Despite the apparent cordiality, there is the undercurrent of a race for the shotgun position, that is the front passenger seat of the car. Ok, the term “shotgun position” comes from the person sitting next to the stage coach driver sitting on the top of the stage coach with a shotgun in his hands as a means of protecting the passengers in the stage coach in the Wild Wild West.
Now, the contenders for this particular “shotgun” position of the snazzy, black Mercedes minivan in the Tame Tame Down Under are the singer Tahsan and the comedian Naveed. Ok, there is also Minar, the other singer, who is too polite and shy to even try to throw in his (signature) hat into the ring.
With our concert over in Sydney, the producer takes us out sightseeing where all three of us want to sit in the front. Tahsan's weight is his celebrity status, my weight is my weight, literally, from being a few years older and a tad wider at the waist. Meanwhile, poor Minar is relegated to being the baby with no chance of sitting in the front and almost being confined to sitting in a child safety seat in the back. Neither of us makes the offer to the other: “Would you like to sit in the front?” For it is an offer that can never be refused. So, it really boils down to Tahsan and myself—whoever “casually” walks over to the front passenger door as the vehicle is remotely unlocked by the producer.
It's not that the view isn't there from the seat in the back (middle row, there's a third row, we'll come to that later). It's just that the glasses are tinted, and all said and done, there is plenty of attenuation of the light coming in, thus reducing visibility significantly.
Ok, now the third row. It is almost automatically assumed that this claustrophobic area will be occupied by Rinku, the drummer and Raju, the bass guitarist, to whom we never even bother to offer the middle row seats, let alone the shotgun position. As if it's not humiliating enough that they are practically nonexistent on stage, for all eyes are always on the vocalist, who is usually in the front. Whereas without the bass, it is all a hollow, tinny cacophony and without the drums, there is no shepherding beat. But such is life, the bassist and the drummer are the indispensable second fiddle (no pun intended). And even when they are at the point of exploding their vocal chords during the performance as they “sing along” with the main vocalist, nobody pays attention to them. Besides, the sadistic sound engineer mutes off their microphones anyway. At the end of the show, if the singer is gracious enough, he will introduce the band where each member will do a 10-second solo, take a bow, and go back into oblivion.
After the show, the fans do not scramble to the door of the green rooms of the band members, but only towards that of the singer. The drummer and the bassist are the ones with a lack of job security—when the band breaks up and the vocalist embarks on his/her solo career, they are further down the totem pole of nobodyness. Ringo Starr didn't have the foresight—as The Beatles broke up and John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison went their own ways laden in gold, Ringo managed meagrely with Thomas the Tank Engine.
But there are the clever drummers—Phil Collins of Genesis and Don Henley of The Eagles, whose voices appeared from behind the maze of the drums, each eventually ending up with stellar solo careers.
Such is the life of all the Rinkus and the Rajus, relegated on stage and off stage, seen but not heard, heard but not seen, but are always, and will always remain the indispensable, unsung heroes. In 1952, Abdus Salam, Abul Barkat, Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Abdul Jabbar gave their lives so that we could speak, write, hear, think, compose, sing, recite, reprimand, praise, criticise, plead, forgive, beg, scream, yell, whisper…and eventually email, text, comment, troll, blog, vlog, YouTube, Tweet, Instagram, Snapchat…in a language that is OURS—Bangla. But there were also the Rinkus and the Rajus, the bassists and the drummers, in the form of the other thousands who took to the streets 66 years ago as well as the millions who roared in protest from their own little nooks and corners across a vast land in the East and in the West, for the simple, fundamental right of being able do all that in his own language called the mother tongue. As such, our respect and gratitude to not only the lead vocalists, but also to all the unsung bassists and the drummers.
Naveed Mahbub is an engineer at Ford & Qualcomm USA and CEO of IBM & Nokia Siemens Networks Bangladesh turned comedian (by choice), the host of ATN Bangla's The Naveed Mahbub Show and ABC Radio's Good Morning Bangladesh, the founder of Naveed's Comedy Club.