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Basically Bhupenda

For a man synonymous with his land, its people and the air they breathe, it is incongruous to say Bhupen Hazarika would have been 94 today. Bhupenda is, his music having passed that test of

September 8: For a man synonymous with his land, its people and the air they breathe, it is incongruous to say Bhupen Hazarika would have been 94 today. Bhupenda is, his music having passed that test of time decades ago. Now, it’s about eternity.

It’s as if his people have waited for the day, posting pictures on social media, about how they met the man, the sing-songs they were privy to in private soirees, the food he liked, the picnics he was a part of, Xador, his muse… Despite the public display of emotion, and pride rather unsuccessfully concealed, the disclosures carry a caveat: “These are private pictures…”, a sort of a personal abhishek, the early morning bathing with milk of a statue of a God that in the heart of the devout is alive, warm, well and comforting.

With Bhupenda, it has always been personal. The day he suffered a stroke at Noonmati’s Bihu celebrations and began to get his verses wrong, the audience that was singing along corrected him. You may be Bhupen Hazarika but you can’t get Bhupenda wrong.

After news broke of him having passed away in Mumbai, their hurt found voice in the songs he sang for them. Strains of “Moi jetiya ei jobonor maya eri gusi jaam…” floated wafted across the region, from hphotortes, music systems and television sets. Thousands queued up for days to see him, as he lay in state at Latasil. People from afar came to then carry his ashes to their rivers, rivers he had once carried for them to the world.

Not many, though, would know that “Moi jetiya ei jobonor maya…” was actually not an anthem of passing sung for a love that had deserted him. “I was rebuked for singing that song,” he had said once when asked why he had chosen to contradict himself and his proclamation that he wasn’t one for “penpeniya” (sugary, syrupy, weepy) love songs. If as a child in his song Ogni jugor phiringoti he had threatened to do to death demons of imperialism with weapons of human bones, his song Kolir Krisno carries a footnote: dhemalite likha (written in jest); if Aji Brohmoputro hol bohniman speaks of the blood of Assamese martyrs that flowed down the Brahmaputra during anti- foreigners Assam Agitation, his Joi joi nobojato

Bangladesh celebrates the birth of a country through a genocide of an unimaginable scale.

At the centre of it all though, through the love and the fury and the protest and the fun, it’s always been about people, of songs that bear the smell of his land.

“I spent 20 years of my life roaming villages of this region, searching for melodies,” he had once said. And as family members of Bishnu Prasad Rabha, one of Bhupenda’s gurus will tell you: “People have seen Bhupenda on stage but we have seen him in villages, sleeping on verandahs.”

This day will come again next year, and the year after that… Yet this is no ordinary occasion, it is a day when a Prophet was born.

Founder Editor... Formerly resident editor (east and northeast) with The Telegraph, editor (Assamese) with The Sunday Indian, has worked with India Today, National Herald and The Sentinel. Has written for India Today Travel Plus, Darpan, The Pioneer, Hindustan Times online edition, The Times of India. Lyricist and singer, enjoys composing, photography, being a chef and travelling