Bob Dylan through his original vagabond image became a global sensation in 1960s. India, especially Kolkata (then Calcutta), could not resist itself from being transformed into an ardent fan of the phenomenon. His fans there even celebrated his birthday (i.e on May 24) as ‘Bob Dylan Jayanti’. It is known that he had performed in China. In 2004, he appeared in a Victoria’s Secret commercial, and in 2014, in a Super Bowl commercial. But a lesser known fact is that the second person apart from George Bernard Shaw to achieve both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar had graced a Bengali wedding in Kolkata during the winter of 1990. The legendary American songwriter attended a marriage in the family of eminent folk singer Purna Das Baul, according to a Times of India report. Interestingly, Baul had introduced Dylan to the sounds of rural Bengal during his tour of the US in the late 60s. It was his son Dibyendu’s marriage for which Dylan turned up.
The City of Joy is full of his admirers who translate his tunes into Bengali even as he inspired an entire generation to compose new tunes using the templates he had created.
During his brief visit, Dylan had to rush out as “An hour into the ceremony, people and media got whiff of Dylan being there and more and more people started inquiring,” a nostalgic Dibyendu said. “Please, I am here on a private visit… If you don’t mind, I need some rest,” he pleaded before delivering a firm “no” to a starstruck fan.
“I’m so happy,” Das said about his Nobel. “He has served people with his songs like no other. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to try and pin Bob Dylan down,” the report said.
Purna Das’s association with Dylan began in 1965 when Albert Grossman, Dylan’s manager, invited him to sing at a festival in San Francisco. Das toured and performed at several venues. Baul gaan hit a peak when Dylan rather niftily learnt to pluck the khamak and wield the ektara and jammed with the minstrel from Bengal. Purna Das and his family were invitees to Dylan’s birthday party in 1978, for which Das even compiled a CD of Bengali songs as a gift.