8 September 1926 - 16:37 IST, November 5th, 2011 ; 

The song of Bhupen Hazarika’s life

October 19, 2002 – 9:25 pm

His voice speaks a language which communicates melody without the crutch of words. This Padma Bhushan recipient is as complex in the interpretation of his messages as he is simple in the spontaneity of his feelings.
For this singer, composer and poet, life is resonant with the rhythm of recognition. Yet, he has also suffered the jarring notes of destiny. Sanghita Singh unplugs the philosophy of a man who is as much a moving force for music as music is a moving force for him
I was born into a family of teachers: I was born in 1926 in Sadiya, a village in Assam. We were six brothers and four sisters. My grandfather established the Bankshidhar Hazarakia School at Sibsagar. My father, Neelkantha Hazarika, taught at this school and, later, at Cotton College in Guwahati. I grew up in a family of teachers and was always inclined towards journalism. I was the first child of my parents and my grandmother’s favourite. I attended Tejpur Government High School.
My brother’s death still pains me: Whenever Gandhiji and Pandit Nehru came to Assam, they would request my father to send me and my brother brother, Jayanta, to sing for them. Jayanta succumbed to cancer. His death was a shock and I took a long time to overcome my grief. Even today, I feel his absence.
Tribal music made a singer of me: As a child, I grew up listening to tribal music — its rhythm saw me developing an inclination towards singing. Perhaps, I inherited my singing skills from my mother, who sang lullabies to me. In fact, I have used one of my mother’s lullabies in Rudali. As a singer, I have also been influenced by Vaishnav thinker and Assam’s most famous reformer, Sankardev, who is known for his devotional songs. I learnt music from Bishnu Prasad Rabha, who trained me in the Bhatkhande school of music. But I could not continue my lessons for long.
I became a revolutionary: Between 1936-40, I accompanied Assamese poet and film-maker Jyoti Prasad Agarwala on his trips to Calcutta. He introduced me to the works of George Bernard Shaw. After school, I secured a degree in political science from BHU, where former PM Chandra Shekhar was my junior. We attended meetings at the Sangeet Bhawan in Benaras. Somewhere down the line, the revolutionary in me was born. My music and, later, my film scripts portray the ethnic anger I suffer from.
I was too timid to pursue my love: I fell in love with a girl in Assam — she was 16 and I was 21. She sang so well that it struck a chord in my heart. Both of us worked at the local radio station and, on many occasions, we communicated through songs. But when our love blossomed, her parents had already found a suitable match for her. I blame myself for being a coward — I could and should have fought for her hand.
I wanted to see the world: In 1949, I secured admission to the mass communications course at the University of Columbia. Wanting to see other places on the way, I didn’t take a direct flight. I first went to Colombo, from where I sailed to Marseilles aboard the Champolean. I became friendly with a French traveller called Andre, who was depressed. One night, Andre jumped off the ship. I was both shocked and saddened.
I met Picasso: Once in France, I had a strong desire to meet Picasso. An elderly guard informed me that if I managed to get up at 4 am, I might catch Picasso taking a walk with his friends. I did what I was told and, to my surprise, I actually saw Picasso. I went up to him and said, ‘Sir, this is the best day of my life.’ His reply was rather jocular: ‘Hazarika is going to America after gathering information about me!’ Picasso wanted to test my knowledge and asked me which of his paintings was my favourite. I told him I liked his works from the Blue period. He was pleased and blessed me.
I felt humiliated in America: In America, I was taken to an island where a banner reading ‘For war prisoners’ had been put up. The officers there asked me why I wanted to study journalism in America when I had already been to Leeds. Questions such as ‘How will you solve the problem of poverty in your country?’ were thrust upon me. After interrogation, I was brought back to New York. Initially, America was a shock. The positive side was that I interacted with students from other countries and this gave me a global perspective.
I found my soulmate in Priyamvada: At Columbia, I became friends with Priyamvada, who was pursuing an MA degree in political science. She belongs to a well-known Patel family and is of the same stock as Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel. We fell in love, but my parents opposed the match. So, before we returned to India, we got married in America.
But we were not meant to be together: Priyamvada’s father, MM Patel, worked in Uganda but was subsequently removed from office. The family was in a precarious position and drifted from the UK to America. Meanwhile, we had returned to Assam and although I managed to sustain Priyamvada on my salary as a teacher, I did not deem it right to stop her from accepting a job in Canada. We had been married for 13 years when we separated. But we parted on good terms and still meet once a year.
I regret neglecting my son: I still regret the fact that I never spent enough time with our son Tej Bhupen Hazarika when he was a child. I am sure he regrets this as well. Today, we have come to know each other better as father and son. Tej has adopted Buddhism and stays in the US with his American wife. I try to meet my son and daughter-in-law as often as possible.
I became an MLA for a cause: After returning to Assam from America, I joined the Indian People’s Theatre Association and was involved with music as a movement. I sang ‘Ganga Behti Hai Kyun’ for Indira Gandhi. The song conveyed a message — of silent rebellion against the system. In 1967, someone suggested that I could make a difference by joining politics. I wanted a national theatre and a national art gallery for Assam. I believed that by helping set up a government-sponsored studio for films in the North-East, both tribals and non-tribals would feel they were in power. I contested the elections and became an MLA.
Kalpana, my secretary, is my adopted son: Since I never really nurtured my own son, Kalpana Lajmi, my secretary, has come to be my son. I met her for the first time through her uncle, Guru Dutt. In my 40-year-long association with her, she has been like a shadow. She has become my secretary and never lets me bother about my programme schedules.
MF Husain has given me my best compliment: MF Husain called me up from England and requested me to compose music for Gajagamini. I was surprised that he preferred me to music veterans such as Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. He said, ‘Bhupen, you paint when you sing. Your music paints, but my brush can’t sing.’ I think this is the ultimate way to describe my music.
Music is my life: Music elevates me to an indescribable feeling — a time when I feel weighty, yet modest. I am grateful to God for whatever I have attained. I only hope that music and the lyrical aspect of my life grows further.

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