Biday Bhupenda – OpEd


The news came as shocking and heart breaking. The local television flashed the news in graphics (letter) and the people of Assam could not comprehend the language, because it highlighted the saddest news-Dr Bhupen Hazarika is no more. Called Bhupenda by everyone in Assam and northeast India with affection, the legendary cultural icon breathed his last at 4.30 pm on November 5, 2011.

An official statement of Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai where Bhupenda was undergoing treatment for few months said, Bhupen Hazarika died of multiple-organ failure. The versatile genius Bhupenda, 85, was admitted in the Mumbai hospital on June 29 with the complained of breathlessness. Lately the maestro suffered from respiratory and kidney failure.

Bhupenda had a bigger than life image with his creations as a poet, lyricist, singer, music composer, author, journalist and filmmaker. The self-proclaimed Jajabor (wanderer), Bhupenda is the most exposed, discussed and reported personality in Assam. The bard of Brahmaputra is equally popular in mainland India, and also in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. The Indian government had conferred him Padamshree (1977) and Padma Bhushan (2001). Moreover, the pioneering film maker was also honoured with Dadasaheb Phalke Award (1992), the first and only one from northeast India to receive the prestigious award till today.

Born on September 08, 1926 at Sadiya in eastern Assam (father Nilakanta Hazarika and mother Shantipriya Hazarika), Bhupen Hazarika had preliminary education in various parts of the State. After completing matriculation at Tezpur in 1940, Bhupenda came to Guwahati for his IA course from Cotton College (1942). Then he went to Banaras Hindu University and completed BA and MA (1946) in Political Science. Later Bhupenda left for USA to complete his PhD in Mass Communication from Columbia University, New York in 1952. Bhupenda returned to Assam and worked as a professor in Gauhati University for some time.

Bhupenda has penned thousands of lyrics and rendered his crisp voice for nearly 1500 songs. He had composed music for 36 Assamese films, many Bengali (Jiban Trishna, Jonakir Alo, Mahut Bandhure, Kari o Komal, Ekhane Pinjar, Dampati, Chameli Memsaab etc) and Hindi (Ek Pal, Rudaali, Papiha, Darmiyaan, Daman, Gajagamini etc ) Hindi films. As a director, some of Bhupenda’s outstanding Assamese films include Era Batar Sur (1956), Mahut Bandhure (1958), Shakuntala (1960), Pratidhwani (1964), Lotighoti (1967), Chick Mick Bijuli (1970), Mon Projapati (1978), Siraj (1988) etc.

The most prized Assamese won President of India’s award for Shakuntala, Pratidhwani and Lotighoti as a film maker. He was awarded with best music director award for Chameli Memsaab in 1976. It was in fact the first national award in music direction for the Assamese film industry.

The Assam government has already conferred two highest honours ( Shrimanta Shankardev Award 1988 and Asam Ratna Award 2008) on Bhupenda. Asom Sahitya Sabha, the highest literary forum of Assam, offered the coveted post of President to Bhupenda in 1993. For a five year term Bhupenda was appointed as the Chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1999. Bhupenda even emerged as an independent MLA in Assam Legislative Assembly (1967-72).

As the news poured from Mumbai about the demise of the legend, who is considered one of the most admired personality after Shrimanta Shankardev and Jyotiprasad Agarwalla in Assamese society, the households put earthen lamps in front of their houses. The well-wishers gathered at the residence of Bhupenda at Nizarapar in Guwahati. Similarly thousands thronged at the Dighalipukhuri park in the city, where the All Assam Students Union erected a life size statue of Bhupenda in 2009 to pay tribute to the creative genius and mass communicator.

The Assam Tribune, premier English daily of the region, published a front page editorial, where Bhupenda was described as ‘as a musician he was a rare amalgam of lyricist, composer, vocalist and instrumentalist, at a time when music is getting compartmentalized, and displayed an astonishing ability to exhilarate his audience with joyous melodies even while conveying philosophic concepts’.

“The timeless elements of his lyrics, their innate poetic beauty, the mingling of the aesthetic and altruistic, places him in the tradition of poet-reformers like Shrimanta Shankardev, Rabindranath Tagore, Nazrul Islam, Jyotiprasad Agarwalla and Bishnuprasad Rabha. He was one of the few artists to have bridged the gap of generations and though he refused to conform to changing musical trends and retained his original lyrical and instrumental simplicity, yet the new generation remains fascinated by him,” the editorial added.

Indian President Pratibha Devisingh Patil and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh condoled the demise of the legendary composer and singer terming Dr Bhupen Hazarika a creative genius ‘whose deep baritone voice was instantly recognised by poetry and music lovers across the nation’.

The Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the opposition leader Khaleda Zia had also expressed deep sorrow at the demise of Bhupen Hazarika, who was equally popular in the neighboring country. While the Awami League chief Hasina appreciated Bhupenda’s songs (primarily Joi Joi Naba Jata Bangladesh) as an inspiration to the people of Bangladesh during the Liberation War (1971), the Bangladesh Nationalist Party chief Khaleda stated that Bhupenda’s ‘songs against racial conflict, crime, injustice and oppression will inspire people all the time’.

Dhiren Bezboruah, a senior most journalist of Assam, while revealing himself as an admirer (of Bhupen Hazarika) like millions of others, questioned, “Where on earth do you come across such a musical genius? Where on earth do you encounter someone who is a poet, an accomplished composer and a singer who tugged at the heartstrings of everyone even when they could not understand a word of what he was singing? ”

“There is never going to be another musician like Bhupenda—not in Assam, not in India and not in the world. But the bottom line is that he was such a warm, compassionate, kind and caring person. That is how even those who did not know about his songs are going to remember him—as an incomparable human being,” Bezboruah added.

Rajen Barua of Friends of Assam and Seven Sisters, while mourning the death of Bhupenda, narrated, “Our sorrow cannot be expressed by any amount of words. It will take generations of Assamese to realize that such a legend with such global mass appeal really was one of us and lived among us.”

Goodbye (Biday) Bhupenda!

Nava Thakuria

Nava Thakuria is a Guwahati (Assam, Northeast India) based journalist

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