About Debabrata Biswas
To many a connoisseur of music Debabrata Biswas
To many a connoisseur of music Debabrata Biswas (better known by the nickname Georgeda) is the ultimate of Rabindra Sangeet.
God gifted unbelievable bass voice was of course there, but what was absolutely incomparable was the unique treatment he meted to his renditions. Skilled modulation was just one part of it; the main aspect was his extraordinary ability to interpret Tagore’s poetry—the dexterity to go deep to the core of it, which makes him truly unparalleled. As a result each of his songs took a visible, concrete, tangible shape—as if the artiste himself was experiencing the situation, and interpreting it for his enthralled audience!
Debabrata was born in a Brahma family of Kishoreganj (of Mymensingh in Bangladesh) on 22nd August,1911. His father was a principled lawyer (Sri Debendra Kishore Biswas) and mother—Smt Abaladevi, a cultured house maker, was Debabrata’s main inspiration. Fortunately, Debabrata did not undergo any narrowly formal training in music. He assimilated it from his surroundings; and his first acquaintance with Tagore’s songs, to quote the artist himself, “when I used to be on mother’s lap”.
His first record was published in 1933, when he was only 22. An MA in Economics in 1933, Debabrata became an employee of Hindusthan Insurance Company in the same year—from where he retired in 1970. In the late thirties, Debabrata got associated himself with IPTA—the Indian People Theatre Association, and seriously devoted himself for the cause of inspiring mass awareness. From this period, Debabrata began to be extremely popular both as an exponent of Tagore’s songs as well as a mass singer, and after a gap when he started recording Tagore songs in 1961, he had no parallel. A few unforgettable playbacks in Ritwik Ghatak’s films and others added more feathers to his cap.
A bachelor, a teetotaler, an excellent cook of spiced food, a traditionalist in the positive sense of the term, yet a bohemian as well as a maverick in a tongue-in-cheek style, and by any standard a non-conformist he lived a simple, modest and Spartan life.
Some dictatorial fatwas from the Visva Bharati Music Board, reducing the artistic freedom of the singer while singing Tagore’s songs forced this great maestro to stop recording Rabindra Sangeet in early seventies (—actually the instigations of some jealous singers as well as a few mean institutions were behind this). Many say that this very agony of suppression was the cause of his rather early death at the age of 69 years on 18th August, 1980.
But what is really amazing is while Debabrata had only about a hundred recorded songs to his credit while he was alive, at least six hundred new songs from the personal collections of some of his innumerable admirers have later been released, and his popularity, after so many years, is not the least diminished. Not only did Debabrata have an exceptionally deep baritone voice (which was simultaneously melodious), he was an artist—perhaps the only artist who could intellectually penetrate so deep into the heart of Tagore’s songs. Besides, he drew superb sketches and cartoons, wrote two books (Bratyo Janer Ruddhwa Sangeet and Antorango Cheen) both were published in 1978 and the royalty of which he donated for some great cause. He also acted in a few films like Komol Gaandhar,Chhenra Taar and Bhuli Nai.
By saying that Debabrata was an artiste par excellence is perhaps overlooking an excellent personality with an ever-ready helping hand as well as a fantastic sense of humour.
Debabrata is no more, but his songs have by now an inseparable part of our proud heritage. Here is indeed God’s plenty!
Prof. Sukanta Datta