Memories of Bhupen Da
"At heart, Bhupen da was a simpleton and touched a chord with anyone and everyone who crossed his path. However, like all intellectuals and creative geniuses there was another side to him which was known only to his family and to people who were very close to him."
By Kul Goswami Rahman, Contributor
Bhupen da, as we all knew him, was a regular visitor to my grandparents’ house in Ketekibari, Tezpur. Since his career started there, he did harbor a soft corner for the place and its people. My parents, Late Dr. Rabindra Kumar Goswami and Dr. Lakshmi Kumari Goswami, were very close friends since the early Sixties.
In 1965 my parents had just got back from Glasgow and had joined Tezpur Civil Hospital. We used to live in a government quarter just opposite the hospital. It was sometime in the winter of 1966 that I woke up in the middle of the night and heard music and laughter wafting in from our drawing room. I walked in groggily and saw this thin man with a receding hairline singing and playing the harmonium. His eyes fell on me and stopped at once. Looking up, he said, "Well, well, well. Who do we have here?" He then pulled me by my waist and made me sit near him and sang "Brahmaputrar Dutti par Dolongey log logaley." There were two other men with him that night, one was Nirod Choudhury, the writer and the other was Jayanta Hazarika. Since that day onwards, Bhupen da was a regular guest at our house whenever he was in Tezpur. Bhupenda bonded very well with my parents as well as our whole family. Whenever he arrived, the whole family was in holiday mode with picnics and parties and sing-song evenings. I had five aunts and nearly all of them including my Aita, who he fondly used to call Bogimai, were half in love with him as also were most of the women of Tezpur. My sister used to call him ‘Moisa Mama’ after hearing his song ‘Moi Aru Mur Sa’. He used to tease my Aita regularly about her six very efficient and beautiful daughters. Maybe that was another reason for his attraction towards my family!! With my parents, however, the connection was purely intellectual which was in turn cemented by many a bottle of Scotch over a period of forty four years.
Looking back, he seemed to be very relaxed whenever he was at our place. Bhupen da loved the simplicity of Assamese food. He would himself gather the ingredients from our backyard and take these to Moina Bai, our cook. He would then help her prepare his favourite dishes. He loved his evening tipple which led to creative and engrossing conversations. There were times when ‘Johnie’ walked too far too fast! Our house helps would be on their toes from morning till night and sometimes till the wee hours of the morning making endless cups of tea and snacks. Every evening was a majlish. Drinks and conversation flowed and as tongues got looser after each peg he would start off with his bawdy jokes and very interesting life experiences. We youngsters would sit around in various corners of the room and listen to him speak with mouth agape. He knew the choicest of Axomia gaalis and would let loose once in a while. It was then that mother used to shoo us out of the room. I remember him coming back from his tour of Bangladesh and very excitedly telling my Ma, "Deep, bujisa, suwali burey muk request korisey tahator bukut autograph diboloi!" His 'Joi Joi Nabajata Bangladesh' inspired the
people of our neighbouring country and Bhupenda's Manush Manusher Jonno is the next most popular song after their National Anthem. In 1973 Bhupenda came to our place along with the noted poet Birinchi Bhattacharya, then Darrang College principal Bipinpal Das and the editor of the Assamese newspaper 'Nilachal', Homen Borgohain (whom the whole family calls 'Peha', God knows why!).
There was a function at Darrang College that night and he was to perform. From three in the afternoon till six in the evening, he locked himself in our guest room and wrote the song - 'Xitorey Xemeka Rati', which he went on to sing it that very night. That was my first encounter with his genius. The paper he wrote it on is still with my mother, though a little frayed at the edges. It was on this day that they learnt of Dipali Barthakur suffering from a motor neuron disease and Bhupenda was very worried that she would not sing again. He referred to her in the song with these words:
'Kantharuddha Kunu Xu Gayokor
Probhat Anibaw Pora
Othosaw Nukuwa Eti Omor Geetor Babey
Moi Jen Eti Xudha Kanthaw Hou'
His most romantic song 'Bimurto Mur Nixati Jen' has a close connection with our family. It was composed in 1972 after a wedding in Ketekibari, our ancestral village. In 2009 my father passed away and my sister and I took upon the task of cleaning out his rooms at the clinic. It was inside one of his drawers that we found a copy of Dr. Bhupen Hazarika's Rasanawali (a compilation of his writings). We treasure it well - these evergreen, brilliant songs of his. If ever they were translated into English, he would have definitely got a Nobel Prize!
To say that people loved Bhupen da would be an understatement. The Assamese people blindly adored him. At heart, Bhupen da was a simpleton and touched a chord with anyone and everyone who crossed his path. However, like all intellectuals and geniuses there was another side to him which was known only to his family and to people who were very close to him. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been privy to the informality of the man and his music. Bhupen da will always be fondly remembered by us.