Bhupen Hazarika: Voice Of The People
An avalanche seemed to have burst on the streets of Guwahati. For three consecutive days from the 7th of November, wave upon wave of people kept flowing night and day towards a common destination – Judges’ Field, where lay the mortal remains of the man who had found a place in the hearts of all the people of the North Eastern part of India, especially his homeland, Assam.
Born at Sadiya in Upper Assam in 1926, Bhupen Hazarika spent his formative years amidst the tumult of the freedom struggle. He also came in contact with two of the greatest cultural personalities of Assam – Jyoti Prasad Agrawal and Bishnu Prasad Rabha, who were a crucial formative influence on Hazarika as an artist.
His first composition, written while still in his teens, was ‘Agni yugar firingoti moi’(I am the spark of the age of fire). It was an expression of his revolutionary thinking. As a student in Columbia University, in the USA, he met Paul Robeson, who told him that the guitar is not just a musical instrument; it can be a social instrument, an instrument for change. His interaction with Robeson and Richard Wright, the great cultural activists, left a lifelong mark on Hazarika.
Even before his encounter with Robeson, Bhupen Hazarika had come into contact with the Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association (IPTA) and the great figures of Assamese folk and progressive culture like Hemanga Biswas. He called upon cultural people to resist the forces of reaction, and sang of socialism and equality. This did not go well with the reactionary forces, who prevented him from singing his songs at the Bihu Sanmelan at Latasil Field in 1952. The next day, Hemanga Biswas, then IPTA Secretary, had all the songs printed and then distributed them among the people.
In his lyrics, we meet the barely clothed farmer and the poor fishermen. Every aspect of Assamese life and society, and all the communities of all other states of the seven sisters, find a place in Hzarika’s songs. That explains the outpouring of respect and honour from states like Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and others. During the language conflicts of the sixties, he toured the state with an IPTA group towards peace and reconciliation.
The Luit has a special place in his songs, it was his strength. He said, “Just as there would be no Paul Robeson without the Mississippi, so there would be no Bhupen Hazarika without the Luit.He had special soft corner for the month of Bohag (mid April-mid May), describing it as the life line of the Assamese people.” He described Marx, Gorky, Lenin, Paul Robeson, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. as his ideals. He sang about Nelson Mendela, and about racial discrimination. He himself had been a victim of caste discrimination. He was prevented from marrying the woman he loved because of his caste, and he was taunted by some as ