Dr. Bhupen Hazarika’s Legacy

(A press release by Tej Hazarika, son of Dr. Bhupen Hazarika)

As the only son of my father the late Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, I have called this press conference to issue a statement concerning the extremely important work of preserving the legacy of my father.

But first, on behalf of my family, I wish to thank:

Tej Hazarika with Dr. Bhupen Hazarika
The people of Assam and all the North Eastern States for their outpouring of condolence for myself and my family – who continue to hold him as their very own feeling a profound sense of loss and grief due to his passing from our dimension. We are extremely grateful to the huge and peaceful outpouring of citizens and the patience with which so many people endured from upwards of 8 hours standing on the line to see Bhupenda’s body at Judge’s Field Guwahati.

I also wish to thank the following people: 

1. The Honorable President, The Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition of India.
2. Sri. Tarun Gogoi, the Chief Minister of Assam and all his cabinet colleagues including Smt. Pranoti Phukon, Minister of Cultural Affairs, Sri. Himanta Biswa Sarma, Minister of Health and Sri. Robin Bordoloi, MLA of East Guwahati constituency and members of the opposition parties.
3. Prof. Akhil Kumar Medhi, Vice Chancellor and the Students, Staff and Administration of the Gauhati University for donating their land for the cremation.
4. The Governors and Chief Ministers of the Seven Sister States.
5. The Adviser, President, Secretary and all members of the All Assam Students’ Union.
6. Members of the bureaucracy, the Police Department, municipal works, district administration of Guwahati and members of the legal fraternity.
7. Members of Parliament Sri. Murli Manohar Joshi and Sri. Rahul Gandhi.
8. Sri. Bhubaneshwer Kalita, MP and president of APCC and Sri. Sarbananda Sonowal.
9. The doctors and nursing staff of Kokilaben Ambani hospital who held tireless vigil during his long and valiant struggle to regain his health, Jayshree, his long time loving maid, Bahadur, his driver, Bharati, his cook in Tollygunge, and Prabhat, his cook and help at Nijorapar.
10. Members of the Television and print media for their respectful attention and help during this difficult period.
11. Last but not the least, numerous bearers of heartfelt condolences from numerous civic and private organizations as well as individuals, which parties I cannot address all by name here.

There have been many suggestions in the media regarding this important work ahead of us, and in that regard I have heard of a trust, in my father’s name. I am not a part of it and know little about except what I have heard in random sound bytes that seem more intent on holding on to control of my father’s estates than any plans to preserve the legacy of Dr. Bhupen Hazarika. I have never had any business dealings with my father’s estate nor have I received any trust deed after my father’s passing. Given the public nature of my father’s work, I think that deed should be public information. Names of a board of trustees has been floated on stationary without any consultation with his significant immediate family members including myself. However, knowing what I know and having listened very closely to many knowledgeable elders and contemporaries of my father who have expressed deep concern to me personally regarding the leadership of that so called board that I have no choice now but to make this public statement in order to protect my father’s legacy so that it may properly benefit future generations without it being mired in controversy and gross representations.

The health of a living body is sustained by the head and if that head is ill, the rest of the body will suffer. In my father’s case, because of the extraordinary connection he has with his fans and followers, the health of any principal organization upholding my father’s legacy into the future is a matter that is of deep importance to all people of Assam and the North East. I wish to stress here that I have refrained from making any critical statements about this matter out of respect for my father when he was alive. Now that my father is no more on this plane I am now making this statement that basically amounts to saying that I have zero trust in the trust announced in my father’s name to ‘preserve his legacy’.

I begin with a warning about misbehavior. Because your feelings for my father run deep, you may find some of what I reveal here to be disturbing. My father had a fiery temperament and would not suffer fools lightly, but deep down, he was through and through a pacifist, a deeply sensitive and compassionate soul who would strongly condemn and indeed be deeply saddened by a single violent act or abusive speech directed personally towards a single person who is part of this trust or connected to it.

We have collectively witnessed a high order of peaceful civil behavior in the throngs that amassed in grieving following his death. Though passions run deep among our people, not one person was hurt and all were and still are united peacefully over my father. The whole world witnessed the truth that our people, educated on not, are sensitive and civilized people at heart. The manner of their collective bereavement alone will please my father and encourage him, I believe, to return to us, in some way, to continue his work among us instead of remaining sequestered in some man projected ‘eternal’ god-realm, to be worshiped and pined for, as an icon alone. He was far more evolved and too much of an activist to settle down in some indolent retirement ashram for gods dishing out blessings and contracts to his worshipers.

Since my father’s brain stroke in 2005 and his subsequent losing struggle, in part due to his compromised health, it has been intimated in statements emanating from that so-called trust, that 95 percent of my father’s present day fame was all due to their management of his career. During this period when my father was becoming increasingly handicapped, talk of the formation of a trust to own and perpetuate his legacy were floated by excluding his former close associates, patrons and family who had helped him build his reputation throughout the 50’s, 60, and 70’s. It is common knowledge that by the end of the 60’s my father had already established himself as a creative giant in the North East, West Bengal and Bangladesh. Meanwhile, these past 6 years, my father, by all accounts of those close to him, was incapable of making crucial executive decisions and delegated them to people around him. I believe that some people may have profited from my father’s physical, mental and psychological disability during this period till his expiration.

Towards the end of his life my father was subjected to a lot of negative criticism from various angles due to the way he was made to act – again, by the people with vested interests. Furthermore, my father Dr. Bhupen Hazarika had to face neglect and humiliation from people near and far to him. Indeed, my father was helpless in the extreme as he was ruthlessly blocked from the loving, healing hands and words of his followers, which forced deprivation, I believe plunged him into intense depression, alienation and a disconnect from reality and hastened him toward his demise. But what he left behind as a legacy, eclipsed all negativity and brought the entire community of Assam and North East India together. Preserving and propagating his legacy is a heavy responsibility only to be shouldered by a group of people who are serious and selfless. In my opinion the current trust in his name does not embody any of these qualities.

What follows is a list of reasons why I believe that in no way or form is this so-called trust fit to represent my father’s legacy anywhere, anytime henceforth.

The most unique characteristic of my father’s genius is that his extraordinary melody, meter and golden voice were only a medium for his vision and words which embody a profound global appeal of the highest order. His music, which he is largely popular for across the board, is in actuality only the exquisite embroidery on the enchanting tapestry of his poetry and lyrics. He was able to embed his words in the hearts of the salt of the earth even if they may not knowledgeably appreciate the relative highness of his prose and message because it appealed to their emotional core. The marrow of his work remained un-translated into other Indian and other major language groups including English, I contend, not because it was ‘difficult’ to translate but because of gross neglect. Only recently, barely three months before his parinirvana, did a major publication with only a small portion of his work, originally in Assamese, appeared in English. Any literati of the highest order would deem his work way above ‘sufficient’ to be nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature. It would have elevated both the North East and the Assamese language in the world. It never happened in his lifetime and millions never found out about Dr. Bhupen Hazarika. Instead, millions of people were deprived of the joy, education and emotional maturation that his work is capable of triggering in the human unconscious, universally.

B. It is common knowledge that the other great heritage of my father is that of peace-maker, social reformer and protector of the weak in this region. In my view every member of a trust upholding his legacy should have a sensitive and sympathetic appreciation for the complex psyche of the people of the North East. My father proved over and over that he embodied those attributes by acting as peacemaker and that that the pen was indeed mightier than the sword.

C. All his life Dr. Bhupen Hazarika has always been a tireless advisor, leader and teacher to numerous cultural, literary and social upliftment groups, guiding them directly and indirectly with sensitivity and compassion. This activity, I believe should also be one of the central aspects of any trust formed around Bhupen Hazarika. In fact, besides maintenance, earnings from the sale of my father’s intellectual properties should be applied to fund various philanthropic objectives near and dear to my father. My father was a man of the people, never turned his back on them and in fact always protected them in practice and in his works. Anyone representing his legacy should safeguard the avenues of opportunity put in place for the poor, downtrodden and the oppressed in order to help them break out of unjust institutions of inequity. Indeed no portion of the trust’s assets should be used to make commercial properties with quick profit but rather to further the true and legitimate objectives of the trust.

On the report that was published on Nov 19th in an Assamese daily, the so-called trust made a statement implying that they have taken upon themselves the responsibility of preserving the purity of Dr. Bhupen Hazarika’s music and lyrics. From what they have said, it seems that the people of Assam will not have free access and right to even perform, record and enjoy the creations of the man upon whom they showered all their love and devotion for the past many decades. Dr. Bhupen Hazarika’s songs themselves celebrate freedom and were created for and by the people. These songs belong to the people of Assam and not any individual or organization.

In the wake of my father’s passing a miraculous window of possibilities lie ahead of us to elevate our collective visions a few notches higher, to our mutual benefit. Deeply concerned by the draconian possessive statements emanating from this trust I see a grave danger of, essentially, a kidnapping of the great body of work that was actually written just to help people free themselves from their fetters. In order to prevent this from happening the family and I have decided to form a legitimate foundation that, besides preserving and spreading the legacy of Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, will also use its financial and social capital to promote the true legacy of my Father which would go far beyond the distribution of his songs and writing.

Our Foundation’s advisors and trustees, besides comprising of family members and myself, will consist of personalities from diverse ethnic communities and social organizations and will transcend state borders to include leaders from other Northeast Indian States as well. Our foundation will reach out to all my father's older friends, collaborators and well wishers throughout the 50’s 60’s and 70’s who have been alienated from him all these years. We look forward to the support of all such groups in our humble but noble efforts in carrying the legacy of ‘Xudhakontho’ forward and upwards.
Thank you,

- by Tej Hazarika