ABUL KHAIR: THE SILENT CULTURAL REVOLUTIONARY
With the just concluded Bengal Classical Fest still on our minds we tried to delve deep into the sudden effort to revive classical music here in Dhaka with such honor and celebration. A much appreciated step according to many of our celebrities. Abul Khair is an entrepreneur and industrialist but most importantly an art aficionado having the country’s largest private collection of paintings, which is a must add. He is a visionary with too many dreams to realize. Hailing from a family with art and culture flowing through his veins, he recalled organizing his first painting exhibition as a tenth grader.
His love of art was natural. The Dhaka University graduate of ’72 went on elaborating the story behind the Classical Festivals that he has initiated and has continued for the last five years. According to Abul Khair, Classical Music which is now being referred to as “Indian Classical Music” also has its roots here in Bangladesh. Since we were a part of the then undivided India, the name so was coined accordingly. It should rather be known as “Subcontinent Classical Music”, he suggested. Khair went on adding with regret that we are unfortunate to have let go of maestros like Ravi Shankar, Alauddin Khan, Ali Akbar Khan, Uday Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee and Ajay da who actually migrated to India for livelihood. Since then our classical era ended and it was monopolized by India. Thus he unveiled his actual vision behind the classical fest.
It doesn’t end there. This is the beginning of his vision to revive classical music through the music school which Bengal manages. The classical fest is actually creating a platform for the learners of Bengal Parampara Sangeetalaya where he has appointed Ulhas Kasalkar as Principal, his wife as secretary of the academy and his son also as a tutor.
The academy has five departments where he has appointed renowned musicians to train up the students in five disciplines like sarod, sitar and so on. All these efforts were not realized very easily just because he was the nephew of Professor Abdur Razzak. He faced a lot of hurdles during issuing work permits to the music maestros since they did not fall under the conventional certification system that our employment boards demand. They were maestros who had the capacity of drawing millions to their call but since they didn’t have academic certifications, Khair had to take a lot of pain to get them here finally. Now the academy runs as planned, shaping its students to sing on platforms equal to Rashid Khan’s.
As a promoter of artistic minds Khair has a lot of future plans that he aims at fulfilling. In 2015 the Foundation set up the Bengal Institute for Architecture, Landscapes and Settlements, with an aim to offer an advanced platform for developing ideas and programs to improve the qualities of architecture, landscapes and settlements. Khair is hoping that Architecture with a focus on urban settlement and landscaping is what the country needs right now, with its haphazard urban sprawl. Speaking on architecture he very rightly pointed out the importance of our seven rivers which still remains unutilized and we go on suffering high traffic loads. He informed that our country has been shaped to use the water ways as our main transport system, and until and unless we follow the nature our traffic (both cargo and people) will never be sorted out.
Being a visionary, Khair expressed sadness at the number of youngsters wrongly getting involved in terrorism. As usual he had plans to address these unfortunate yet talented children who were given over to madrasas only because their parents couldn’t afford to raise them. He plans on opening cultural centres, cinema halls and stages all over the country with the intention of drawing youngsters’ attention to a healthy life by involving them positively. He is confident that a practice of culture is the ultimate tool to bringing home misguided young people being labeled ‘terrorists’ when it is actually our society that is responsible for their actions.
Abul Khair hopes more people will come forward with ideas to develop this wonderful country. He hopes Bengal Foundation will not stop even in his absence and he is taking all necessary steps to ensure that.