“A good day would be him working on a new composition filled with quietude. And a bad day would be utensils flying about and the chairs strewn with stuff as he would be looking for a composition jotted on a cigarette packet…”
With interesting and amusing anecdotes from slivers of Bhupen Hazarika’s life, the Conversation between SanjoyHazarika and Kalpana Lajmi kept the audience regaled on the 9th September 2013 evening in the Kamla Devi Chattopadhyay Block of IIC, Lodhi Road. It was an evening to commemorate and celebrate the musical geniuses of the two brothers Bhupen Hazarika and Jayanta Hazarika:
On receiving a mail from Sanjoy Hazarika, we decided this was not an evening to be missed in the National Capital not just for the promise of the melodies we grew up with, but also to introduce my daughters to the many facets of the man behind the legacy of Assam. Having trudged through the evening Delhi traffic like many others present there, we reached just in time for the lights focussing on the stage. Black and white photographs of the two brothers propped on two easels looked on from one side of the stage leaving the rest for the artists of the evening to take their place. Sunita Bhuyan , the noted violinist from Mumbai captivated the audience with her nuanced rendition of “tumi biyar nixar xoyon pati…, snehe amar xotoshrabonor( rendered as jhooti muti mitwa awan bole from “Rudali”) and manuhe manuhor baabe in her inimical interactive style not just with the audience but also with her accompanists. The evening had begun on the right note striking the right chord, with many in the audience in rhythm with the performance.
Was Bhupen Hazarika a political activist, a reformist, a socialist, a humanist…? The list could go on with all the ‘-ists’ as posers but never a term be found to straightjacket this essence of humanity and a truly South East Asian celebrity who single-handedly drew the attention of the world to the people of the region and gave voice to their angst and aspirations. His pain at the miseries of the marginalised people inflicted by political apathy and turmoil found vociferous expression in the lyrics we know so well. He belonged to a generation of artists who did not know how to ‘manage’ their art and looked for no reciprocity except the love of the people. As Kalpana Lajmi reminisced nudged by Sanjoy Hazarika, taking us back in time, she shared an incident when Bhupen Hazarika along with Rev Michael Scott were travelling to Nagaland to act as mediators. On hearing an old peasant’s lilting melody in the fields, he stopped to ask what he was singing. The peasant said it was an old song and that he didn’t know its origin, probably a folksong. This amused Bhupen Hazarika and he turned to Rev Scott and said “I am not Bhupen Hazarika. I am folklore!” The peasant was singing “manuhe manuhor baabe”in Nagamese. In all innocent happiness of having found a place in the common man’s consciousness transcending physical boundaries, he found strength in them.
Mayukh Hazarika along with wife Laili, took the audience through many songs of his illustrious father Jayanta Hazarika and legendary uncle Bhupen Hazarika. Mayukh’s hereditary baritone reminded many of the sepia tinted days with the old LP playing in the Assamese households, the brothers’ vast repertoire of songs in the rainy mornings, drowsy afternoons and chilled evenings – any time of the day and any time of the year. Interestingly he began the evening with “Shonar boron pakhi re tur”, a note of farewell to the departed souls leaving behind a space to celebrate all that they left behind.
With music of the legends taking most part of the evening, the Conversation brought out the human foibles of the man. The personal anguish of Bhupen Hazarika’s political debacle, a cherished desire to represent his people, led to the first stroke and disillusion from which he never quite recovered. His friendship with tea baron, Hemen Barooah, is what legends are made of. Two boys who grew together, studied at Harvard and Columbia, poles apart in their ideologies and went on to become giants in their own right and yet retained their friendship through all these years.
The mischievous streak in him reflected when he instigated an MLA to challenge the then Leader of the Opposition in Assam, Dulal Barua, only to stop his never ending political speech even if it amounted to citing ‘bad grammar’ as a reason. Or the time when he went to meet Bharat Shah, the diamond baron, for film financing with a piece of ordinary glass adorning his trademark Nepali cap. On being asked he nonchalantly said “You, of all people shouldn’t be asking if it’s a diamond!” Bharat Shah perhaps did acknowledge it to be one. As they came out, Kalpana asked him the reason for it. Pat came the reply “He should know that I can also afford to buy a diamond this big.”
As someone whose contribution to the assamese language has been immense, he bridled at its distortion especially by the younger generation. He once asked Kalpana to correct a couple of young lads conversing while he sat back with closed eyes. When Kalpana countered that why he shouldn’t do it since she was in no position to do so herself, he replied that he didn’t want to be obtrusive and seem like he was throwing his weight around!
With 3000 original compositions, a postage stamp in his honour and clueless about his date of birth all his life, Bhupen Hazarika is an institution that needs to be cherished and preserved. The evening fructified in bringing together, music lovers, artists and interesting conversation, with the initiative of C-NES in collaboration with Oil India Limited. A prolific writer whose creativity often poured out on empty cigarette cartons and loose sheets of paper, he left behind a treasure and a sense of pride not just for the people of Assam but also for the people of the entire region.
As Mayukh took the stage to ‘complete’ the evening with his soulful bilingual rendition of “Ganga amaar ma…” strumming on the guitar, I found myself drifting to Nazira, the place of my early childhood, listening to the gramophone records of Bhupen Hazarika and Jayanta Hazarika with the ceiling fans whirring and the rain pouring outside. The magic of the two brothers continues to weave through the generations.
This was published in the e-magazine The Thumbprint Magazine