Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Assamese with a Nepali cap

Bhupen Hazarika, the voice that represented Assam, its people and its culture for over seven decades fell silent on Saturday. Millions in his home state are still mourning the eternal void created by his demise.

His death has also affected music lovers in neigbouring Nepal, a country whose people and culture, Hazarika loved dearly. The black Nepali cap which he wore for the past many decades and till his last breath is just one example of that close association.

“I wear the cap because I love its shape and also because I love Nepali people, their features and beauty,” he had mentioned in a television interview to an Assamese news channel. Hazarika said that though he had worn the trademark cap since early 70s, he doesn’t remember when exactly he started donning it.

“The black Nepali cap, which is his signature, he began wearing, he says, when his father died many years ago and someone in the neighbourhood gave him a topi to wear. The khukuri pin that adorns the topi is a gift from Hazarika’s friends and admirers in Nepal,” writes eminent writer Sanjoy Hazarika in a piece titled ‘Bard of the Brahmaputra’.

“Hazarika’s internationalism (or regionalism) goes further than his vocal chords as is evident when he talks of his special relationship with Nepalis. He was born in Tezpur, a town that has quite a significant number of them,” he adds further.

The association was not limited to the topi alone. Several of Hazarika’s songs have been translated to Nepali including the popular ‘Dola he dola’. While the original talks of a palanquin, in its Nepali avatar, the song (Doke he doke), translated by lyricist Hari Bhakta Katuwal, is about the bamboo basket carried on their backs by many in Nepal to transport belongings.

Hazarika also sang several duets with Anju Devi, a popular Nepali singer from Assam. Devi has adapted one of the maestro’s creations ‘Asom desor bagisare suwali’—I am girl from Assam’s tea gardens—to ‘Assam ki cheli hun ma Nepali’—I am a Nepali girl from Assam.

During a concert in Kathmandu two years ago, she enthralled the audience with immortal classics of Hazarika like ‘Buku hom hom kore’—the original Assamese version of ‘Dil hum hum kare’. No wonder every one among Assam’s 2.5 million Nepalis is feeling the loss of his passing away.

“The Nepali community of the state will never forget this legendary artiste who showed his sense of belonging to the community by wearing by wearing a black Nepali hat (topi) till his last breath,” says Madan Thapa, general secretary of Assam Nepali Sahitya Sabha is a press release mourning the legend’s death.

Newspapers in Kathmandu also carried news of Hazarika’s death prominently. But more than what appeared in print, it was humbling to meet many Nepalis in the past few days who love Hazarika, know his compositions and have been affected by his carefully-crafted words.