The sight of Bengal’s Baul-Fakirs performing alongside folk artistes from Europe, Africa and Latin America at the recently held Sufi Sutra is perhaps a bright example of how artistes who mostly go unrecognised in our own country can attain heights when they are connected to the mainstream market and allowed to interact with musicians of various genres from different parts of world.
Till five years ago very few in Bengal knew about Golam Fakir, Arman Fakir, Babu Fakir or Akkash Fakir, all from Gorbhanga, a tiny hamlet in Nadia district. But Golam Fakir became a star, almost overnight, when he rendered his voice to a song composed by the legendary Lalan Fakir more than a century ago. The song was an integral part of Goutam Ghose’s award winning film, Moner Manus, in which actor Prasenjit Chatterjee played Lalan.
Before the film changed his life, the 55-year-old folk artiste was considered one of the most worthless people in the village who had no interest in farming or in maintaining his family. He would sing only for his own pleasure and wander around. He would visit rural fairs in other parts of Bengal. But he rarely earned enough to make a living.
Now there are very few people happier than Golam Fakir. He is treated as a performer who earns his living through music and performs abroad alongside “white skinned sahibs.” And he is flooded with requests to sing Lalan’s songs wherever he performs.
“Our lives changed ever since Banglanatak dot come came to our village and told us about the possibility of selling our music to a larger audience. We always sang just for joy,” Golam Fakir told HT on the sidelines of the recently held Sufi Sutra festival.
“We still sing for the joy of music, as this is all that we can do. But the amazing thing is that now we get quite hefty payments. It’s like magic!” Akkash Fakir, Golam’s cousin, added.
The magic seems to have changed even the life of those who wield the brush. Till a few years ago not too many people outside Naya village in West Midnapore had heard of Ranjit Chitrakar, a patachitra painter. But today his paintings figure in the galleries of Victoria and Albert museum in London and Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata. He, too, has toured Europe and had his paintings sold to collectors there. Moyna Chitrakar, one of his neighbours, has been able to develop her skills so much that now she owns a three-storied house.
“Our village has witnessed a comprehensive growth ever since the Banglanatak team arrived. Now buyers come directly to us. Though we consult the Banglanatak team before deciding the prices they hardly ever come between us and the buyers,” Ranjit Chitrakar said.