This is a story of three legends from Assam. It narrates how two legends contributed towards the making of another legend. The 1st part of this series is ‘The Prelude’ where Somashis Gupta narrates the story of one of the legends as we prepare for his 113th birth anniversary
One pleasant evening in the month of November, a young boy was playing in the courtyard of his house near the Polo Ground Tejpur. Two men approached him and said “দেউতা ঘৰত আছেনে? Is your father home?” The young boy rushed inside to find his father completely unaware that these two men were about to change his life forever. Soon the boy was bound for a journey to Calcutta with these two gentlemen. This journey was for a purpose, a purpose to record his first song কলশী লৈ যায় ও ৰচকী বাই (kalashi loi jai o rosoki bai).
Perhaps it is a fortunate stroke of serendipity that even as you read this, we are gearing up to celebrate the 113th birth anniversary of one of the two legendary gentlemen.
It was on the 31st of January 1909 when a life began, the life of a legend. A legend who knew 13 different languages, he was also a great sports man with equal skills in cricket and football, besides being a communist revolutionary and a freedom fighter. He was a great poet and a skilled writer who was equally great as a painter. His skills in film making and acting, was added with his talent in writing. Such was the versatility of this polyglot, a legend named Bishnu Prasad Rabha.
Year 1929, Ripon College Calcutta (Now Surendranath college). The union room was swarming with students. They cheered as Bishnu Prasad Rabha, the general secretary began his speech, “…We are fighting for a revolution from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom…” This was not appreciated by the British principal and subsequently Rabha was expelled from college.
He went to Cooch Bihar and joined Victoria College to continue his studies. Here too he expressed his revolutionary ideas through his poetic excellence. He fearlessly wrote four-line poetry and hanged it in front of the royal palace of Raj Bhavan in the year 1930. It was –
“রাজ্যে আছে দুটি পাঠা
একটি কালো একটি সাদা
রাজ্যে যদি মঙ্গল চায়
দুইটি পাঠায় বলি দাও.”
English translation –
In the state there are two goats
One white and one black
If you want the well-being of the state
Sensing trouble the police came after him, but Rabha fled to Rangpur in Bangladesh where he got admitted to Carmichael College. Here too his activities caught the attention of the authorities, who reproved him for doing the same. He finally gave up his academic career and devoted himself to the freedom struggle. He wrote ..
“ধ্বংস কৰ ধ্বংস কৰ
দয়া মায়া নকৰিবি
ক্ষমাৰ দিন যে গল”
The ego of the rich
Do not show pity and love
The day of forgiving has gone.
Another aspect of Rabha was his devotion to Srimanta Sankardev. Once when he was seated not far from the banks of Brahmaputra, he experienced strange feeling. This led to a period of profound reflection followed by a ceaseless quest for meaning of God. During the same time he chanced upon a writing “Kartala Kamala Kamaldala narayan”. This was the first poem written by Srimanta Sankardev. He was greatly moved by the ideologies of The Master where he saw glimpses of socialism, and later became interested in ideas of Marxism.
It was the 15th August 1947. The entire country rejoiced as India celebrated freedom at midnight. Amongst the Tri color fluttering he put up a black flag and a slogan saying “yah azaadi jhuti hai”. He believed that until the poor sections of the country were economically and socially independent, its ‘independence’ was a farce.
Soon he joined Revolutionary Communist Party which annoyed the ruling class immensely. But he earned the hearts of many. He composed Assamese songs for IPTA with passion and empathy making him extremely popular. For him freedom from the British rule wasn’t enough. He desired, freedom from capitalism, poverty and all social evils. He wrote ..
ৰাইজে ৰজা মোৰ
প্ৰজায়ে ৰজা মোৰ
সাজ মুক্তি সেনা সাজ
হাও সমদল আজি বাজ
English translation –
The king of the public is my
The citizen of the public is my
Happiness of Panchayatiraj
Built freedom, built soldiers
Be procession today outside
Happiness of Panchayatiraj
During the 50s the Government of Assam started cracking down communists and Rabha became the ‘Most Wanted Man’ with a bounty of Rs. 10000 in his head, to be brought dead or alive. But Rabha was untamed. He kept moving from state to country lines under the radar across the region, Myanmar, Bhutan, Tibet and present day Bangladesh, hiding himself among the people, while also earning their trust and faith. .
Rabha in spite of being a heavyset man was agile and could sprint off at the slightest sense of danger. Once in Bokpuri when the police closed in on him, he bounced off heaps of hay, entered a house and emerged disguised as a local village woman, with a mekhela wrapped around his chest, and a gamusa around his head, holding a jakoi and a khaloi. The police in pursuit asked him “Baideu (Ma’am) have you seen Bishnu Rabha pass through here?” He replied in the local dialect – “Who Bishnu Rabha ? I don’t know anyone by that name,” and walked off. Obviously, it was too late before the police realized that they had been hoodwinked.
The legend was also an able sportsman. He was the captain of the Cricket team at Ripon College, and played across the subcontinent. Besides cricket, football was one of his forte, teams from all over Assam and the Eastern zone would hire him as a center-forward and goalkeeper. He was popularly known as Babri Wallah, for his long hair- revered for his exceptional sportsmanship.
He is still an immensely popular legend amongst the people, especially the poor and exploited masses – cultivators and workers who remember his work for them. Bishnu Prasad Rabha lived many lives in one- all rooted in his purpose to work to create an independent and beautiful culture. From innumerable pieces of art, books, songs, scripts, the Assamese films, he remains in our heart for now and for times to come. We salute Comrade Rabha, The Kalaguru , the Xoinik Xilpi and the Da Vinci of Assam.
But what happened to the other gentleman and the young boy? Who are they? Well let that be a story for another day, maybe sometime in June.
To be continued
** The author wishes to acknowledge the following sources:
1. Article of Hemraj Rabha (Bishnu Prasad Rabha’s son)
2. Article by Priyanku Narayan Baruah
3. English translations from research paper by Parinita Bora
4. Bhattacharya, Nalinidhar (Ed.). Bishnu Prasad Rabha: Jiban Aru Kriti. Rajgarh, Guwahati: Cetana Prakash, First edition, 1985.
5. Baishya, Gobinda. “Bishnu Prasad Rabha – A Revolutionary Spirit of India: A Study”
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A devoted foodie with keen interest in wild life, music, cinema and travel Somashis has evolved over time . Being an enthusiastic reader he has recently started making occasional contribution to write-ups.