Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Minstrel's Journey- Part 1

By Nikumoni Hussain
Source : The Assam Tribune , Sep 2008
This write-up is an attempt to highlight a few snapshots from the illustrious life of one of the greatest Assamese musicians of all times — the one and only Dr Bhupen Hazarika. It is a tribute to a living legend and is being presented as a bouquet to him — where the colourful flowers have been replaced by my words. Dr Hazarika believes in human-goodness which according to him is a person’s real identity and love for fellow human beings is his true religion.


Recolleting the memories of his eventful past sometime back, Dr Hazarika first remembered the inter-caste marriage of Anamika Goswami and Prasanta Das — both full of youth and its vigour — and the romance of their wedding-night on a bed decorated with tube-roses (rajanigandha). He then narrated to me the untold and unknown stories behind the creation of many of his most famous and immortal songs. Also of those terrible days when he was unable to meet the basic needs of his family. I kept on listening intently as the words flowed and captured them in the small tape-recorder I always carry in my handbag. I now try to make a beautiful garland out of those precious utterings of his, preserved with utmost care by me.

I ran for sugar candies (batasha)
“I was born in 1926, the eldest of the ten siblings. What is poverty? What is being hard up? I could realize and experience these things at a fairly young age. Though rice was available then at far less than a rupee per seer but our poor father was finding it difficult to make ends meet for such a large family like ours. I don’t remember much about my early childhood till I was about ten years old. There used to be a resturant near the Bharalumukh police station. At the other end of the old Bharalumukh bridge, singing of Bengali Hari-kirtan used to take place frequently, followed by distribution of sugar candies (batasha) as prasad. I, along with other boys, used to run for these candies. Groups of ojapali performers used to come from Hajo, Azara, Palashbari, etc, and my mother took me regularly to see those performances. Our father would compose songs and we used to sing them. Once there was a function at the Cotton Collegiate School and I was asked by my father to sing songs. I had to stand on a table, wearing dhuti and punjabi. As soon as my performance was over, a virtous person came over, kissed me on both my cheeks and blessed me that once I grow up, I would be a great person and a renowned artiste. Just like ‘Master Madan’, a well known child artiste of that time. That person was none other than the great Lakhminath Bezboruah.”

Son of an SDC
“My father was as SDC, a fairly important official then. See! I was the son of a big person but still I disliked him for one reason. Even today I continue to do so. You see, my mother used to give birth to a baby every year. Our neighbour used to tease me — whether I want a brother or a sister for the next delivery. I felt embarassed and could not reply. I was fairly grown up by then. So while taking bath one day, I started singing loudly Thus far and no further so that father could hear. But I was frightened as well, for he used to be an angry person and always carried a gun, which he lifted into his hand at the slightest provocation. Whenever guests visited our place, he would call me by shouting ‘Eldest one! Eldest one, come here immediately.’ Like a criminal, I would present myself without loss of time. Dad would then introduce me to his guests with pride, ‘This is Bhupen, my eldest son. He is a good boy. He can sing, recite a poem, write an essay. In fact, he can do almost everything.’ Then he would command me to sing and to show the guests how good a singer I was. He would also prophesied before the guests that I would be famous when I grow up. I used to feel embarassed and once when the guests had left, I charged him ‘Dad, what happens to you sometime? Why do you praise me in front of others when I am present? Do people have to certify me that I am good?’ Father would then chase me shouting, ‘You want to teach me? You are my son. So I would certainly tell people that you are good. Bring my gun.’ Soon I would be at the top of the litchi tree with father hovering underneath.”

Go and have a look at Hazarika’s sons
“Despite his angry nature, father loved us children very much. He would teach us how to act. He was very fond of dramas and always used to deliver dialogues from many plays and bhaonas. For calling us for dinner, he would deliver a dialogue in bhaona style, ‘Come! Courtiers come.’ Another advice which father used to give in a loud voice was — ‘Go and have a look at our neighbour’s children. See how early they get up in the morning, learn their lessons, fetch milk from the milkman and get the essential things from the market. And you donkeys, you sleep till 8 o’clock every morning.’ Since he used to give such lectures every day, once I gathered some courage and told mother within the earshot of Dad, ‘Mom! Do you know what our neighbours say about us?’ Somewhat surprised, mother asked, ‘What do they tell about you children?’ Encouraged, I replied, ‘They advise their children to go and have a look at Hazarika’s sons and daughters who are good not only in their studies, but also in singing, dancing, talking and many other things. They are very likeable as well.’ I’d have loved to find out whether father, who was in the next room, was listening to me or not. To my disappointment, he as usual, was busy in delivering dialogues from some play with a gun in his hand...”

