Dr. Bhupen Hazarika and his attachment with Meghalaya

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika is not only a revered figure in Assam, but also equally revered in Meghalaya. The people who came in touch with him in one way or another still keep such glorious, delightful and nostalgic memories alive in their hearts.

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika (1926-2011)
The main purpose of this short article is to highlight his love towards and attachment with the people of Meghalaya. Also it is a small step towards educating the new generation about Bhupen Hazarika’s contribution in showcasing the culture and tradition of the people of Meghalaya, particularly the Khasis with the outside world during 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

Dr. Hazarika was not merely a singer, but was a humanist. Most of his unforgettable songs carry the message of love and unity. His songs reflect the colourful culture of the tribes of the then great undivided Assam. In one of the songs he talks about the age-old relationship between Assamese and Khasis. Comparing both, he beautifully describes about the commonness in many avenues of rural lifestyles. I couldn’t help but to share this beautiful creation for greater perception which has been transliterated keeping the meaning and aesthetic sense as nearest as possible -

With drum beats
With the warmth of hearts
With the unseen thread of attachment
Let’s embrace the Great Syiem of the hills.
At wet Cherrapunjee
In the wetness of the sky
The way the generous cloud
Embraces our great ‘Luit’
Krishna cowboys play the ‘Bahi’
Khasi cowboys play the ‘Sharati’
Both the flutes made up of bamboo
Both express the same melody
Tall pine trees with green leaves
Our ‘Ahat’, too, reflects the same hue
‘Bnei’ or ‘Jone’ in the hills and plains
Blesses us with same moonlit night
By cultivating the red hills
Khasi farmers work day and night
In the plains, too, thousands of Rangmon
Represent the same farmers.

One of his most romantic numbers entitled ‘Shilongore godhuli’ (The Evening of Shillong) carries deep rooted meaning bringing alive the beauty of a young Khasi maiden and the beauty of the nature in the hills. He shared his affection towards the dew drops gracefully falling down from a ‘diengsie’ leaf. He was awe inspired when darkness slowly engulfed a tiny village in Meghalaya.

His another number ‘Shilongore Monalisa’ (Monalisa of Shillong), which he beautifully composed and sang alongwith his brother late Jayanta Hazarika, was one of the most remarkable songs where he describes about an imaginary Khasi damsel Monalisa Lyngdoh highlighting the ability to play guitar – a sign of culturally active people of Meghalaya.

Lien Makao – his another golden number, is a duet with Manna Dey and one of the most popular songs of the film ‘Pratidhwani’. The song carries the message of love and brotherhood among the people of Meghalaya. Similarly many of his creations carry the message of unity among the people of hills and plains.

He had a far reaching plan to create a common archive cum museum where songs of different tribes of the North-east would be preserved. He mentioned about the rich musical tradition of the Khasis, Jaintias, Garos, Hajongs etc in his songs, journals and interviews.
In the year 1970, Bhupen Hazarika won as an independent M.L.A. and placed in Shillong – the capital of undivided Assam. He was accommodated in the Room No. 33 at Pinewood Hotel, Shillong. It was the glorious moment for the people of Assam and Meghalaya. He did his best to develop the prevailed situation of rich musical traditions of Assam and the Khasis.

His brother and ex-professor of St. Anthony’s College, Sri Balen Hazarika still remembers the day and said to me once, “Bhupen da was the MLA and it was a moment of joy for his family members as well as fans. I along with many friends used to visit the assembly hall regularly just to witness the interesting yet unforgettable debates by the ministers and MLAs including Bhupen da. Bhupen da was always vocal about the importance of preserving the age-old traditions of our people and expected that the government would do their best and offer financial support for projects like the creation of an archive, Jyoti Chitraban, etc.”

The leading personalities among the Khasi intellectuals and thinkers like Dr. Helen Giri, Chesterfield Khongwir, etc. extended their full support and cooperation to Dr. Hazarika by helping him in showcasing Khasi cultural heritage in various occasions particularly outside of North-east India. Their commendable work in the ‘21st Banga Sanskriti Sanmilani’ was an unforgettable experience for thousands of audiences who thronged the venue to witness the colourful cultural heritage of the seven sisters where Dr. Hazarika’s role as the head of the northeast troupe as well as the interpreter of the entire programme is a matter to be specially referred to.

Dr. Hazarika was a successful film and music director. He directed a number of films in Assamese, Bengali and Hindi. In most of the films, that he directed, he himself was the script writer, lyricist, and music director. He directed some remarkable TV serials, too. His films were highly acclaimed and he was nominated as the best music director several times in his life. One of his unforgettable films was ‘Pratidhwani’ in 1964. It was a romantic film based on the life and culture of the Khasis. The same was dubbed into Khasi as ‘Ka Sharati’ which brought laurels to the state by receiving the Silver medal from the President of India. Further, the film was invited to the International Film Festival held in France in the same year. Dr. Hazarika had to work hard to collect money to make the film. He used to travel from one village to another along with his only God gifted property – the sweet and powerful voice. After this film he became a loving hero among the Khasis.

Dr. Hazarika used to perform at different concerts and events throughout Meghalaya including Garo hills; mostly to raise funds for noble causes like opening of a school, orphanage etc. Once in the ‘Laban Bihu Sanmilan’ the then people’s leader professor R. H. Lyngdoh emotionally hugged Dr. Hazarika and regretted saying, “Bhupen is better known outside than in the northeast.” This is partially true. Many of his evergreen compositions carry the message of love and unity among the people of northeast depicting their age-old relationship. But most of them are written and composed in Assamese and later translated into some other major Indian languages. Further, no significant steps are taken to translate his songs into other major languages of the Northeast. Local media is also responsible for that.

Dr. Hazarika had written a number of articles where he mentioned about the people and culture of Meghalaya. He had deep knowledge about the cultural heritage of the tribes of Meghalaya. Theoretically he knew all the nukes of Nongkrem and other dance forms as well as the traditional dances of Garos and Jaintias.

Today, at this time of social disorder and misunderstanding, Dr. Hazarika will remain an inspiration for thousands who are craving for peace and brotherhood. I have a firm belief that if his songs and other creations are correctly translated into different languages of the North-east and also if the new generation singers carry the deep meaningful messages of his songs, the negative attitudes of life will minimize to a great extent. Being a disciple of Paul Robeson and a person of principle he has proved many times through his powerful songs that ‘GAAN’ (music), and not ‘GUN’, can be the ideal and the cheapest instrument to fight against all social evils. Dr. Hazarika was an optimist and his songs reflect the same. Praising the monumental treasure work of U Soso Tham he said, “…Great people come once to the world to leave their foot prints through their golden creations. ‘Ka Duitara Ksiar’ is one among them….”

Bhupen Hazarika had a sense of humour. Once someone in America asked him the meaning of his name, he said, “‘Bhu’ means the earth in Assamese. I am the ‘pen’ of the ‘earth’.” Though the statement was comical, it best fitted him.

Truly, his writings reflect the love, happiness, miseries and sorrows of the mass. His songs have a universal appeal. Through his immortal creations he has proved that the pen is mightier than the sword. He is no more today, but his golden voice will forever act as the guiding force resonating peace and harmony among the people of different culture when racial and religious intolerance have reached the extremum.

By - Ankur Deka
Email: ankur1966@gmail.com
Priyamvada Patel Hazarika (wife of Bhupen Hazarika) paying her respect to Dr. Hazarika at a function in Guwahati, Assam