[Editor's Note: Guwahatian thank the author for his researchful insight into one of the most prolific personalities of Indian subcontinent.]
Dr. Bhupen Hazarika- ‘The Bard of Brahmaputra’ one name, itself being the landscape of the Assamese Culture, in particular and the Indian Culture in general, carries its entirety to the world through his musical journey. His songs, enrich with its touching lyrics are mostly poetic; but again adroit in terms of original musical beauty. We appreciate that Indian Government has conferred the highest civilian award of the country ‘Bharat Ratna’ upon the genius, but the sad part is that it happened posthumously and some are trying to relate it with the current political scenario of the North-East. There has been lots of controversies related to the legend placed in the headlines of regional and national media from time to time rather than his constructive creative aspects; which are not discussed the way it should have been. This article aims to bring some of them to light.
As a Complete Musician:
At the outset I would like to justify the title how come we can call Bhupenda ‘A complete musician’? Mr. Syed Sadullah, former speaker of Dibrugarh radio center has narrated beautifully about some basic elements of a complete musician viz Pronunciation, Clarity, Voice Modulation, Intonation, Involvement and Acting. Intonation is basically related to pitch i.e. the way words are delivered, some having on top pitch, the next moment coming back to a smoother one is the voice modulation. Talking about involvement we can say that when a musician is performing he has to create the environment and tune the entire audience with the feelings of the song. Here, the proper utilization of instruments is very important. Eventually acting plays a major role in stage performance and also in playbacks where the mood of the song is adorned with the acting of the singer. In Hazarika we can notice the consolidation of all these elements which makes him a world class musician.
Universality in his songs:
Hazarika’s songs are universal i.e. it doesn’t matter from what corner of the world one belongs, his songs are like a stream of nectar flowing and sprawling across everyone’s mind. Once, in an Airport, a gentleman from Pakistan had met Bhupenda and congratulated him for his milestone ‘Dil hum hum kare’ requesting to compose some more of such a kind. Written transparently, with its humble tune, purely influenced by Indian classical raga this song outnumbered some of the most controversial songs of that time in terms of business too. This happened true and a survey states that the record was bought mostly by the young people aged between 18-22 years. In his own words Hazarika said “It’s not always that the youth of India doesn’t respect genuine Indian music or prefers western rather than our own culture. It is our duty, as a musician, to provide them with the gems of our own culture in a way that can be accepted globally.” Once in an interview he said how some American mass singer had converted his song ‘He Dola, he Dola’ to ‘Oh Dollar, Oh Dollar’. Bhupenda told that he had penned that song against the Raja-Maharaja’s of the ancient India and they have made it against ‘Dollar’, keeping the same tune and same expression. Those incidents gave him much more inner peace than the awards like ‘Sangeet–Natak Academy’, ‘Dadasaheb Phalke’, ‘Padmashree’ and all. His songs are the messengers of a classless society .Hazarika sings about the people, the farmer, the fisherman, the worker, the idealist, the patriot and the office-goes. It contains the past, present and future of a Nation, its people and the most appropriately entire humanity. So Bhupenda is universal, one cannot bind the ‘Bedouin Soul’ of the maestro and draw limits of time and place, he is above them all.
Starting from his friend Paul Robson while studying in Columbia University, Bhupenda’s songs are largely influenced by so called ‘Blues’ of pop music. ‘Feeling blue’ is expressed in songs whose verses lament injustice or express longing for a better life and lost loves, jobs, and money. But blues is also a raucous dance music that celebrates pleasure and success. This idea is much more explored by Hazarika in the context of Assam and India. His songs ‘Bistirna Parore’, ‘He Dola, he Dola’, ‘Tritiyo Srenir jatri’ expresses the same anger, agony against all the exploitation and injustice happening here. When Nelson Mandela was freed from his 27 years of imprisonment Bhupenda congratulated him with his song ‘Jindabad Mandela’. We can draw parallel between Nat King Cole’s song ‘Mona Lisa’ which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1992 and Bhupenda’s Assamese song ‘Monalisa’. The expression and essence of both the songs are same, though written and composed on different corners of the world at different times. The Rock legend Bob Dylan, the first Nobel literate musician was inspired by Bhupen Hazarika. One book narrates in the words of Dylan that “…once there was an artist named Bhupen Hazarika from India. but very unfortunately he hails from a country like India and more unfortunately, he decided to return to that country… had he stayed back here (in the US), a lot of people around the world would have introduced themselves as Bhupenites…” Dylan was probably true in his words but the decision Bhupen Hazarika once made to be tightly connected to his roots, though being a world traveller makes him what he has been and his funeral was fair enough to tell how many people have addressed themselves with ‘Bhupenites’.
Painting through his songs:
The great Indian painter Mr. MF Hussain once said, “When Bhupen sings, through his songs he paints”. The way his music is composed, it automatically picturize a sense or feeling in the world of imagination of its audience where they can enjoy the gist of the song whether the language is understood or not. That is why his songs are never limited territorially. They have never been old, with time they go on flourish, shining and reverberating again and again.
As a relentless messenger:
Bhupen Hazarika was a messenger of the ever existing concept of unified India. Some of his songs are directly dedicated to the martyr of Indo-China war in 1962. He congratulated newly born Bangladesh with his song ‘Jay Jay Nabagoto Bangladesh’. Apart from Assamese, his Bengali and Hindi songs had also created a unique genre of music and highly appreciated. His songs are sung in some other languages like Nagamese, Nepali, Sanskrit etc. Unfortunately even today a few forces visualize the North-East and Kashmir as a secluded part of India. He screams against them all saying “…Who we are to be told to cease from India. We are much more Indian like the rest but with little ‘Rupantar’. This is the concept of ‘Unity among diversity’…” So we can absolutely term him as a relentless messenger, the fragrance of whose works bridges the Regional and National culture.
In conclusion, a question comes to my mind, “What places Bhupen Hazarika among the all-time greatest musicians of the world?” The answer to this may be the simple fact that he has transformed music into the hope for humanity with its powerful lyrics and touching musical splendour. He tells himself to be “The son of the soil”, and he deserves it utterly. Today he may not be here physically, but his thoughts and precious philosophy will live for centuries through his songs like the ever-flowing Brahmaputra.
Partha Pratim Goswami is currently pursuing his B. Tech in Electronics and Communication Engineering at NIT Silchar. He is fond of reading and writing poems and short prose. He has been regularly writing on Poemhunter.