I would be taken to Calcutta
“I was a little grown up by then and was studying in class VI. After having my bath and putting on my school dress one morning, I was waiting in the verandah. I kept on waiting but mother would not call me for having my meal before going to school. Father saw me there and scolded, ‘What are doing here? Go and sit on your table. When the food is ready, mother would call you and serve you.’ The obediant son I was, I sat down on my table and looked outside through the window. Our house was L-shaped. Meanwhile, a chevrolet car came and holted in front of our house. You know, I still remember the colour of the car — it was black. I wondered who would come in such a lovely car. A handsome person alighted from the car, followed by a dark skinned one. I could recognize them — Bishnu Rava and Phani Sarma. I knew them well from quite an young age. A number of plays used to be staged at the Ban Theatre (Tezpur) those days and my father, the SDC, had to take part. I would accompany mom to the shows. Jyoti Agarwala would play the piano, Bishnu Rava would deliver the dialogues and many others would also be performing. Soon the theatre hall would become crowded with people and it would be difficult to get sitting space. So I would sit on my mother’s lap and sometimes on the gallery when some space could be squeezed out. More of such stories later on. Now let me get back to my earlier story — I was so delighted to see such important personalities visiting our place. A short while letter, father called one and since I was anticipating such a thing, I immediately ran to their presence. Dad asked me to greet them by bowing and I did so. One of them enquired whether I possessed a piano. I replied in the affirmative and added that the Japanese piano was purchased for me by dad, but it could produce only seven of the basic tunes (ragas). The person said that, that would be fine and asked me to fetch it. When the piano was brought, Bishnu Rava played one of his compositions on it. Since their talks with father was continuing, I had to leave for school. However, my mind was on the discussions father was having with the gentlemen and I could not concentrate in my class. I thought of skipping school but was afraid of getting caught in the act and then getting a thrashing. No sooner I returned from school, with some fear in heart, I asked father about the reason of the visit by the gentlemen. But dad, with lot of love and pride informed me that I would be taken to Calcutta for the recording of songs to be sung by me. I was really thrilled to hear this and immediately ran to my mother making the jhak-jhak-coooo... sound of a moving train. I embraced her tightly in delight.”

That day, without a stop, Bhupenda went on narrating the highly entertaining stories of his childhood. As if there was no end to those tales. At times his eyes would get moistened. Perhaps the memories of his mother and father had made him emotional.

I said I will not read
“One day, dad told me, ‘You are grown up now. You will have to study more and work harder. From today onwards you will have a separate room to yourself and that is your table.’ I gave a broad smile in delight. But as usual, father was angry once again, ‘Not for nothing I am giving you that room. You will have to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning for studying. Have you understood?’ I assured him that I have understood everything. But as soon as he left, in a loud voice, I called mother to me. ‘What’s the matter? Why are you shouting?’ She enquired coming near me. I replied I am not going to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and study hard. And when I say I will not study, I mean it and an certainly not going to study. Seeing my arrogance, mother reasoned with me affectionately, ‘No my dear. You are the eldest. You should not behave like that. Once you start getting up early, you will form the habit and it will be easy.’ Seizing the opportunity, I told her that in that case she would have to give me two things. She promised to give and asked me what are those two things. I replied that I will need an alarm clock and a boiled egg every morning I was to get up early and study. At night mom placed an alarm clock by my bedside and after setting my waking-up time asked me not to touch it, lest it would get disturbed. She put the boiled egg in a small bowl, covered it with a lid and put it on my table. She advised me to take the boiled egg with some salt which would help me in digesting. Next morning, even before the crows had started crowing, the alarm rang with a big noise. I immediately put it off and gulped down the boiled egg. Then I went back to my bed, covered myself with a quilt and fell fast asleep. This ritual continued for several days untill I was caught red-handed by father. You can well imagine what happened after that...”