An artiste’s indomitable spirit


His is a life of struggles and triumph. Suffering a hip dislocation that left him bedridden for years, Bhim Birag has seen everything in the eyes of all those who surveyed him — from pity to sympathy to it would be better if he were dead. Yet Birag has risen above all these to become the towering personality that he is in the Nepali music world today.

If you should wonder who is Bhim Birag, just hum either of these songs — Phoolai phoola matra pani hoina raichha jiwan or Aaja bholi mattina thalechha. Birag is the man behind these songs and lots more.

He was born in 1934 in Birgunj into a family that was involved in the arts — his father and uncles were with a theatre company. Birag says he was more into “ghazals” and loved listening to “Mehendi Hasan, Mohamad Rafi, Lata Mangeskar, songs by Bankim Chand and Rabindra Nath Tagore, and tried to write, compose and sing as they did”. He says he tried to model all his work on their works and believes there is nothing like the original but that all our attempts are to present the original in an innovative approach that is our own.

Of his childhood years, Birag recalls having a harmonium, tabla and flute at home and that he was an expert at playing the flute. He also recalls having learned to dance and that in one of the plays staged by his father and uncles he acted a female role.

A multitalented personality, Birag who is not only a lyricist but a poet, a composer and a singer, has published two collections each of songs and poems, a collection of stories, an epic, a collection of ghazals, a memoir, and has also recorded two music albums.

The likes of Narayan Gopal and Madhu Chettri have made his songs so popular that the lyricist has almost been forgotten in the process. However, Birag is not at all unhappy or bitter about such an outcome. He very, very realistically points out that once a song goes out of a writer’s hand, it becomes the property of the composer, the singer, even the listeners.

Birag believes a composer plays the major role in bringing out the soul of a song. “A song is a combination of lyrics and composition. For example, in classical music — thumri, a single line can be sung in different tunes for hours,” he says.

He loves to write about his own feelings. It is said Narayan Gopal who was considered to be selective about the songs he sang and not so comfortable singing other people’s compositions, was comfortable with Birag’s lyrics and compositions.

Birag will be performing at nepa~laya’s Paleti Shrinkhala on February 24. Paleti attempts to revive the lost tradition of artist-audience proximity.