Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Meeting Tej Hazarika

By Bikul Das, Source : Easternpanorama.in

On a clear sunny morning, when the mortal remains of the great Assamese cultural icon Dr. Bhupen Hazarika was raised to a decorated cremation mound on the banks of Brahmaputra, something extraordinary was unfolding in Guwahati, and the rest of Assam, the eastern-most state of India, bordering Burma (Myanmar). There was a spontaneous outpouring of hundreds and thousands of common men, women and children streaming in to the streets, united and fearless. This was an unprecedented event of mass awakening in an otherwise violent and conflict-ridden region of India.

There was this rising hope in the minds of the common citizens gathered around the cremation mound that Bhupen-da (brother Bhupen in Assamese) was about to achieve something miraculous through his death, a process of resurrection in the souls of every Assamese, enhancing the spontaneous unity that he sought to achieve in his seventy years of relentless efforts through music, cinema and poetry.


But, in that very moment of spontaneous mass awakening and hope, there was just one big ‘unknown’ factor – a tall American, Tej Hazarika, the unknown son of Bhupen-da. This man was supposed to light the funeral pyre to start the process of resurrection of the beloved cultural maestro. But, most Assamese heard his name for the first time. Separated from father during childhood, he grew up in Canada and then in New York, and does not speak the language of Assamese. He kept occasional contact with his father, but spent a “parallel life”. Hence, Assamese folk did not know if Tej would rise to the occasion of the holy, Vedic cremation process. “ Who is Tej Hazarika?” this was, thus a disturbing question in the mind of the commoner of a terror stricken land, in their rare moment of rising hope for cultural unity.

The suspicion and doubt surrounding Tej Hazarika was understandable. Back in 2005, when I got an invitation to meet Tej Hazarika, my immediate reaction was: I never knew that Bhupen-da had a son! Does he share the same love and affection of his father for the culture and people of Assam? I had an opportunity to find an answer to these questions, when I spent an evening at his home in Brooklyn, New York in the spring of the year 2005.

On that spring evening, when I opened the wooden door of an old Victorian house at Brooklyn, a tall man wearing a pair of blue denims greeted me with folded hands. The man identified as Tej Hazarika took me straight to his basement studio where, all of a sudden I was surrounded by various musical instruments including African drums, guitars, and tablas. I decided not to ask Tej anything about his relation with Bhupen-da. Soon, dinner was served and I started feeling at home.

After dinner, Tej Hazarika started singing some of Bhupen-da’s songs. I explained the meaning of several songs, and his singing got more viral, more exciting. We spent hours like that and then, all of a sudden, Tej Hazarika leaned on his chair, his two hands behind his head, eyes fixed on the ceiling. Then he threw these bombshells at me: “Am I really fit to be Bhupen Hazarika’s son? Do I really understand the music, the culture of Assam? I am just not sure about myself.” The moment past, and soon Tej Hazarika talked about how he made the choice to live according to his own life style, independent of his father’s influence. But the moment, the way he was looking at the ceiling, his whole expression took me back to 1992, to a bright sunny morning in Guwahati, India, where I found his father having a similar moment of crisis.

Sitting at Tej Hazarika’s basement, I tried to recall that moment of 1992. I was at Bhupen-da’s home in Guwahati. Bhupen da was sitting just in front of me, looking at the ceiling, his hands tucked together behind his head. It was a warm morning, and the sun was shining bright through a window, near where, another man, an emerging cultural leader of Assam, professor Bimal Bhuyan was sitting. Bimal Bhuyan was my friend who introduced me to the legend. Bhupen-da was working on a plan to re-energize the Assamese youth. As a part of the plan, Bhupen da dropped his filmmaking career in Mumbai to return to Guwahati to instill new energy into Assam Sahitya Sabha, a literary organization having profound influence on Assamese culture. Bhupen da was sure that the Sabha was the right organization to instill a sense of new hope and cultural unity to the terror ravaged Assamese youth. But there was heavy criticism against his plan because some people thought that Bhupen da was not suitable to lead the Sabha as he was essentially a singer and filmmaker, not a literarati. So, the conversation was mainly focused on how to address this criticism, and then decide on a plan to rejuvenate the Sabha. All of a sudden, something unexpected happened. Bhupen da leaned back on his chair, looked at the ceiling, and threw some questions to the air that were something like this: “Am I a writer? Am I singer? Am I fit to be the president of the Sabha? I am just not sure about myself......”. The moment passed, and soon we started talking about the task ahead to lead the Sabha to new heights........For the full story Click here