The multi-faceted life, words and music of Bhupen Hazarika resonated at the Nehru Centre here as people from India, Bangladesh and Britain passionately recalled his contribution to social justice, human values and a new genre of music.
Nahid Afrin, the teenage singer from Assam who won the hearts of millions with her performance in a recent Indian TV song contest, travelled from her home state to render some of the most popular numbers of Hazarika, who died in 2011 aged 85.
“He was an immense inspiration through his songs, particularly during our war of independence. We are grateful to him, we gave him the Friends of Liberation award. We think of him as one of our own,” Bangladesh high commissioner Khondker M Talha told the gathering on Friday.
Called the “Bard of Brahmaputra” to reflect the many references to the river in his work, Hazarika is credited with creating a new genre called “Bhupendra sangeet”.
Talha said: “Hazarika is a household name in Bangladesh. His words carried the message of social justice, social reform. He had a unique way of inspiring the masses. His simple lyrics touched the common man.”
In an illustrated presentation, former Assam minister Pradyot Bordoloi detailed the many aspects of Hazarika - singer, composer, lyricist, editor, illustrator, politician. It included footage of mass grief witnessed when his body was taken to Guwahati in November 2011.
The presentation included reminiscences in Hazarika’s own words.
The event to mark his 90th birth anniversary, organised by London-based Friends of Assam and Seven Sisters, included performances by artistes such as Romen Choudhary (accordion, from Assam), Shahadat Hussain (singer, from Bangladesh), Sriparna Sarkar (dance, from London), and Uttara Sukanya Joshi (singer, from London).
The event included a photo exhibition on Hazarika’s life and association with leading personalities such as Ravi Shankar, Paul Robeson, Lata Mangeshkar, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Mohammed Rafi and Mukesh. Tributes were also paid before a portrait of Hazarika installed at the Nehru Centre in 2012.
Some noted that a significant body of Hazarika’s work was deeply political. The subtext of politics was woven into many of his songs as Assam witnessed convulsions over the issue of illegal aliens. He contested elections on two occasions.
Many of his songs celebrate universal brotherhood and pan-Indianism. While many know him for his songs in Hindi films, his work also reflected Assamese sub-nationalism, such as the ones composed during the Assam movement in the 1980s.