On the subject of SDB’s lifelong allegiance and closeness to the folk traditions of Bengal, there is an excellent interview by SankarlalBhattacharjee (whose transcript is available at the link appended to the end of this essay)- titled The Case for Folk Music, the interview focuses primarily on his experiences in the Bombay film industry. In the interview, he points out how the Bhatiali folk tradition of Bengal influenced him all his life. “My life in folk music is like a dream,” SDB confesses. Elsewhere, he points out the importance of both Bhatiali and Baulin his development as a composer. He describes Bhatiali as “..earthly music, rooted in the soil it sprouts from.” He differentiatesBaul and Bhatiali as the former being an instrument narrating a philosophy, while the latter as one which depicts a mood, sometimes philosophical. A particularly noteworthy and daring assertion SDB makes in the interview is to claim that in his opinion not only are folk traditions around the world connected by threads of commonality, but that he believes European folk music in fact derived from those of India, especially Bengal. Here is an excerpt from the interview laying out SDB’s observations in this regard: ”…(supplement(ing) my learning in Bengali folk music (unlike folk music elsewhere in India) wasn’t possible with foreign folk music because my stay abroad has been sporadic and not for a considerable length of time. Still, the least I have seen of folk music abroad confirms my faith in the basic similarity of folk attitudes of all nations. In Russia, I remember, I was constantly reminded of our folk songs and classical ragas like Bhairavi and Jogiya or Todi whenever I listened to their folk music. In Spain too I had similar experiences. These cases give verity to the idea that the folk music of the continent was an importation from Asia. The nomads or gypsies (from India) took with them certain folk disciplines whenever they migrated from one region to another. As history has it, much of our folk excellences traveled with the gypsies when the moors raced up to the south-west of Europe. Spain’s music imbibed some of our folk character in this way. To tell you frankly, to listen to folk music abroad is to be constantly reminded of India…” An absolutely remarkable observation from an outstanding musician/composer from India who carved out his own niche in India’s mellifluous musical domain.
SDB’s lifelong commitment to, and deep affection for Bengali folk music is evident from his admission that some of his very best hits in the course of his time in Bombay and musical compositions for Hindi films had their origins in Bengali folk music. In the Bhattacharjee interview he cites as examples, Safalhogiteriaradhana, kahekoroye based on a Baul melody; Wahankaunhaiteramusafirjayegakahan based on Bhatiali (Bengali boatman music); even a much lighter number such as Roopteramastana was apparently based on a favorite folk melody. And these are but a small sampling.
It is also mentioned in RM’s article that even though he spent many years in Bombay in the entertainment world, his heart and soul pined for Bengal’s rivers and fields, her drumbeats and her festivals, her rains and her moonlit nights. Despite his royal roots in Tripura, he truly identified with Bengal in the very fabric of his being. And this is the identity that I too have perceived in SDB’s music from my very early years. In what follows, I present snippets of lyrics from SDB’s songs imbued with Bengal’s folk traditions with interpretations for context and atmosphere. In many of his songs, the lyricists were Ajay Bhattacharya, Sailen Roy and his (SDB’s) wife Mira Dev Burman. The musical composers included SDB himself and also Himangshu Dutta.
Dearest- you came to see me the day before, you did not yesterday
Dearest, did you not, then, love me the same yesterday?
Imagine, dearest, a river brimming over with the tide-
Does it befit it, then, to abruptly become parched and dry?
Did you not, dearest, remember me at all yesterday?
Why did you not come, why did you not love me yesterday?….. © Monish Chatterjee
The song possesses a charmingly folksy, almost childlike earnestness where a paramour petulantly expresses to his beloved his distress that she failed to keep her rendezvous the previous day. The doleful lyrics draw upon a variety of metaphors from nature to communicate his forlorn state of mind.
I’d rather not listen to that flute- that flute’s a highway robber
It robs in broad daylight, not to mention the night- it’s a highway robber.
(It) pours venom in my ears, (it) burns up my very spirit.
I will put an end to its machinations, (will) consecrate to the flames.
That miserable thief robs in broad daylight,
not to mention the night- it’s a highway robber. …..© Monish Chatterjee
This song, set to a spirited folk beat, plays on the age-old Indian balladic usage of the cowherd girl Radha being hypnotically wooed by the flute-player Krishna. It is packaged here as a pretend-skeptic who decides to never again have her heart stolen and her spirit burn by the scheming flute-player, who is nothing more than a mind-robber.
