Thursday, 10 November 2011

The jajabor moves on

The news of Bhupenda's death came as a shock -- you expect some things and some people to last forever, one simply does not reckon with their not being there. I was numbed by the news but reasoned with myself, if he was sufferring in hospital for so many months, then it was better for him to be spared more pain. In any case, he was living in Mumbai for the last years, and although he did come to Assam often he seemed to have somehow moved on. In fact I doubt how many people in Assam really knew (or really cared about the fact) that he was in hospital for the last so many months.

But the Assamese people did not seem ready to let go of him,even in death,

if the unbelievable public outpouring of grief of the Assamese people at the news, is any indication. I could not restrain my tears either, but asked myself what it was about Bhupenda or about the Asamiya people that had brought about this incredibly emotional reaction from so many. True his songs had touched many hearts, true his deep melodious voice was haunting and unforgettable, true he had become a legend in his lifetime by singlehandedly winning Assam a place of pride at the national level,true he had achieved much more than any other Asamiya has in postindependent India, but still... it is hard to really understand or explain what one saw happening in Guwahati these last days.

Some time back I had tried to write a dissertation about Assamese identity and what it could be. Playing back and listening to some of Bhupenda's songs again these last days I think I know now what was missing in my dissertation -- for the events of the last days have made it clear that if any one person could be thought to be representative of and to symbolise Assamese-ness today to the rest of the world, then it was Bhupenda -- he was Assam's identity in the big world outside. And to the Asamiya, he was their conscience-keeper. He often said unpleasant and harsh things about the Asamiya, but they could not be offended by him, because they knew that he spoke the truth, he was like an X-ray that laid the Asamiya bare -- there was nothing they could hide from him... Assam has not always treated him well, he has also not always been loyal to Assam, but in death, no quarrels remain, by shedding so many tears the people of Assam have told him that everything is forgiven, and that they will always remember and cherish him in their hearts, for all that he has given them.

I do not know what he would have made of this massive show of love and respect if he could have known while he was still alive that this would happen. Would he have been happy? Although one can only respect and be astounded by this spontaneous outpouring of grief, it does have a sense of belatedness about it, doesn't it? After all, how many of us made any effort to tell him that we cared while he was still alive? What good can all our tears do him now? Why then are we crying? Are we crying today because we are feeling sorry, not just for him, but also for ourselves? Is it because we are feeling orphaned, vulnerable, insecure, because we no longer have his strict yet loving and caring hand over us? And if that is the case, does it not show how selfish and small we all are? And with this present demonstration we have proved once more what we already knew for a fact, that we are a very emotional people...

But are we nothing more? Is it enough to be just emotional? If we really wanted to show him our respect and admiration,one thing we could do besides crying is to resolve to listen to and to follow his message -- his message about what is wrong with our society and how we could rectify it, his message of love, of humanity and of brotherhood, his message of fighting against injustice and against all kinds of oppression...only then would we have made sure that he did not sing his heart out in vain, and that he will live on even in death... if we really love him so much he deserves much more than just our tears, we have to promise that we shall not let him down... that even without him to show us the way and to remind us of our duty, we will strive towards creating that Xonar Assam that he dreamt of and wanted to conjure up to gift to all of us... But are we ready for this?


  1. This is what my friend Bhaskar wrote while giving me his first hand account (of the scenes in Guwahati) in an e-mail on the 10th Nov.:
    I got over my sadness on Bhupen da's passing away but couldnt come out of what his demise did to the Assamese people during the past few days.
    From the moment, the body of the great man touched the soil of his birth place, something unusual happened to the millions of his
    admirers across both the banks of the luit. They realised how like a collosus he had stood all alone, giving voice to their concerns,their
    aspirations, their dreams, their sorrows, their fears, their joys. And now as he moved on into his eternal journey, they realised there wouldnt be another one like him whose rich baritone could glide effortlessly over the Tirap frontier as well the Mississippi with such passion.... .
    As the great man lay in state inside a glass coffin,at the Judges Field for two days, lakhs filed past him in lines that were over three-four kilometres long. By the time he was consigned to flames at Jalukbari on a plot of land that belonged to the Gauhati University at 10.26 am on 9th Nov 2011,over half a million people had paid their homage to the great cultural icon in person.Never in the history of Assam was such a huge outpouring of grief ...and respect for anyone shown as in these last few days. The usual slur on the Assamese as a people who could not respect their idols has been proved wrong.
    The day Bhupen da died,as I drove through
    the streets of Guwahati,resonating with his timeless lyrics,I saw through tear stained eyes, my land and my people and it dawned on
    me how proud I felt to be an Assamese ....born in the land which gave the world Bhupen Hazarika.
    My question to Bhaskar and to anyone else reading this: very true, we're all proud to be born in the land which gave the world Bhupen Hazarika, but would he also be proud of us?

  2. Mitra Phukan, who herself wrote a beautiful piece on Bhupen Hazarika in the Sunday Guardian, []
    commented thus after reading my blog, and I fully agree with her sentiments at the end:

    wonderful piece, Meenaxi. I agree fully that we are terribly emotional.

    Also the TV channels with their undoubtedly very good coverage, also added to the general emotional upsurge. The power of the media! And hats off to the administration - Tarun Gogoi and also the police department. They handled everything excellently. The police averted several near-stampedes tactfully. Thanks to live TV coverage we saw it all. So perhaps there's hope for the Assamese people yet.

    But I fear none of this will translate into concrete action. Oh yes, we will have beautiful museums and so on, but what about his works? They should be annotated, his lyrics analysed, understood, taught. There should be a coherence in the teaching of Bhupendra Sangeet. What about the use of specific instruments, of the instrumentation aspect? And diction!
    Who is going to analyse discuss and implement all this?

  3. Here is Bhaskar's comment of the 15th Nov. It speaks for itself:Today is Bhupen Hazarika's adya shardhya. On my way back from work,nearing my home, I saw a scene that appeared straight from the heavens. All around the picturesque Dighali Pukhuri, thousands of little earthen lamps illuminated the banks,courtesy AASU, giving the place a beauty I have never seen in all my life. And at the site of the life size statue of Bhupen da, I witnessed another heart warming scene as an endless stream of people bowed and knelt before the statue with a reverance and piety that is only for the Gods. Watching this unique spectacle and then remembering your and Mitra Baidew's
    cautionary words, I really didnt know what to make out of the Assamese psyche. But for the present I am soaking in the overpowering
    sentimentality of the times.