Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rest, Dear Jajabor

SAMYABRATA RAY GOSWAMI , The Telegraph , November 6,2011

Death at 4.37PM

Three-Day state mourning

Body at JudgesField on Monday and Tuesday

Final farewell on Tuesday at noon

Mumbai, Nov. 5: The jajabor will travel no more.

Balladeer Bhupenda breathed his last at 4.37pm at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital and Medical Research Institute in Mumbai, a few minutes after his partner for 29 years, Kalpana Lajmi, assured him she would take him back to Assam once he got well.

He had been under treatment since April 2009 after he suffered a stroke while performing at a Bihu function at Noonmati in Guwahati. He was 85.

"I was with him from 3.45pm to 4pm. He was conscious. I told him I would take him home after he got well. He rolled his eyes in response and I asked him to rest," Lajmi told The Telegraph.

She came out and told the doctors she didn't think he would survive the day. "They said he would not go away suddenly but I knew he was a fighter and he would not go slowly," Lajmi said.

It was at 4.15pm that the doctors came out and told her that he was "sinking." She went back to his room and after a while the doctors said he was "gone." "They said they could continue keeping him like that for long and that the call was mine. I could not see him in that state any longer and asked them to take him off life support," she said

As news of his death spread, admirers started pouring into the hospital to pay their respects and it was after 7pm that Manisha Hazarika, his sister-in-law, started ushering in visitors in twos into the room inside the ICU where he lay, with his trademark cap on.

"A few days back when he was still conscious he had told me to make sure that his cap was put back when he died and to keep the air conditioner on because he felt hot," Lajmi said.

"He had also wanted to have pabo macher jhol, fried brinjal, aloo posto and kasha mangsho cooked in Bengali style," she said, adding that she told him she would give him all of these once he got well.

"I don't generally cry, but for the past eight days I have been crying... perhaps I knew he was going," she said.

Sandip Hazarika, his nephew, said he had gone to Hazarika's room at 2.30pm. "He was conscious and I connected my phone to our family members who spoke to him. He didn't speak, but it looked like he was recognising the various voices as tears were rolling down his cheeks," he said at the hospital.

The Assam government has declared a three-day state mourning. Hazarika's body will be taken to Guwahati on Monday and kept at Judges Field till noon on Tuesday for people to pay their last respects.

Initially, family members, friends and Lajmi were in two minds about whether to take Hazarika's body to Assam tomorrow or the day after, given the overwhelming pressure from the people to take the body there tomorrow.

The issue was settled after discussions among family members, friends, Lajmi, hospital authorities, Maharashtra health minister Suresh Shetty, Assam chief secretary Naba Kumar Das and officials from Assam chief minister's office.

Hospital authorities said the body could not be sent for embalming today as people were pouring in to pay their last respects till 9.30pm. Since mourners would be allowed between 4pm and 5pm tomorrow as well, the embalming could begin only after that and the body flown to Guwahati the day after. It was then decided to keep the body at the convention centre of the hospital and have it flown to Guwahati by an early morning flight on Monday.

Family members and friends thought of requesting the Assam government to send a special aircraft to take the body. But Shetty pointed out that though Hazarika deserved a special aircraft, at most the government could charter an eight-seater or a 12-seater. In that case many family members and friends would not be able to travel with the body, as the coffin would take up space of about six seats.

Shetty also pointed out that more time was required for a state funeral, as it is conducted by the armed forces and they have to prepare to the last protocol detail and something might be amiss if it was rushed. He cited the instance of Sunil Dutt, who was also accorded a state funeral but full justice could not be done, as his family had wanted the last rites to be completed before sun down that day.

"To make his (Hazarika's) last journey beautiful, give the administration a day," he advised family and friends.

Expressing sadness over his death, chief minister Tarun Gogoi described Hazarika as a legendary figure in many respects who won the hearts of everybody. "He was broad-minded like an ocean," he said in Delhi.

Assam governor J.B. Patnaik said he was shocked to hear about the demise of the "greatest music maestros of our country and one of the most renowned sons of Assam. It is an irreparable loss," he said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also condoled the demise of the legendary singer and composer. "Prime Minister condoles the demise of Bhupen Hazarika," a PMO spokesperson said.

Scores of young Assamese students arrived in Mumbai from Pune in buses to pay tribute to the icon. The turnout of admirers and well-wishers, in fact, comprised 60 per cent of the young.

The jajabor at 86 was as much a youth icon.