Rafi Hossain: Today we have with us, Nobonita Chowdhury and Nirupoma Rahman. A lot of people are recently getting to know that Nirupoma is also heavily involved with music.
Nobonita Chowdhury: It's quite understandable because she has spent 20 years or basically half of her life abroad. Initially, she left to pursue her studies, after which she went on to teach, and then finally settled there. While COVID has brought a lot of negativity into our lives, one thing that I'm grateful for is the new opportunities to create and reach out with music. Because of this, we are finally getting the opportunity to listen to her music and it is reaching and is being appreciated in high places. It's a very happy moment for our family as that's something we always envisioned for her. Living abroad, she doesn't get the chance to sing as much. I also want to add that the amount of dedication she has is very inspiring for me. Even if she doesn't perform frequently, she makes sure to practise every day.
Nirupoma Rahman: One thing I must say is that Nobonita and I both grew up with music; we began learning music even before we started school. Because of this, music has become a part of my soul. We sing to express our emotions, our happiness, and our sorrows.
Rafi Hossain: Many people often inquire about your work Nobonita and even say that you sometimes seem like a know-it-all. What do you have to say to that?
Nobonita Chowdhury: I began working at a newspaper as a teenager and then started working full-time when I was 18. I've been involved with the media for 20 to 25 years now, be it for the radio, newspapers, or news channels like BBC and Ekattor TV. So, being a journalist, it is our job to be aware of everything that is happening. Otherwise, how can we hope to inform the people? I see it as a compliment in a way.
Rafi Hossain: Are you focusing more on music now?
Nobonita Chowdhury: I am trying to work on music more now. Balancing my job with this passion was really difficult, as music would get pushed aside constantly. However, I believe that music will stay with me forever and so I decided to focus on it more. I sing more nowadays and perform in front of an audience when I can. But there's definitely a lack of space to do so frequently in Bangladesh. There aren't many places for people to gather to listen to music or concerts taking place regularly. Even on television, the opportunity to sing Rabindra Sangeet and Nazrul Sangeet is limited. But I am trying my best to do so and I'm receiving a lot of encouragement and appreciation. I even got together with Shilpakala Academy to celebrate Sheikh Mujib's centennial. We brought 100 singers from all over Bangladesh to create a sort of folk medley.
Rafi Hossain: Can you tell us more about your journey throughout your career?
Nobonita Chowdhury: I started off as a field journalist and worked at the most remote and under-developed places in Bangladesh. From there I got the opportunity to go abroad and work for BBC. After coming back, I was part of a talk show which I quit to finally join BRAC recently as the director of their gender program, which I'm truly enjoying. Now I can look back at my previous jobs to compare and see how much Bangladesh has changed in the past decade. It also really inspires me and reminds me that there is a lot to do for my country as well.
Rafi Hossain: Nirupoma, can you tell us about the songs you sang today?
Nirupoma Rahman: The songs we sang at the beginning were picked very carefully. Nobonita and I will be welcoming spring today by singing both Rabindra Sangeet and Nazrul Sangeet. Spring is not just a season, but a concept too, and it is a concept that was introduced to Bengalis by Rabindranath Thakur. He made spring so celebratory and close to our hearts. An interesting thing, however, is that Rabindranath dedicated his book, Bashanta, to Nazrul, saying "Nazrul has brought spring into the life of the nation". This book came out when Nazrul was in jail, and Rabindranath made sure he received it. Since Rabindranath was such an inspirational figure for Nazrul, it really touched him.
Nobonita Chowdhury: I want to add something to this as well. Rabindranath wrote this to admire Nazrul's rebellion. During that period of time, many people were saying that the new era of music was destroying the sweetness that Rabindranath had previously introduced. This book was therefore his way of saying that if he was young, he would join Nazrul in his rebellion through this kind of music as well.
Rafi Hossain: Nirupoma, do you want to add anything else?
Nirupoma Rahman: Yes, I want to elaborate a little about the songs. The ones we sang are of very different melodies but have quite a similar raag. Many gurus have even said that these songs are like twin sisters who went their own way after birth. This is surprising because they were written almost twenty years apart. In fact, people also told Nazrul that his song has some similarities with Rabindra sangeet. In reality, Nazrul was focusing on this sort of raag during that period. Since this is the first time we're performing together, I thought they would be ideal for today.
Rafi Hossain: Nobonita, why don't you tell us a little bit about the song you will sing.
