I first heard the song O Ganga on Doordarshan. Both, the song and the singer, had me glued to the TV screen. At the end of the song, a name flashed below the name of the song: Bhupen Hazarika. I was about 11 years old and the name stuck.
O Ganga.. Jajabor.. Dil hun hun karen.. all these songs were a part of my growing up years. Durga Puja meant Bhupenda would release an album or two and I would buy them.
My friends and I would listen to the songs, writing down the words, line by line. Then, we would sing the songs together the way they were meant to be.
My first music system was inaugurated with Bhupenda's songs. I so badly wanted to hear him at a concert but the opportunity never came up.
Years passed. I started composing jingles and had to visit Mumbai frequently. On one such visit, I was at the studio working. Needing a break, I walked out to the reception room. And there he was! Bhupen Hazarika, in flesh and blood.
Face to face
He was talking to my friend who was the recording engineer. I froze. Knowing that I was a big fan of Bhupenda, my friend called out to me. I was introduced to my idol. I bent down and touched his feet, simply because I felt like it.
I told him how it was impossible to go down memory lane without remembering his songs. Bhupenda was embarrassed.
We started chatting in Bengali and talked about Assam, folk music, Lata didi (Mangeshkar), Rudaali, classical music, northeast politics. One topic lead to another. I was oblivious to the fact that we were standing in the middle of the reception area. People were staring at us till he took my hand and led me outside.
The studio was next to a buzzing suburban street. He said we could chat here without being disturbed. This man from the hills still preferred open spaces.
Live and unplugged
I asked him to sing a few lines of O Ganga for me. And there, in the middle of the road, with thousands of cars and people passing by, he started singing my childhood favourite:
Vistar hai apaar, praja dono paar, kare hahakar, nistabd sada, O Ganga tum, o Ganga behti ho kyun?
It was an unplugged performance by the maestro. What made it even more special was that he was singing just for me. I had gooseflesh.
That noisy suburban evening I understood the meaning of every word.. the river being asked how she flows so quietly despite the chaos and unrest around.
I too joined him at certain points. The song was no longer his. It belonged to all of us. It was evident that he was enjoying this impromptu performance. Bhupenda is a true music lover, free from all the trappings of a celebrity.
You, me and us
At the end of the song he hugged me and asked me to call him whenever I was in Mumbai, so we could have more sessions like this one. Then, he said goodbye and left. I stood there by the road, outside the studio for a long time. I was in no mood to return to work. My heart was brimming with emotions.
A few years later, I met Bhupenda at an awards function. Parineeta had released. He told me he loved the songs and hummed Piyu bole for me. It was thrilling to hear him sing my song. But even more special was that evening, when he had sung O Ganga by the road, only for me.
The writer is a famous music composer