Jhilmil the rippling waves upon the waters of the jheel
Carried by the jhirjhirbreeze in magical interplay.
Alas- no one with tinkling anklets passes by to fetch water
The songbird coos talk to me, young bride, but the bride notices not.
Alas- my mind weeps today- whither are you, my love, whither?
Talmal flows the swaying waves upon the fields of paddy
As shonshonblows the brisk wind riding over the stalks of grain. © Monish Chatterjee
This song is particularly noteworthy for its wonderful alliterative play on the various charming sounds in nature, including those of rippling waves atop a lake, the tinkling of ankle bells around the feet of a maiden on the way to fetch water; the wind-swept waves flowing over a field of paddy, and much more.
You are not you any more, I know not why it must be thus
Why, love, you are not you anymore.
Your eyelashes no longer dance in the thrills of my arrival
The ankle bells tinkle not on your nimble feet at the barest hint of my voice
You smile not, dear, you smile not that winsome honey-laced smile
You are not you any more- I know not why it must be thus
Why, love, you are not you anymore. © Monish Chatterjee
Here is a purely romantic number in which the paramour laments that his beloved is no longer what she used to be. Citing a profusion of tender examples of what erstwhile made her so appealing and lovable, the song does not proffer any alleviation of the longing he feels for what she once was.
Harken to those days, those flute-playing days
Those resounding Bhatiali days, those lofty Baul days-
They yet call after me, around the meandering river,
In the spaces between the taal and supari woods
They call me, yes, they call me.
And so I hear the takdumdrumbeats of the dholak-
Forget what is lost, O mind, get over the pain.
No, no, no, but the dholak does not play like it did before
The mind dances not in ecstasy as it did then at Gajan
Where is that good old dam koorkoor drumroll?
Where, oh where is that crazy dang da dadangdrumbeat?
And so I hear the takdumdrumbeats of the dholak-
Forget what is lost, O mind, get over the pain.
This is a folk song redolent with the festive drumbeats of Bengal’s hamlets and homesteads at the time of the many festivals which defined Bengali life, especially the dhak (dholak in Hindi) sounds that recall Autumn in all its glory during Bengal’s joyous Durga Puja, and also the Gajan dances to Shiva smeared in ash. This and other allied songs firmly establish SDB’s deep connection to Bengal, as evidenced by the concluding line-In thespellbinding dhol beats of Bengal there is never any dissonance.
I so love being forlorn, I so love being lonesome.
The object of my loneliness, after all, resides within my mind.
I love being alone, yes, I love this separation.
My beloved, the arsonist, sings and dances every day within my heart.
Never before did I imagine that separation could be this sweet.
My anguish adorns me in robes of ochre-
I douse the ochre in the golden hues of Spring.
The dictates of pain are not for me-
For me pain morphs into celebrations of color
O I so love solitude, I so love being lonesome.
This playful rejection of the anguish of separation from a beloved reminds us of such well-known Western numbers as the Statler Brothers’ Flowers on the Wall or John Waite’s IAin’t Missing You At All. There is clearly a thinly veiled cynicism in the lyrics, but in SDB’s song we find several transformative metaphors (all his songs are absolutely rich with metaphors, incidentally) which include how the ochre colors of renunciation become transformed within the anguished heart by the uplifting basanti (golden yellow) colors of Springtime, which are very symbolic of an other-worldly bliss in Bengal. The sufferer of separation equally imagines that his beloved is the great arsonist who lights a fire in his heart- and yet her scorching absence transforms into ever-charming varieties of song and dance within his very being.
 RajyeshwarMitra, AgartalayeSachin Dev Burman, Desh, vol. 62, no.5, Dec 1994,  RamaprasadDatta, ed. and author, TripurayeShatabdirPrabandhacharcha,1985.
 DwijendrachandraDatta, Rabindranath O Tripura– Tathyapanji, reprinted 1987.
 SankarlalBhattacharjee, A Case for Folk Music- S.D. Burman Interview, Hindustan Standard Magazine, March 19, 1972. Web URL: http://www.sdburman.net/website/Articles/Article_aCaseForFolkMusic.htm
Monish R. Chatterjee, Ph.D. Professor, ECE, Dept. of ECE, University of Dayton