The Selling of Lalon Phokir
by Zaid Islam for AlalODulal.org
Lalon Phokir has always been important to us for the past hundred years. But recently he has become just another venture to cash in on. Starting from individuals all the way to corporate houses and agencies have all realised that a “little bit of Lalon” is required to spice things up.
The time has come to look at the structures built at Chheuria to “protect” Lalon, and here we can start by asking the same questions. What is fundamentally wrong with those structures is that they go higher than the resting place of Lalon Phokir. A true disciple will not show disrespect by climbing the stairs and taking his/her body and feet above the level of the grave. A matter of culture, beliefs, and rituals.
Before these buildings were built, there were structures there. Originally a researcher had built small structures so that people could come and learn and do research. A very beautiful reason behind the first structures, and how they were funded, are available in different publications.
Control of the akhra and its matters were run by the phokirs and disciples until sometime in the 1970’s. That is when the Lalon Academy was formed, chaired by the district commissioner.
The later buildings and structures are, to put it in plain terms, outrageous. Half-informed officials and of course corrupt individuals have created a huge government funded project and built these new buildings. Part of Kali river was filled up to create the festival ground and performance stage. Very poor designing, counter to the spirit of Lalon.
A few years down the road, the UN has now entered the scene. UNESCO has been working on protecting world heritage for a while. But in the new millennium they decided to not only work on tangible world heritage sites, but also start mechanisms whereby intangible world heritage can be identified and protected. Thus, they identified hundred masterpieces around the world, one of which is the baul of Bengal, the baul way of life.
This brought more attention to Chheuria. More funding was on its way. Everyone wanted a piece. It became important even for tobacco corporations to show solidarity to the baul way of life. But thank God we won the war against tobacco promotions at Lalon’s mazar.
The flourishing telecom industry of Bangladesh are so socially responsible that they have been sponsoring EVERYTHING recently. In 2007 for the first time in history, Lalon Phokir’s Dol Uthshob was held under sponsorship, with promotion campaigns so aggressive and ill designed it disgusts me to even remember it. Since then Grameenphone and Banglalink took turns in sponsoring the festivals.
The first time around, those of us who had been visiting Cheuria for many years, were shocked to find the sponsorship junk. We approached the DC of Kushtia, the acting chair of Lalon Academy. He was very accommodating and answered all our questions with confidence. His views are that it serves mutual interest. A corporate house wants to fund the festival, and the academy needs funds to accommodate the ever growing festival.
But what gets lost along the way?
Can I find Lalon any more?
There are many people and organisations, home and abroad, that feel we need to “protect” the baul way of life. I do not necessarily agree with this notion. Rather I feel our intervention is what creates most of the “problems.”
Ideally I’d say we need to undo the ridiculous things we have done. The fundamental question when building something or designing something is to ask “why?”
What is the purpose?
Zaid Islam is a photographer and curator.