Man of the Heart sheds light on Baul saint’s philosophy

He draws a beautiful analogy between an uncontrollable, fickle mind and a flitting fish or a flighty bird. For both are frivolous organisms and are difficult to catch. They easily slip out of our hands like the glittering particles of sand. He then talks of Raam and Rahim; Ali and Kali; or for that matter, Jal and Paani as two buds on the same stalk or two sides of the same coin.
He further roves his thoughts to the unknown, unseen face hidden behind a glass partition in the next door. He calls him an anonymous neighbour residing in the city of mirrors, which is so relevant in today’s times, as even as close family members of the same household are seen staying as separate islands under one roof in a pigeon-holed existence. It’s a sad irony that they remain clueless of one anther’s whereabouts or moodswings being caught in their own webbed world.
There is more to emerge from his trove of doctrines when he sermons about embarking upon life’s journey like a wandering voyager travelling from one port to another. And what is life according to him? It’s a flowing, gurgling, silken river which is so reflective of the milky moon — the earth’s satellite or let’s say, “The Milky Way” by the name of which, our galaxy containing the powerful solar system of stars, the sun, the revolving planets, their orbits and other celestial bodies is universally known. But who is this soothsayer that can see through the dirt of mind and advises on the importance of moral ablution rather than physical cleansing? For he argues about washing off one’s body with the help of a lathering soap to purge out the sticky dust, soot and grime smeared and smudged on to the skin, as he questions the purity of the soap-cake which is soiled back after the dirt gets removed from the body and transferred to its surface while being rubbed against the skin. He straightaway inquires, “what will you further wash the soap with then?”
The afore-mentioned ordinary person with an extraordinary personality is none other than Lalon Fakir, the famous 19th century Bengali Baul saint, mystic, songwriter, social reformer and secular thinker. Widely celebrated and worshipped all over apart from the either side of two Bengals — Epar and Opar Bangla (West Bengal and Bangladesh), Lalon’s cult is followed by legions of bauls and devotees even to this day. Also called Lalon Sain, Lalon Shah or the Mahatma Lalon Fakir, this simple-hearted great soul was born in Kushtia (present-day Bangladesh) in 1774.
A huge icon of religious tolerance and secularism, Lalon’s versified songs had inspired and influenced many world-class poets, renaissance proponents and religious thinkers including Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, freedom fighter and revolutionary poet (now Bangladesh’s national bard) Kazi Nazrul Islam and noted American poet, Irwin Allen Ginsberg. His tenets and teachings had also deeply impacted the multifaceted Jyotirindranath Tagore, the Nobel Laureate’s elder brother and a renowned playwright, musician, editor and a painter in his own right. Lalon in his long lifetime had always rejected and negated the barriers of races, castes and creeds that create rifts among humans, who are but the children of God, the Almighty.
As a liberal oracle, his practices and preachings have both been eulogised and panned by his critics and observers, before and after his death.
To his credit, lies the foundation of the institute called Lalon Akhdah in Cheuriya, about two kilometres away from the railway station of Kushtia. He left for his heavenly abode in the year 1890 on October 17 and his last remains are rested in Cheuriya, Kushtia itself.
Resurrecting this maverick stalwart on stage with his edicts of late, the Kolkata-based Birla Academy of Art & Culture in association with the Weavers Studio Centre for the Arts and Tritiyo Sutra presented Man of the Heart at the city’s well-acclaimed Academy of Fine Arts. Dedicated to the man and his mannerisms, Man of the Heart sheds light upon the Marfat tradition which tries to seek the soul, transcending all mundane pleasures and worldly affairs. Thus the spiritual self of Lalon is rooted in both Bhakti and Sufi contexts. Theoretically, the mendicant fakirs as Marfatists renounce the texts and the mosques to reaches out to the human hearts with their esoteric knowledge, thereby stepping out of the cocoon of the classical Shariat laws which usually govern the mainstream Islamic life. It explores divinity or the Allah within mankind.
Written by the talented theatre-practitioner Sudipto Chatterjee and helmed by distinguished play-director and filmmaker Suman Mukherjee, Man of the Heart unravels a multi-media solo performance incorporating live music, dance, spoken words, video and recorded audio. Curiously, without assuming any particular “character” or “story” per se, the drama attempts to just articulate and weave a story around the biography of Lalon Fakir.
Calling the presentation a documentary theatre, Suman insisted before the show that “it’s a different take on Lalon’s philosophy and culture altogether. We had visited his birthplace Kushtia almost two decades ago in the year 1997 when we were able to interact with a couple of ageing fakirs from Lalon’s akhada (den) like Bader Shah who was already 107 years then. He died only six months later from the date of interview, shot for this particular project.” A fruit of extensive study and a thorough research, Man of the Heart explicitly stands out with the fulcrum called Sudipto Chatterjee, who holds onto the audience’s attention from start-to-finish with his superlative versatile performance. From mouthing dialogues to singing Lalon’s lyrics to swaying his body into every direction, with frequent leaps and hand movements — Chatterjee has literally been a livewire in the auditorium. But a taut script also needs a strong supporting cast to boot which was adequately justified by a bunch of promising musicians namely, Satyaki Banerjee (on the two-stringed dotara and vocals), Mriganabhi Chattopadhyay and Arunabha Gupta (on desi beat-instruments like dhol and khol), Fakir Nazrul Shah (from Lalon’s Kushtia on the vocals, single-stringed ektara, duggi (drum) and khamak) and Daminee Basu (on the vocals and percussion).
Armed with a book compiled on the centuries-old Bengali theatre-history, an erudite Chatterjee reminisces his travels to Kushtia while deliberating on Lalon. “When we initially went to his mazar (tomb of the saint), it was surrounded by an akhada, breeding with fakirs and bauls from all corners of the planet.
But after a decade when we again traversed back, we found the newly constructed precinct of Lalon Academy, a seat of learning and musical pursuits,” he shares. While Lalon is majorly believed to be the Hindu Kayastha Lalit Narayan Kar by birth, another school of research discrepantly opines that his origin roots could be traced to a Muslim family.
The only two common strands that both schools consent upon are his Murshid or teacher, which has been the great Siraj Sain and his partner in his ascetic co-existence, Bishokha.
But then, how does one become a “man of the heart”? Echoing Lalon’s words, Chatterjee propagates that “the visionary would assertively say, that a man ideally becomes a man of the heart by consuming the essence emanating from a woman’s body which symbolises divine purity.
Metaphorically, this may have a coital reference but then what is a man without a woman and vice-versa. Both ought to play complementary roles to each other in order to sustain this aeons-old human civilisation. After all, when two equal halves become one, a circle is formed that spawns a unique symbol of perfection.” Well, the Biblical connotation of Adam-and-Eve automatically rings a parallel bell in the head at this juncture.

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