A Tribute to the First Assamese Gramophone Record Singer
"In 1924, when he was all of 24 years, Prafulla Chandra Borooah had to convince His Masters Voice Gramophone Record company that Assamese songs will sell on their own merit and were not inferior to Bengali songs."
By Jahnabi Phookan
A promise made to his dying father led to the first Gramophone record songs in Assamese in 1924. The dying father was Assam’s Sangeetacharya Lakshiram Borooah , who set the annotation for Assamese music and left his legacy with the Sangit Sadhana and the Sangit Kosh. The young man was Prafulla Chandra Borooah of Sibsagar, Assam.
Few know that a decade earlier, the Sangeetacharya was to go to Calcutta to record Assamese songs on the Gramophone. It was his dream to appear in the music exams of Trinity College of Music in Calcutta and publish a self-composed book on comparative studies on Western, Indian and Assamese music. But destiny willed otherwise and he fell to an illness which took his life. Prafulla Chandra was 14 years old. He had lost his mother when he was five years old. For ten years, he and his younger brother grew up in straitened circumstance among kindly relatives.
Such were the greats those days that it was Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, Founder and Charles A King, Principal of the Benares Hindu University who were instrumental in furthering Prafulla Chandra’s education. They allowed him free admission in the Engineering degree course. A rent-free single seater hostel room was provided to facilitate his practice. The principal gave him an allowance of ten rupees monthly and would come over to the room often to listen to his violin.
In 1924, when he was all of 24 years, Prafulla Chandra Borooah had to convince His Masters Voice Gramophone Record company that Assamese songs will sell on their own merit and were not inferior to Bengali songs. The very first Assamese Gramophone record songs were Kiyano Pahora Asamiya Hera Sirokal Ashila Swadhin and some of the others were - Aji Bondoki Sandere Samagat Beerata Naranarayanan Rupa and Asoma Sushma Kamrupa Jayatu Janani Dharitri Duhita which was all set to tune by him. In 1928 and 1930, Prafulla Chandra Borooah went on to record four more songs each in the second and third recording of Assamese songs on Gramophone.
Returning to Assam, Prafulla Chandra got immersed in the world of theatre and music.
He was the Borgohain in Joymoti, the first Assamese celluloid in 1935. His brother Phunu
Borooah was the famous Gadapani and his two sons played Lai and Lesai . He was a constant
companion of Jyotiprasad Agarwala and the film’s memorable last song Luitare Pani Jabi O Boi
was set to tune on the latter’s instructions that the audience must leave the film misty eyed .....
By then, Prafulla Chandra and his brother had tried their hand on road building, sleepers for the
railways, dredging the river , trading in rice and other commodities to finally being able to start
their fledgling tea plantations.
Straddling both the worlds of music and commerce , Prafulla Chandra often said that when he
earned his first Five Hundred Rupees, he was forced to choose “ between Goddess Saraswati or
Goddess Lakshmi. He chose the latter and entered the tea industry where unlike his peers in the
tea industry, of Rai Bahadurs and their ilk, Prafulla Chandra Borooah was a first generation tea
planter, industrialist and proud of his humble beginnings.
In a career spanning various capacities as Vice President of Tea Board, as Chairman ‘Borooah Committee on Tea industry’, as Director, Assam Financial Corporations Ltd, as Director, Assam Petrochemicals Ltd , as Director , Assam Tea Corporation Ltd, there is a story to be recounted on his Chairmanship of the Assam Film (Finance & Development) Corporation Ltd .
As he was a self made man , there was nothing that impressed Prafulla Chandra more than a man’s true worth. One such young man with a dream was filmmaker Jahnu Barua. He wanted to make his film but he had no collateral to pledge with Assam Film Finance & Development Corporation Ltd .
Jahnu was being turned down but he was tenacious. He arranged to meet Prafulla Chandra in the aircraft on his way to Calcutta .He narrated his lack of collateral which stood between him and his dream of making a film. Prafulla Chandra listened quietly then pronounced, “ Your talent will be your collateral”. The funds were sanThe funds were sanctioned and there was no looking back since then. Jahnu Barua’s talent truly proved to be his collateral . Years later, Jahnu Barua was proud to become Prafulla Chandra Borooah’s grand son-in-law.
Today, among his other contributions to Assam , PC Borooah’s name lives on in the PC Borooah Childrens’ Chess Academy . It was his eldest daughter-in-law Lakhimi Borooah who set up the The PC Borooah Educational and Charitable Society, with a modest bequest of Rs 1 lakh gifted by him on his death. The idea of holding Chess competitions for children was Lakhimi Borooah’s brainchild and the was the first of its kind, when it started off in 1988 . To celebrate such a man, Lakhimi Borooah also set up the PC Borooah Chess Academy which pioneered chess education for children in Assam in 2000. It is under the aegis of this Academy now that the Childrens’ Chess competitions are held , both as national and as International Fide rated events.
PC Borooah was a staunch Congressman and Member of Parliament (1957-67), first generation tea planter and industrialist. Besides being the Assamese Gramophone record singer in 1924, he was also a thespian, playing the Borgohain in Joymoti, the first Assamese celluloid in 1935 . Borooah was the first to broadcast the first Assamese Radio Drama Been Boragi –from the Calcutta Station of All India radio in 1936. And it is Prafulla Chandra Borooah who composed the music for the immortal lyrics of “ Luitare Pani Jabi O Boi” in Joymoti.