Piyasree Dasgupta meets Sally Grossman who is in city to attend a concert that brings together baul and fokir musicians from across the state
As Bedana Dashi Fokir breaks into a soulful rendition of a Lalan Fokir classic,Sally Grossman walks up to the front row and positions herself right in front of the stage. As Fokirs song picks up tempo,you can see her giving into its charms,shaking her head to the beats of the dubki.
While the uninitiated might mistake her for just another foreigner regaling in the rustic charms of Indian folk music for the first time,Grossmans presence at the congregation of bauls and fokirs in a south Kolkata theatre is anything but incidental. Her association with the traditional folk musicians of the city dates back to the 60s when she was introduced to Vaishnava poetry by Edward C Dimock,a professor of Bengali and poetry at the University of Chicago. My association with the bauls also has to do with our (her and husband Albert Grossman) connection with Allen Ginsberg, says Grossman.
The legendary Beat Poets tryst with India had already introduced him to its rich folk tradition. Albert and I had gone for a concert in Japan in 1967. While we were there,it occurred to me that we could visit India. I had heard so much about the country and its culture from Professor Dimock and Ginsberg, says Grossman. When the couple finally visited India the same year,Ginsberg directed them to the people they should meet.
It was then that Purna Das Baul came to Oberoi Grand and performed for us. At first Albert found it a little difficult to appreciate the music since he wasnt familiar with Bengali, laughs Grossman in reminiscence. However,Bob Dylans late manager and his wife were instrumental in introducing baul music to the West by facilitating the likes of Purna Das Baul and his brother Laxman Das Baul to perform across the world.
Grossman is in city to attend a concert that brings together baul and fokir musicians from across the state. I have seen that big cities are a little resistant to women bauls. But they are fantastic and are at par with their male counterparts. I just want people to know that, says Grossman.
As the rehearsal draws to an end,the bauls start leaving the dingy theatre and meet a bright,smiling Grossman on their way out. One of them greets Grossman with a nomoshkar; she greets the group back and adds chirpily,Lets have a drink together sometime, she smiles. She also inquires about the unfamiliar faces and meets them personally.
You can see her involvement for real and at times left cursing how distanced you are from the nuances of your own culture.