Tapan Mahmud, who recently celebrated 50 years of his music career, had a significant contribution to the 1971 liberation war. He was the very first Rabindra Sangeet singer of Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, the radio station run by the Bangladesh government in exile.
His songs inspired the people to stand up and fight against the Pakistani occupation forces. In his words, "As a singer, I believed I could best serve the nation through my songs."
The text of his interview:
Prothom Alo: You were probably the first Rabindra Sangeet singer at the radio station Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra? How did that all start?
Tapan Mahmud: Yes, in fact, I was the very first! I joined Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra at the end of July, 1971 and recorded two songs – ‘Je tomay chhare chharuk’ and ‘Jodi tor dak shune keu na ashe’ which were aired first on 15 August. Later, I recorded two more songs and lent my voice in all chorus numbers performed from October to December.
Prothom Alo: Did you have any other duties there?
Tapan Mahmud: Besides being a singer. I used to broadcast a feature ‘Muktanchal Ghure Elam’ (on return from the liberated zone) based on the war situation, as part of a programme, ‘Agni Swakkhar’. Simultaneously, I was a regular singer for the Indian radio station Akashbani in Kolkata.
Prothom Alo: Did you visit refugee camps frequently?
Tapan Mahmud: We artistes divided up in troupes and travelled to many refugee camps in India and performed there. We worked to raise funds and to build popular support for the war. Funds collected from our performances were donated to the government-in-exile.
Prothom Alo: We can understand you witnessed eventful months during your stay at the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra. Can you share any of them?
Tapan Mahmud: I witnessed many incidents of horror and woe while visiting Muktanchal, liberated areas. I can still recall one. It was a camp of freedom fighters. Many of them were getting ready to go to an operation. The radio was airing ‘Bojrokantha’ (the 7 March speech of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman). Listening to Bangabandhu’s speech, a wounded freedom fighter started crying and at one stage he started begging to his fellow fighters to take him on the operation. It was difficult for them to make him understand his injury. While returning, I was thinking about his patriotism and devotion to Bangabandhu.
Prothom Alo: Staying in India, could you feel that your work was mobilising the entire nation?
Tapan Mahmud: Yes, certainly. I stayed in occupied Bangladesh till the first week of July. It appeared to me that we lost the battle if Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra was not broadcast even for hours. It was like a heartbeat for the people on a confined Bangladesh.
Prothom Alo: Do you have any suggestions for preserving the programmes of Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra?
Tapan Mahmud: We’ve already lost many programmes. The rest should be archived in public-private efforts.
Prothom Alo: The government has recently recognised artistes of the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra as freedom fighters.
Tapan Mahmud: Recognising us as freedom fighters is undoubtedly a matter of happiness. But, it’s too late. Many of my fellow artistes are no longer with us.
Prothom Alo: Do you have any dreams as an artiste of Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra?
Tapan Mahmud: I am proud that I was part of the glorious liberation war. I hope in future Bangladesh will follow the spirit and ideals of the liberation war.