One night in the middle of June, we visited the Cumilla home of ‘Nishithe Jaio Fulobone’ hitmaker Sachin Dev Burman. It was not that late when we pushed the unguarded door open and were greeted by a pungent smell. “It seems like drug users are holding a gathering. It will not be wise to go in right now,” my companion said.
The birthplace of Bangla and Hindi music legend Burman, popularly known as ‘Sachin Korta,’ was listed as a protected monument on Nov 30, 2017. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Tripura in 2012 and assured writers and cultural activists there that the house would be preserved and converted into a cultural centre and museum.
On Mar 24, 2015, at the opening ceremony of a book fair in Cumilla, the then cultural affairs minister Asaduzzaman Noor announced an allocation of Tk 10 million to renovate the house and convert it into a culture centre. On May 25, Hasina visited Cumilla to attend the 116th birth anniversary of poet Kazi Nazrul Islam and laid the foundation stones of seven projects, one of which was for the 'Sachin Dev Burman Cultural Complex.'
Although we were afraid to go in at night, our fears left us the next morning. However, locals warned us that drug users sometimes gathered at the house in Cumilla’s Chartha area during the day as well.
Two staff members from the district administration and the archaeology department have been tasked with looking after the house. No security guard was spotted when visiting the house on two consecutive days. After speaking to the deputy commissioner of Cumilla and the regional director of the archaeology department, it became apparent that the care of the house was in bureaucratic limbo.
Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Kamrul Hasan said that it was the responsibility of the district administration to renovate the house and hand it over to the archaeology department. The restoration work was completed long ago, but since the archaeology department is yet to take over the site, the district administration is still looking after it.
Kamrul Hasan said that he would investigate why the security guard was not carrying out his duties.
AKM Saifur Rahman, regional director of the archaeology department, said, "A letter will be sent to the district administration from Dhaka for the official transfer of the site."
A daily wage worker is still employed to keep the house clean, said Saifur Rahman.
However, examples of negligence by the cleaner were found throughout the house.
A layer of dust covered the mural of Burman near the entrance of the house. The money allocated by the cultural affairs ministry was used for the renovation of the house, the painting of murals and boundary walls. Lines from Burman’s famous songs can be seen on the walls. But all these embellishments have faded away due to a lack of maintenance.
The back door of the house was open. Burnt foil papers, likely left by drug users, were scattered around the area.
Poet Pias Majid, however, said that the situation is much better than before. The poet, who spent his childhood in Cumilla, said: “We used to visit the house regularly when we were young. But I did not dare to go there alone. The building served as a memorial for Sachin Dev Burman. One plaque had ‘Kazi Nazrul Islam once came here’ written on it."
Researcher Ahsanul Kabir said, “Not only Nazrul, but Himanshu Dutt also used to visit the house regularly. A lot of people from the music industry also used to visit the house. The 1920s was a golden period for culture in Cumilla.”
Sachin Dev Burman was born in Cumilla’s South Chartha in 1906, said Ahsanul Kabir. His father Nabadwipchandra Dev Burman was the prince of the Agartala royal family of Tripura state.
Burman’s musical talent developed from childhood under the supervision of his father, said Kabir. His father was a sitarist and classical musician. Burman was admitted to Cumilla Yusuf School and later to Cumilla Zilla School where he completed his SSC. He passed his BA from Cumilla Victoria Government College.
Burman’s family was well established in Cumilla. His father was also elected Cumilla municipal chairman.
"Due to a palace conspiracy, Burman’s father was forced to move to Cumilla with his family. On the orders of the British court, the royal family of Tripura was forced to construct the house of Nabadwipchandra and pay a monthly fee,” said Kabir.
Architect Abu Sayeed M Ahmed said, “The house, known as Rajbari, grew dilapidated due to negligence. We have tried to restore the house to its original state, as much as possible."
Ahmed was one of the members of the committee formed by the cultural affairs ministry to oversee the proper renovation and preservation of Burman’s house as a protected historic site.
“Renovation of the house was not the only goal. The plan was to build a cultural complex in Cumilla around this house," said Ahmed.
Current State Minister for Cultural Affairs KM Khalid seems to know little about the 'Sachin Dev Burman Cultural Complex'.
“The house has been renovated. Initiatives have been taken to preserve it as a historic site. There are no more projects pending for now,” Khalid said.
A project was drafted for the creation of a cultural building, said former cultural affairs minister Asaduzzaman.
“A complex was to be built around the house for cultural workers. There was going to be a Sachin Museum and a floating stage in the pond adjacent to the house. A music library was also part of the plan,” said Asaduzzaman.
However, to do that, the government-run chicken farm needs to be removed from the premises of Burman’s house, he said.
“I had a conversation with the then livestock minister. He agreed to leave the place.”
Asaduzzaman said the cultural affairs ministry should quickly prepare a project to fix the situation.
“Once the project is presented, there will be no problems in getting approval as it is part of the prime minister’s commitments,” he said.
Burman lived in Cumilla until 1924. He left for Kolkata that year to pursue higher education. He stayed there until 1944 and later moved to Mumbai with his family. He gained renown as the best music director in the Mumbai film world. He was awarded the Padma Shri by the government of India. His wife, Meera Dev Burman, was also a famous musician and lyricist. He sang many songs composed by his wife.
Burman died on Oct 31, 1975, and was cremated in Mumbai. His only son, Rahul Dev Burman, a famous Indian music director, died in 1994.
Those of the Burman family who lived in the Cumilla house also migrated to India after 1947. The seven acres of the abandoned house were originally used as a military warehouse. After the warehouse was removed, part of the house was converted into a poultry farm. Since then, the place has been known as a chicken farm.