Friday, November 18, 2011

Tribute To Bhupen Hazarika : Singing the song of humanity

By Nashid Kamal , , 11 Nov 2011

I was 21 years old and studying for my masters at Carleton University, Canada. I spotted an ad in the tunnel of my university: Bhupen Hazarika, the famous singer, was going to sing in Ottawa! I looked at the date; it was that very day. I decided I would go. I had no time to go home for a change and rushed to the venue undaunted by the bitter cold of the month of November in Canada. The venue was deserted, seemed as if the organisers did not have enough time to campaign and advertise for this programme. For me, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

I found Bhupen Hazarika with his wife Pushpa, who I heard lived in Ottawa. I introduced myself and was amazed to find him locating me with his sharp memory. He remembered visiting our ancestral home in Dhaka to meet my uncle Mustafa Zaman Abbasi. Then he revealed to me that he used to know my grandfather Abbasuddin Ahmed. He said that he was just a young singer in those days when he met the folk legend Abbasuddin Ahmed in Kolkata (1930s). Abbasuddin told him: “Bhupen, when you sing Nodir kul nai… you imagine the wide expanse of the unending river and you stretch your imagination as well as your breath to express the feeling of endlessness. When you say O dheu khele re, you render that in short breath and give the feeling of the waves bumping against each other!”

In return, I could only say that I had heard about him from my father. My father always cited him as an example, saying he earned a doctorate in audiovisual technique from Cornell University and he was also a singer. Bhupen Hazarika was very pleased to hear that. He called his wife: “Pushpa, her father cited me as an example and here she is studying mathematics and statistics!” I could see the grin of gratification on his face.

I listened to him in silent admiration, all of this happened while we waited for the audience to fill up the hall. As the organisers asked him to start the programme, he suddenly looked at me and he said, “Nashid please sing a song or two and then I will follow.” With my heart in my hand, I tried to sing a couple of songs. When he sang, his rich voice, clear pronunciation and his purpose of bringing human beings together, created a remarkable experience. As I left the venue, rushing towards my home in the cold winter night, I heard him singing in the background Hey dola hey dola, giving the effect of the palanquin bearers skirting up and down the mountainous path of Assam (where he hailed from), the beautiful zari border of the sari creeping out to tempt the bearers whose children went naked and matched those of Bangladesh, India and the rest of the poverty-stricken world, against which he had lent his voice with adequate force. That voice is no more.

The writer is a Professor at North South University and a noted singer.