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Bhupen Hazarika

PTI |, New Delhi
Apr 20, 2004 04:23 PM IST

The 'Bard of Assam' has started a new innings of his life at 78 -- as a saffron politician.

The 'Bard of Assam' and a legend of India's North-East, Bhupenda has started a new innings of his life at 78 -- as a saffron politician, adding yet another dimension to his multi-faceted personality.

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A singer, poet, composer, actor, director and producer, Bhupen Hazarika's plunge into BJP-oriented politics is not without reason. "Art should become an instrument of social change," he says adding that he wants to improve the situation in North-East and use BJP as a tool.

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Many hardcore Assamese have cried foul over his decision, but a determined Hazarika hasn't cared as he stands "convinced" with the performance of NDA Govt. Born and brought up in Tezpur, the balladeer is tipped to contest from here on BJP ticket in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.

It's not his maiden foray into politics. He had been an Independent MLA from Assam before too. And this time also, he was not short of offers. In fact, regional Assam Gana Parishad had offered him Tezpur seat to contest, and otherwise, a nomination to Rajya Sabha in April. But being a man of conviction, he turned it down in favour of BJP.

Dada Saheb Phalke award winner and a recipent of Padma Bhushan, he has also served as chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi.

Bhupenda, as he is lovingly called by millions, is recognised by many as one of greatest cultural figures that Assam has produced, next only to Sri Sri Sankaradeva, the Vaishnavite preacher of 15th century, and Rupkonwar Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla, the early 20th-century singer-composer.

He is a communicator of romance, passion, universalism and humanism. He has gathered awards aplenty: for his contribution to cinema, to music, to culture, and to the vigour he reinstilled in the Assamese, jostling them awake through song, and forcing them to rethink old attitudes. In 1994, he was awarded Dada Saheb Phalke Award, the highest award in India for contribution to films.

Hazarika is cherished in Dhaka as much as he is in Guwahati. His song on the war of Bangladesh’s freedom, Joi Joi Naba Jata Bangladesh (hail the newborn Bangladesh), is a stirring marching tune which was on every Bengali’s lips during those harrowing days. His songs are not limited to Assamese and Bengali, and Bhupenda’s rich baritone is equally at ease with Hindi, Urdu and English.

He was born in Tezpur, a town that has quite a significant number of them. The black Nepali cap, which is his signature, he began wearing, he says, when his father died many years ago and someone in the neighbourhood gave him a topi to wear. The khukuri pin that adorns his topi is a gift from Hazarika’s friends and admirers in Nepal.

He showed signs of early musical genius even before he started singing on All India Radio in 1937, at the age of eleven. As a young adult, he swiftly made his mark as singer and composer. Later, Hazarika travelled to New York, where he earned a doctorate in audio-visual and mass communications from Columbia University. He served in the Assam Assembly in the 1960s as an independent MLA. He has also headed the Assam Sahitya Sabha, the literary bastion of the Brahmaputra valley’s dominant civilisation.

Few know that, during his time at Columbia University, Hazarika was a friend of Paul Robeson, the great black American singer, actor and civil rights activist. Robeson’s passionate crusade for social justice and black pride has permeated Bhupenda’s own worldview. Inspired greatly by Robeson’s powerful rendition of the song “Ole Man River”, Hazarika created his own moving ode to the Brahmaputra.

The waterways of Assam have been a the source of inspiration for Hazarika’s songs and lyrics all these years. "The Brahmaputra is the lifeline of Assam," he says. One of his notable collaborations for Doordarshan was Luit Kinare (by the banks of the Luit), a mosaic of ordinary tales that is both cheerful and poignant. (The Luit merges with the Dibang in Arunachal to create the mighty sea-like expanse of the Brahmaputra.)

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