Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Bard has his own Way

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The highly accomplished poet in Bhupenda, and an intellectual and a visionary therein, will continue to inspire millions down the ages. Of this, there is no doubt

I could have given the title as ‘‘The Bard had (emphasis mine) his own way’’ instead of the one above. But I feel, as everyone else in this region does, that Dr Bhupen Hazarika cannot live in the past; that any past tense attributes will humiliate the genius. He is in the present and will remain so in the future. He is, ergo, immortal; his music a spontaneous flow of passions surging across the cosmos eternally. That this gem is no more in the material world, thus, cannot be an occasion for grief. Let us all celebrate the Bhupen Hazarika Institution.

It was in 1990, when as a 15-year-old given as much to physics as to philosophy (thanks to the very character of my school then, Ramakrishna Mission, Along, Arunachal Pradesh), I was introduced to Bhupenda. My late father was his great fan; he was not much into music, but then Mukesh and Bhupenda were his favourites — more so the latter. Songs — nay, poetry — such as saagar sangamat.., aakaashi gangaa.. and O bideshi bandhu... were then planted into my heart. My father would often hear me hum, smile, and then with a little rebuke seemed to convey to me that I was doing injustice to the compositions even as he would appreciate my endeavour. Though I could not make much sense of what the legend meant, I loved his songs for the sheer brilliance of their manifestations from poetry of a different kind altogether. Thus, amid the ambience of RK Mission, combined with that of St Edmund’s, Shillong later on, I grew up listening to Bhupenda’s mellifluous music.

It was, if I am not wrong, the famous lyricist Gulzar who had translated Bhupenda’s poetry into Hindi. The bard’s Hindi rendition was flawless; his pronunciation so perfect that it was hard to believe that an Assamese had sung it all. ... O Ganga tum behti ho kyon... had already become a hit. The poet had already acquired a larger-than-life image. He deserved that. And when the Dadasaheb Phalke Award came his way, the Sadiya-born music guru attained a different stature. Gradually the people of Assam — often used to pulling each other’s legs — began to realize the gravity of that personality.

What made Bhupenda so special? The answer is simple: He was a poet who rendered music to his poetry and sang it as though a commoner were singing his heart out either due to joy and celebration of life or because he was grappling with a profundity of sorrow and frustration, at times anger too against the system. Bhupenda was special because he was a poet specially for the masses; the people could identify themselves with his creations. His music, the baritone voice apart, was extraordinary in the sense that it could so neatly encompass the import of his words, his message to the humanity at large, that inner quest for something unspeakable and yet that was being sung aloud, that desire to traverse unknown territories of emotions and passions, that smouldering angst, that burning yearning to test and taste life in all its forms. Who would be not special if he were to chart out a course thus?

He was special also because he had such a wonderful academic career. Getting a Master’s from BHU at 20 years of age, sailing for a PhD in Mass Communications at the University of Columbia, coming back and joining Gauhati University as a Lecturer, and then leaving the job to pursue his passion are things not within the capabilities of many on earth. Bhupenda was special because he was an intellectual. He was a thinker, a very deep one at that. Someone who had pondered on the vicissitudes of life and sought to dig a meaning out of it in order to celebrate it regardless of its dimensions of woes, hate and envy. He was, in that sense, a philosopher.

This is not all. His works have a deep impact on societal studies — call it sociology or whatever. His poetry is a manifestation of the nuances of societal engagements and orientations. He delved deep into the inner recesses of the diverse societies of the Northeast, trying to understand the totality of it all, to discover the common strands therein, to add to their march in the trajectory of human civilization, and to inspire them to remain united come what might. As he invoked the Kameng or the Subansiri of Arunachal Pradesh, as he did with the mighty Brahmaputra ( about 100 of his compositions are dedicated to the Brahmaputra), he would refer to the lives of the people who lived by them, sustaining themselves despite all odds, drawing strength from the flowing waters, sometimes calm, sometimes turbulent, often life-giving, but sometimes turning into a killer; he would point to their cultures, their little joys, their sorrows — often enormous because of the terror those rivers would unleash as they swelled in summers — their relentless struggles, their successes and defeats. Every poem, thus, of the legend is a story — the story of us all.

Bhupenda was a great romanticist. You can define romanticism (do not confuse the word romanticism with romance) in many ways, but what the bard stood for was an element of life that was so capable of generating zeal and zest for life that it was virtually impossible to live a moment without celebrating it, amid its lugubriousness, whatever it might be, or without hoping for a change towards beauty, hence joy (after all, a thing of beauty is a joy for ever, right?). In the romanticism of Bhupenda you can discover a desire for life in its full blossom, for beauty in its absolute majesty, for truth in its untainted hue, for God in its barrierless form. Such persons are rare.

Hence I welcome the decision of the Tarun Gogoi government to have his body cremated at the Gauhati University campus. The poet-intellectual-visionary-humanist deserves an immortal place at the university. The decision to set up a cultural centre at the spot, so that it could evolve as a site of pilgrimage too on the lines of Rajghat, is a welcome one as well. But far more important is how we the people of Assam preserve the priceless legacy left behind by the genius. The fashion of preservation is what will count the most, and not pompousness and show business, not even these tears that will perhaps cease after some time. Pragmatism is the need of the hour, not rhetoric.

Towards that end, we in The Sentinel, through our editorial titled ‘‘A GU Chair for Bhupenda’’ carried yesterday, have proposed that a special Chair be set up at Gauhati University, to be adorned by a Professor having mastery over interdisciplinary studies, for the purpose of rigorous research in the Bhupen Hazarika universe. The Chair may be called the Bhupen Hazarika Chair, attracting students not just of musicology but also of literature, political science, sociology and philosophy. The Chair could go a long way in the making of new ideas stemming from the works of our beloved bard.

In the ultimate analysis, Bhupenda, as a poet first, was a free man, and in that freedom lie the seeds of creativity, in such creativity lies the genesis of geniuses like the one in question, and in such geniuses lies the cradle of civilization.

Salute to you, Bhupenda. You have not died! You will be living anew. Sure.