I came across Runner at a para puja pandal when cassettes held sway during Durga puja days. As it was a para club, I went straight into a darkish, damp club room and found the flat, rectangular cassette player on a nondescript chair; an empty cassette-cover lying beside. Hemanto singing, perhaps, at a function, was the cover photo. Hemanto Sings for Salil: the cover read.
Runner, the postman, runs across towns and villages, through the night braving elements of it. He is burdened with sackful of letters and money on his back. He has to deliver them before morning.
Runner can stumble and tumble, but cannot compromise his run for time-stipulated postal delivery. So he runs on and on.
He carries people’s emotions in their copious letters, suppressing his. He carries people’s money in wads multitudinous, subjecting himself to abject poverty.
How long can he run, held hostage to a system?
How long will he shoulder this burden?
The eastern sky meanwhile brightens with spots of red. A new dawn may usher in rays of hope in postman’s life.
The long, lone, loathsome nightly travel of Runner and his ultimate triumph over travails find an emotional lyricism in poet Sukanto Bhattacharya’s pen. His lyrics find a melodic dimension in Salil Chowdhury’s music direction. Hemanto Mukhopadhaya embody both in his inimitable singing, clad in trade-mark white shirt and dhoti, black-framed spectacles.
Lacs and lacs of working masses are still labouring hard to sustain their sub-human existence long after Sukanto, Salil, Hemanto are gone. These hapless, helpless, hopeless lots are still dreaming for a new dawn in their life. So they break into processions through the elite roads of Mumbai and Delhi. Their naked feet can be sore, getting exposed to heat of metal road under scorcher from unmindful sun, skin may peel off under heel, leading to bleeding at places. They know the long struggle ahead before their bruises can heal.
So the Runner in them still runs tirelessly.
Hemanto, with Runner, is alive on his hundredth birthday.
The Runner is ageless, so is Hemanto.