Bhupen Hazarika – the master who touched millions of hearts

Guwahati : Music lovers would have been denied the magic of Bhupen Hazarika’s hauntingly powerful voice in songs like “Dil hoom hoom kare” and “Ganga behti ho kyun” if he had gone ahead and become a lawyer like he initially planned.

But destiny willed otherwise.

Hazarika, who died of multiple organ failure in a Mumbai hospital Saturday at age 85, was a master balladeer and touched millions with the passion of his songs.

He was one of India’s oldest performing singers who entertained music lovers all over for more than seven decades – his songs are at times like letters from home, had revolutionary promises, sometimes angry, but always had that soothing touch in his baritone voice.

From Tokyo to Mumbai and Alaska to Assam, those who heard Hazarika could never ever forget his powerful renditions.

“When I go to Japan, students of music want me to sing ‘Manuhe Manuhar Babe’ (For Man). When I reach California people say you are our Paul (Robeson), please sing ‘We are in the same boat brothers’,” the legendary musician told IANS in an interview in 2006 just before a stage performance in Guwahati.

It was mid-way during that stage performance that Hazarika suffered a mild stroke and later had to undergo a bypass surgery.

But the cardiac arrest failed to deter his spirit – Bhupen Da, as he was endearingly addressed by one and all, continued singing until about two years ago when his failing health stopped him from composing new numbers.

“I always think I am young,” Hazarika again told this writer while celebrating his 84th birthday last year.

“I don’t feel like retiring as music has no retirement age. Throughout my life I have been trying to interpret Assam and India to the outside world through my songs,” Hazarika said.

He began singing when he was just 10 years old and churned out hits after hits numbering more than 1,500 songs until his health failed about two years ago. At 13, he sang about building a new Assam and a new India – the lyrics were his own, very powerful and contemporary.

A singer, lyricist, actor, and a filmmaker, Hazarika was born in 1926 in one of Assam’s remotest corners – Sadiya in the eastern district of Tinsukia. He grew up in the northern town of Tezpur and later went to Banaras Hindu University and completed his graduation and post-graduation in Political Science.

He studied with an aim to pursue a career as a lawyer in Assam, but destiny made him a mass-based singer.

In 1948, Hazarika went to the US on a scholarship to study Mass Communication at Columbia University, New York.

It was there that he got soaked in American folk music and later on that influenced him to bring in the folk elements in his songs – although he mostly sang the folk tunes of Assam.

Always adorned with the trademark Nepali cap, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner’s passion for music was unrelenting.

Hazarika had composed soulful music for films like “Rudaali”, “Saaz” and “Gajagamini”.

Not just singing, Hazarika dabbled in politics as well – his remarkable popularity brought him to the Assam Legislative Assembly as an Independent member in 1967, where he was solely responsible for installing the first state owned film studio of its kind ever in Guwahati, the Jyoti Chitraban.

He again tried his hand in politics – this time as a Bharatiya Janata Party candidate for the Guwahati Lok Sabha seat in 2004. He was, however, unsuccessful and lost the election.

Hazarika’s personal life is as chequered as his professional life.

For close to 40 years, Hazarika had been in a live in relationship with filmmaker Kalpana Lajmi.

Kalpana Lajmi was just 17 when she fell in love with Hazarika who was 45 at that time.

When the music maestro turned 80, he offered to marry her, but Lajmi turned down the offer saying the ‘wife’ tag was unnecessary to their relationship.

‘Bhupso (Kalpana endearingly addressed Hazarika as Bhupso) did offer to marry me when he was around 80, but I said no,’ Lajmi, told this writer in an interview.

“May be he wanted to give me the status of wife, but I was not interested. For me, the relationship, the trust and the respect that we share with each other are more important than marriage.”

Lajmi, best known for her woman-oriented films like ‘Rudaali’, ‘Daman’, ‘Ek Pal’, ‘Chingaari’ and ‘Darmiyaan’, says she met Hazarika through her uncle.

“We lived together for the past more than 40 years, although my mother never accepted the relationship, nor did Bhupso’s family members, barring Manisha (Bhupen’s younger brother Jayanta’s wife).”

In Lajmi’s own words, Bhupen Hazarika had always been the darling of many beautiful women.

“Bhupso had a lot of beautiful women in his life,” Lajmi said.

Hazarika’s estranged wife Priyam is settled in Canada and their son Tej is settled in the US.

Hazarika had produced, directed, composed and sang for Assamese language films like ‘Era Batar Sur’ (1956), ‘Shakuntala’ (1960), ‘Pratidhwani’ (1964) and ‘Lotighoti’ (1967).

So was Lajmi able to make a difference in Hazarika’s life and career?

“I think I’m 95 percent responsible for Bhupso’s career flight. He was an intoxicant (alcoholic) and I helped him get rid of that habit.”

She devoted her entire time and energy nursing him ever since he became bedridden some three years ago.

Hazarika might have passed away – but his soulful music coupled with his powerful lyrics would continue to entertain and capture the imagination of generations to come.

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