Monday, September 22, 2008

Profile : Bhupen- A legend in his lifetime

by Harihar Swarup
Ballad singer Bhupen Hazarika does not need an award to establish his credentials, having achieved so much in his 83-year-long life. So, when the Assam government announced Asom Ratna Award to him, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had done more honour to him than the recipient. The only significance of Asom Ratna is that it was instituted on August 15 this year, and the first to be honoured is Hazarika, winner of the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award. Hazarika has established Assam’s colourful culture and heritage through his creative works of musical compositions and performance worldwide.

Born in upper Assam’s Sadiya in 1926, Bhupen began his career as a child actor in the second talkie film Indr. He represented India in Berlin at the World Conference of Composers in 1939. He wrote and sang his first song at the age of 10 using compositions as an instrument of social change. A former chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi, he was given the honour of inaugurating the World Seminar in Congress Hall with his songs on the liberation of Bangladesh.

Bhupen has become a legend in his lifetime but left his innumerable admirers bewildered when he decided to join the BJP on the eve of the last general election. Bhupen had always desisted bondage of a political party even though he was an unattached member of the Assam Assembly from 1967 to 1972. Having come to be known as India’s cultural icon in south Asia, he himself admits that he had never joined a political party before for obvious reasons. What has inspired him to join the BJP when he was 78? He said he was impressed by the Vajpayee government’s performance.

As a matter of fact, Bhupen is not cut out for the weird world of politics. This was, perhaps, the reason that, instead of facing a barrage of questions at the BJP’s headquarters as others entrants do, he was asked to render a song. And he obliged the reporters as the jam-packed briefing hall was filled with melody of his famous song, O Ganga, tum bhati ho kyun.

The song was inspired by the great black American singer Paul Robeson’s powerful rendition of the song Ole (old) man River. Bhupen created his own moving ode to the Brahmaputra. During his days as research scholar in audio-visual and mass communication in the Columbia University, Bhupen and Robeson became close friends. The black singer’s crusade for social justice and black pride permeated Bhupen’s own worldview.

Rarely, so many qualities combine in one person as in Bhupen: he is bard and balladeer, poet and politician, singer, lyricist, musician and filmmaker. But above all these he is a communicator of romance, passion, universalism and humanism. He is as lovable in Bangladesh as in Assam. His song on Bangladesh’s liberation Joy, Joy Naba Jata Bangladesh (hail the newborn Bangladesh) was on every Bengali’s lips in early seventies. Bhupen is not only prolific in Assamese and Bengali but his rich voice is also at ease with Hindi, Urdu and English.

He is an icon in Nepal too and his links to Nepalese is traced to Tejpur — his birth place — having a sizeable population of the people of Nepalese origin. When his father died, Bhupen was given a black Nepalese cap to wear to hide his tonsured head. He began wearing the cap since then and a khukri pin that adorns his cap which was gifted by his friends and admirers in Nepal.

Bhupen often recounts his experience in the Assam Assembly full of anecdotes. He once prompted a fellow MLA to interrupt stalwart Dalal Baruah, who was the leader of the opposition, by raising a point of order. The MLA, a simpleton, interrupted Baruah and began yelling point of order…point of order. When the Speaker asked on what ground, the MLA did not know what to say and fumbled. Bhupen whispered to him, “Say, bad grammar”. The MLA followed the advise in letter and spirit; the whole house burst into laughter and Baruah visibly embarrassed.
Source : The Tribune , 21 Sep 2008

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