics, tomarey legechhe ato je bhalo / chand bujhi ta jaane. That was in the early 1960s in East Pakistan. But by far it was in the world of Urdu music that Ghosh was to make his mark, which again had East Pakistan as his launching pad. Think of all the artistes he brought together in such movies as Chanda and Talash in the 1960s, films which were a clear statement of the ability of Bengali movie-makers to give their West Pakistani counterparts a run for their money. The stories were appealing, simple romances and family-oriented as they were.
But of greater substance was the music which came from Robin Ghosh in those movies. Farida Yasmeen’s saiyan bedardi mora/dard na jaane re may be a quite forgotten song today, but within its timeframe and in our remembrance it remains a hallmark of the genius which defined Ghosh. As those early days went by, the genius assumed wider dimensions, a sign of which was to be had through such musical numbers as the Bashir Ahmed-Anjuman Ara Begum duet, kahin na kahin kabhi na kabhi/ arey dil to kisi se lagao ge. If that was romance in its carefree mould, there were the happy-sad versions of main rikshawala matwala, both picturised on Subhash Dutta in Talash. Add to that the extremely romantic number, sung separately by Ferdousi Rahman (Begum at the time) and Bashir Ahmed --- kuchh apni kahiye/kuchh meri suniye.
Ghosh’s contribution to the movie industry in the pre-1971 days went beyond a mere coordination of the harmonium and tabla and piano and sitar in his hands. You could safely suggest that he was instrumental in causing a greater degree of recognition to come to such Bengali playback singers as Bashir Ahmed, Ferdousi Rahman, Farida Yasmeen and Anjuman Ara Begum in the Urdu-speaking world. And then, somewhere between the mid and end-1960s, Ghosh created new waves through his lilting compositions for Chakori. Here was a movie with an absolutely new star couple, Nadeem and Shabana, and with a story that was to loosen the hold of such West Pakistani actors on filmdom as Mohammad Ali, Zeba, Waheed Murad, Shamim Ara and the like. Chakori took Pakistan, both wings of it, by storm, just as Talash and Chanda with Rahman and Shabnam had earlier. Part of that storm was the essentially new, more insistent melodies Ghosh brought into a refinement of the story line. Mujeeb Alam and Ferdousi Rahman are yet recalled for their separate renditions of the ghazal-like number, wo mere saamne/tasveer bane baithe hain. And, of course, there were the numbers, kahan ho tum ko dhoond rahi hain/ ye baharen ye samah and kabhi to tum ko yaad aayengi/wo baharen wo samah. Ahmed Rushdi sang the latter song. For the first, it was Nazir Beg who lent the voice. Ah, but Nazir Beg was Nadeem himself.
My meetings with Robin Ghosh, I would like to believe, rested on poignance of a sort. Always a lover, if not exactly a connoisseur, of music, it was sheer pleasure for me to remind Ghosh over dinner and coffee of particular compositions of his which had always drawn my undiluted attention. I remember mentioning some of those songs, at which point he would gently ask me to hum a few lines. I did. It was then pleasure beyond definition to watch Ghosh’s smile broaden into a river of happiness. We spoke of such promising Pakistani playback singers as Akhlaq Ahmed, who was to die at the height of his career. Ghosh was absolute in his appreciation of the singer and believed he would have made a great artiste had death not snatched him away with such suddenness. As we spoke of Akhlaq, I began to hum, involuntarily, the number which Ghosh had polished into a beautiful song. It was saawan aaye saawan jaaye/tujh ko pukaare geet hamare. There was starlight in Robin Ghosh’s eyes and, I suspect, nostalgia about the times gone by.
It remains my belief, almost conviction, that Robin Ghosh remained a neglected music maker in Bangladesh after he and his wife returned from Pakistan. But, then again, he was certainly unenthusiastic about a music scene where serious film melody did not seem to matter anymore, in either Bangladesh or Pakistan. Shabnam did get to play some roles in Bengali movies after her return to Dhaka, but on the whole the best days of the star couple were behind them, in Pakistan. Their departure from Pakistan was not quite a happy affair, seeing that they and their home in Lahore had come under attack from burglars and prompted legal proceedings that had the eminent lawyer and former minister S.M. Zafar coming to their defence. Zafar details the case in his work, Mere Mashhoor Muqaddame (My Famous Cases). In any case, Pakistanis have never forgotten the contributions of Robin Ghosh and Shabnam to their music and their movies. The enthusiasm with which they were received on their visit to Pakistan a few years before Ghosh’s death remains testimony to that.
At Humayun Bhai and Sharmeen Bhabi’s home, the presence of Shabnam and Robin Ghosh added glory to our banter and humour. There have been the times when a whole lot of us would go into sudden happy spasms of singing. When that happened, Ghosh watched in quiet happiness, almost contentment. It was audacious, I thought, even a trifle brazen to sing before such an illustrious maker of enchanting music. But he was so friendly, so unassuming and so happy to see melodies of the past rising out of all that post-dinner conversation that we who love music without quite having the fine tuning one needs for a rendition of songs went boldly into singing. And we sang away, as Robin Ghosh, placidity defining his features, looked on and listened.
At one of my final meetings with Ghosh, I hummed the Mehdi Hassan number, which Ghosh had made famous through his music --- pyaar bhare do sharmile nain/ jin se mila mere dil ko chaen. And then I asked him why he had left out a portion from the original song, roop tera kaliyon ko sharmaye/kaise koi apne dil ko bachaye. He had a simple response to my question: having the whole song sung in the movie (and it was picturised on Rahman in Chahat) would have been too long and indeed would have taxed movie-goers’ patience. I think I saw his point.
It pains me to think that I will never see Robin Ghosh again. For some time, there was this thought in me of embarking on a book about him and Shabnam, for the good reason that biographies of movie stars and music directors are yet a huge unknown in this country (I have also spoken to Kabori about a work on her). Someday some writer should emerge to keep our people informed of the talented individuals who have been in our midst, those who gave us reasons to sing in the light of the stars, in the luminescence of the moon.
Robin Ghosh is dead. His music lives on, to let us in on the secret that he therefore lives for all time.