“If they answer not to your call, walk alone,
If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall, open your minds and speak out alone.
If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness,
trample the thorns under thy tread, and along the blood-lined track, travel alone.
If they do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
with the thunder flame of pain ignite thy own heart
and let it burn alone.”

This is the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore that was set to music and became a favorite of Mahatma Gandhi’s during the struggle for Indian independence. I heard the poetic words of courage first from my mother. She had a big booming voice and loved to sing this song. I also heard this sung by Suchitra Mitra, one of Bengal’s most well-known Rabindrasangeet singers.

There was a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s when my uncle would organize musical sessions at his house. Mitra would come to lend her voice on sultry Saturday evenings.

She died of a heart attack at her Kolkata home on Monday. She was 86, born the same year as my father. My cousin informed me of her death. She knew how much Mitra’s songs meant to me.

She took music lessons at Viswa Bharati University, where my mother had also gone to hone her skills. My mother filled our house with Mitra’s voice.

She loaned her voice to yet another song that came to represent another struggle for independence: “Amar Sonar Bangla” (My Golden Bengal) played on every radio in Kolkata during the Bangladesh war. It later became the national anthem of independent Bangladesh.

I have a Suchitra Mitra CD playing now and think of my beloved Bengal mourning her death.

For all my Bengali friends, here is the news story in Anandabazar Patrika.

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