Growing up in Kolkata, the golden voice of George (aka Debabrata) Biswas reverberating from the radio, haunted our sultry afternoons. It was rather amazing how he stayed on as a household name even after getting blacklisted by Visva Bharati — sole authorized holder of Tagore's copyrights then. "The advent of microphones saw an entire breed of singers becoming feeble crooners. George-da's sonorous rendering of Rabindrasangeet surely made a difference" observed Satyajit Ray, a distant relative of his. In short - Biswabharati disliked Biswas exactly for what he was — an effortless performer. But despite such hostility, the singer survived.
Debabrata Biswas was born in what is Bangladesh now. That was in 1911, the fateful year. King George visited India, cancelled the partition of Bengal, following which Tagore composed his 'Jana Gana Mana'. This got young Biswas his nickname 'George', and it stuck for life. He was one of those who left the folds of the Communist Party of India out of disillusionment — just like his long time friend Ritwik Ghatak. They both felt that 'communism' had nothing to do with 'CPI(M)', but that's another story….
One of the most popular Tagore numbers by George Biswas was 'e monihar amaye nahi saajey' (i.e. 'this bejeweled necklace doesn't suit me'). Like most Bengali school kids, I took this to be yet another love song, although it was poised and solemn. Of course, we wondered sometimes why the lover is so very unhappy with the necklace. But poets have the license to exchange jewels for flowers and do other mad things, so we let it pass.
Years later, I came to know that it actually was Tagore's reaction to the Jalianwala Bagh massacre of 1919. Having failed to persuade the frontline leadership to rise to the occasion, he wrote to the Viceroy denouncing his Knighthood. 'E monihar amaye' was penned down just after this.
Here's the song for you :-
E monihar amay nahi saje
Ere porte gele laage, ere chhirte gele baje [e monihar]
Kontho je rodh kore, sur to nahi sore,
Oi dike je mon pore roy, mon lage na kaje [e monihar]
Tai toh bosey acchi
E haar tomay porai Jodi, tobey ami banchi
Fulomalar dore boriya lou more
Tomar kachhe dekhai ne mukh monimalar laje [e monihar]
This bejeweled necklace doesn't suit me.
It hurts when I wear it, stings when I take it off.
Chokes the voice, stifles music,
I keep thinking of it, can't work.
That's why I am waiting
Once I garland you with it, I will be saved.
Welcome me with chains of flowers
Shamed by the jewels, I can't face you now.