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The Legends Making a Legend – Postlude

The Legends Making a Legend – Postlude

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Bhupen Hazarika

The first two parts of this series spoke about the two legends Bishnu Prashad Rabha and Jyoti Prasad Agarwala. We share the concluding part which talks about legendary Dr. Bhupen Hazarika. This is a tribute to the legend on the occasion of his birth anniversary which was on 8th of September.

By Somashis Gupta

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

It is perhaps these words by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities that rather accurately sum up the Calcutta of the 1960s and ’70s. It was a Calcutta in the throes of a raging Naxalite Movement that had seized the imaginations of its young and old, rich and poor; it was a Calcutta that still dared to wish upon shooting stars. It was a Calcutta, grappling with its turbid past, an uncertain present but a hopeful future.

This hope manifested itself in many forms. One such form was music. It was a new sensation, the sensation of ‘two clap beat’, the beat of Bihu in Bengali music. The Calcuttans were crooning to these songs with an added vitality to their humming. The man who introduced this melody to the city was a young prodigy named Bhupen Hazarika.

But Hazarika’s ingress in the musical world was much earlier. Born on 8th of September 1926 in Sadya Assam, he was the eldest of the 10 siblings. Young Bhupen was probably a trifle more passionate about music than the others. His early lesions to music were from his mother Shantipriya Hazarika who trained him on various folk tunes.

While bordering into his teens Bhupen witnessed a tormented society as he grew up to be a musician. The sorrow and happiness, the struggle and hope, the miseries and resistance of the common mass from the tyrant rule of the British Raj influenced him to compose his first song ‘Agnijugor Firingoti Moi’ when he was just 13. This song was a promise to form a new Assam.

Bhupen completed his studies from Banaras Hindu University and joined All India Radio, Guwahati. Soon receiving a scholarship from Columbia University he left for the US. It was here he got acquainted with Paul Robson who had a humongous influence in Hazarika’s thinking process. He returned to India in 1953 and established close association with the leftist Indian People’s Theater Association (IPTA).

With time he went on composing various songs like Bistirno Paarore an ode to the grand old river Brahmaputra, ati kuri duti path a song on the emotions of the tea garden labors and many more. Bhupen Hazarika’s music has far surpassed notions of transient acclaim to become an indelible part of the Assamese consciousness over the past few decades. However his compositions were repudiated by the Assamese audience initially. Perhaps he was much ahead of his time.

Bhupen Hazarika shifted his base to Calcutta which already had an aura of revolutionary music. Soon his songs became a trend in the city and gained prodigious amount of fame. It was here, where he was associated with Hemango Biswas whose influence can be seen in many of his songs. The bonding between the two remains an example on how music brought peace to Assam during the language riots in 1960. The duo travelled with a 30 member caravan, across Assam singing and performing and eventually successes in establishing peace.

Hemango Biswas and Bhupen Hazarika during 1960 Peace Mission.
Hemango Biswas and Bhupen Hazarika during 1960 Peace Mission.

Bhupen Hazarika’s contribution towards Assam Shahito Sabha is worth mentioning. Out of many contributions one specific incident which remains unknown is worth sharing. A writer, Mahesh Chandra Deb (pen name Brahmaputra) had penned a Bengali book named Rokhto Snatho Saraighat on Lachit Barphukan. Assam Sahito Sabha had recognized this book and approved it for translation to Assamese. However due to red tapism and corruption the translation was pending. When Bhupen Hazarika became the president of the Sabha he came to know about it and immediately took steps to complete this unfinished work. Unfortunately he had to resign soon and the book never got translated.

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Besides music this Padma Vibhushan and Bharat Ratna was an adroit film maker. His movie Shakuntala was awarded as the Best Feature Film in Assamese in the year 1961.  He made 14 films during his lifetime which gained reputation both in India and internationally.

But perhaps the genesis of his film carrier goes way back to the Polo Ground Tejpur. It was one pleasant evening in the month of May when he was playing in the courtyard of his house. Two men approached him and asked “Is your father home?” Young Bhupen rushed inside to find his father, completely unaware that these two men were about to change his life forever. Soon he was bound for a journey to Calcutta with these two gentlemen. This journey was for a purpose, a purpose to record his first song kalashi loi jai o rosoki bai for the movie Joymoti.

These two men were Bishnu Prasad Rabha and Jyoti Prasad Agarwal the Legends who made the legendary Bhupen Hazarika. Remembering Bhupen Hazarika, on his birth Anniversary on 8th of September.

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