Nobonita Chowdhury: I will be singing a song by Rabindranath Thakur written for spring. Like Nirupoma mentioned, the celebration of spring and welcoming spring is a tradition that he began in Shantiniketan. Many of Rabindranath's songs about seasons focus on spring.
Rafi Hossain: I think it's equally important to expose children to such music. Would you agree?
Nobonita Chowdhury: That's an excellent point and I completely agree with you. If we don't play Rabindra sangeet or Nazrul sangeet in our homes, our children will never have the opportunity to know if they enjoy it. This reminds me of an incident that happened with my daughter. We took her to the rooftop to show her what a full moon is, and she suddenly began singing a Rabindra Sangeet about one and she learned it in her dance class recently. That truly filled my heart with happiness because even though she was only five back then, she could connect her experience with the song, she could look at the full moon as though from Rabindranath's perspective. I find this an incredibly important lesson because if we expose our children to Hindi songs only, they will never connect to it as it's not their mother tongue.
Rafi Hossain: Nobonita, share things about your sister that you love and ones that you hate.
Nobonita Chowdhury: I would say that we are quite alike in terms of our interests. I believe other people also notice this because, on many occasions, people figured out we were siblings even without us mentioning it just by our personality and mannerisms. However, one thing that I had to hear growing up was how beautiful Nirupoma is, perhaps because of the slight difference in our complexions. Now that we are older, I find our faces to be very similar to one another. We were, and are, always very close to each other. Even if we are busy with our lives and can't communicate often, I know that she'll understand how I'm feeling with just one simple text. Nirupoma is also great at cooking, which is something I did not enjoy much as she spent most of her life abroad. I would say that's where we differ as I enjoy eating much more than I do cooking. However, I love and appreciate how close and in sync we are, even though we chose different lives and careers. It's a true gift for me.
Nirupoma Rahman: Nobonita and I also have a very similar outlook on life as well as similar values. I would say a big part of that is how we were brought up. We were lucky to have unique parents like ours who brought us up, not as women, but as good human beings. Today we talk about being global citizens, but these ideas were not prevalent when we were young. However, our parents would constantly preach such values to us and teach us about how there is no difference between what a man and a woman can do. She mentioned that growing up people would highlight some of our differences, but in the end, we're like the two songs that I mentioned: born with the same values and separated by our different lives. Perhaps one of us is more restless while the other is calmer. Nobonita has always taken up challenges throughout her life and in her career, while I never dared to do so. Even for my job, I've always wanted to pursue teaching which is a safe career path. I respect her a lot for this.
Rafi: What are your thoughts on Nazrul and Rabindra sangeet based around spring?
Nirupoma: As a student of literature, I think both Nazrul and Rabindra Sangeet, the songs about spring have a recurring theme of "wishing for togetherness". Some of Nazrul's work of the same theme actually comes from a place of grief or sadness. He also incorporates Persian elements into his works that make them stand out further.
Nobonita: I also think Rabindra focuses more on the celebratory aspects of spring in his works and the fact that Nazrul often diverges into the melancholy themes, much like how he does in his other works, is quite unique.
Rafi: Could you tell me a bit more about your life growing up?
Nobonita: We are very grateful for our upbringing. I am very thankful to both my parents and our mentors that we had growing up. We also have an endless amount of love and respect for our country and its literature.
Nirupoma: Growing up, our parents have always taught us to value what we have and learn to be happy with it. Like Nobonita said, we are very grateful for having been taught these values.
Rafi:What do you think is the meaning of life?
Nobonita: Again, I think I have been greatly influenced by my parents and my mentors. They have always told me to dream and think big. I believe it is the most fulfilling to contribute to the country and the society in some way so that it does not feel like our life has been in vain. My siblings and I are all very hard workers who constantly try to get better at what we do. Some people might think that mysiblings may not contribute as much to the country since they live abroad but, for example, my sister hasraised a wonderful daughter who, despite growing up abroad, can read and write in Bangla. Even at theage of 11, she has extensive knowledge of the history of Bangladesh and is familiar with many of thegreatest Bengali icons, such as Bangabandhu, Rabindranath, Satyajit Rai, and greatly appreciates their contributions to the heritage of Bangladesh. I believe raising such a child itself is a great contribution to our country.
Nirupoma: Like Nobonita said, we wish to live an honest life with respect and peace. Since Nobonita and I are both singers, I think I speak for the both of us when I say that I hope and wish that we can always speak our minds and express our emotions, whether they are happy or sad through the tunes that we sing till our very last breath.
Rafi Hossain: Thank you both for being with us today and for this amazing discussion.