Of the soul-stirring melodies that have become indispensable constituents of Assamese culture, the ones that evoke an immediate atmosphere of tenderness and pathos, emerged from the wistful vocal efflorescence of Tariquddin Ahmed. The early twentieth century saw, along with the consciousness for language, a rich sense of cultural reawakening instilled into the hearts of the people. It was during this period of Assamese renaissance that this musical luminary was born at Nagaon to Md. Safiratuddin Ahmed and Zebina Khatun on November 8, 1923.
Since his childhood, Tariquddin was extremely sensitive. He lost his father when he was just nine years of age; his mother, too, left him when he had barely attained his youth. The fabric of his life was made up of numerous bits of harrowing experiences which, perhaps, contributed largely to the rare melancholic attribute in his vocal tone. Anger and frustration often afflicted him but with his gradual advancement in life, when his musical proficiency became more and more pronounced, and his association ripened with a select section of his friends and well-wishers, his occasional swings from elation to misery diminished considerably.
The Inherent music in Tariquddin was conspicuous since his early days. As a school-boy he drew the attention of a noted musical personality, Purnendu Nath of Abhayapuri (then serving at Nagaon) who realized the prodigious talent latent in him. It was under the able tutelage of Purnendu Nath that Tariquddin had his formal musical mould initially. Later on, he came into contact with another established name in this field, Durga Prasad Bhuyan who, too, gave him ample guidance in music. Nagaon, at that time, had a wonderful cultural climate dominated by an inclination towards Hindustani music. The little town, moreover, pulsated with the lyrics of poet Molin Borah and their rendering into tunes by Durga Prasad Bhuyan. Another close associate of Tariquddin was Ikramul Majid, father of today’s renowned vocalist, Parveen Sultana, who on returning to Nagaon in 1944-45 after his college education outside Assam, influenced the singer with his collection of record discs consisting of kheyals by Pandit Omkar Nath Thakur, Bad Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Fayaj Khan and sitar recitals by Ustad Vilayat Khan and Inayat Khan. He also collected a number of books on Indian classical music from Lucknow and studied them carefully. The classical material helped him to understand the intricacies of music and develop an individualistic style. The noted poet, dramatist and singer, Kamalananda Bhattacharya also taught him music and the songs of the former e.g., Moore phulanite urahi pakhili, phulate pakhi logai….rendered by Tariquddin became popular instantly. He had lessons in Mira bhajan and thumri to a certain extent from the eminent singer, Pandit Kashinath Tewari when he had come to Assam from Gorakhpur to attend a cultural function.
After his matriculation examination, Tariquddin left for Mumbai to take a deeper plunge in the ocean of music. Unfortunately, financial constraints owing to the lack of any professional engagement compelled him to return home.
In 1947-48, Columbia Company came up with a record disc of 78 r.p.m. to give a boost to the young singer’s aspirations. In side 1 he sang the immortal number,
Iman dhuniya mukutar mala
Kot paba tumi daan….
The lyricist of the song was Molin Borah, and Durga Prasad Bhuyan composed its tune. The song in side 2, Bidayor porot nagathiba mala mor….was written by Khiroda Kanta Bixoya and the tune was composed by the singer, Tariquddin himself. The first song had such a tremendous impact upon the people that gradually his very identity came to rest on the song.
In 1954, he joined the All India Radio, Guwahati as a staff artist. He sang bongeets and his modern songs penned by Molin Borah, Kamalananda Bhattacharya and Alimunissa Piyar met the tastes of the listener immediately. By the mid-fifties, his was a familiar name is almost every Assamese household.
At the behest of his friend, Dr. Khagen Roy, Tariquddin Ahmed directed the music for the Assamese feature film, Puberun. The film, released in 1959, went on to beg the President’s Award and was selected for the Berlin Film Festival. In this film he lipped the number, Ei prithibir maya mamatai nidile bidai….
In the film Biplabi he lent his voice for the song, Dhulir dhuwat apon pahori….
Tariquddin could sing in Bengali, Hindi and Urdu with a fair degree of competence and sometimes in soirees he presented chota kheyals and thumris regaling his fans with his favourite ragas-Desh, Khamaj, Bhimpalashri. Often the used to accompany artistes like the famous bongeet singer, Pronoti Saikia on the tabla with sufficient dexterity.
Besides music, Tariquddin took a keen interest in sports, particularly football. He was a gifted footballer and represented Nagaon Town Club in various tournaments and earned the affection of all sports lovers.
As a person he was extremely simple, amiable and contented. He sought an identity in the broader cultural firmament but never appeared to be possessed by any form of ego. Towards the latter part of his life he developed a religious leaning and always spoke of the higher idleas of life.
He inaugurated the cultural night of the Axom Xahitya Xabha session at Kampur, Nagaon in 1986 and delivered an absorbing speech. The Government of Assam honoured him with the Artist’s Pension in 1989. The recently formed Musicians’ Association, Nagaon is preparing to preserve his songs in correct original notations and take steps to intensify their popularization state-wide.
After an eventful life, the noble soul breathed his last on August 29, 1990. The news shook every nook and corner of Nagaon and cast a pall of glom all over the State. Every music-lover perceived the painful void left by his demise.
Amid the rich embellishments of melodies, all worldly cravings tend to turn insignificant. The ennobling influence of music has found sundry manifestations in the hands of different artists. Tariquddin completely merged himself with the thought and sensation of the songs he sang and succeeded remarkably in generating the emotions that appealed to all.
The Article has been republished with consent from the Author
Krishna Dulal Barua has been consistently translating poems, short- stories and literary articles from Assamese to English. His ‘Selected poems of Nilmani Phookan’ published by the Sahitya Akademi appeared in 2007.He received the Katha Award for translation in 2005.