Thursday, September 8, 2016

Bhupen Hazarika: Cultural colossus from India’s northeast

How does one analyse the genius of a multi-faceted icon like Bhupen Hazarika? The biggest danger lies in ending up highlighting one aspect, at the cost of missing out on the overall persona. However, it can safely be said Hazarika was one of the colossal cultural personalities of northeast India -- with a deep social commitment and profound political consciousness.

He had a magnificent oeuvre -- a good poet, music composer, singer, actor, journalist, author and filmmaker of the highest order. And his intellect and scholarship combined to make him a true-blue cultural philosopher of not only Assam, but of the entire northeast.

Two telling comments made after Hazarika’s death on November 5, 2011, aged 85, aptly bring out the range of his achievement and the wide impact that he made over a span of 70 years.

Writing for The Guardian, Asjad Najir pointed out that Hazarika had “used music, cinema and the written word to stitch political ideology and ancient traditions into the fabric of popular culture”.

National award-winning critic and acclaimed filmmaker Utpal Borpujari was very direct: “The kind of impact this genius has had in the socio-cultural-political space of a huge geographic region comprising the northeast India, West Bengal and Bangladesh would be hard to grasp for anyone who does not understand the Assamese and Bengali languages.”

Born on September 8, 1926, in Sadiya, Assam, Hazarika -- the eldest of 10 children -- said he inherited his voice from his mother, “who regularly sang lullabies to me as a child”.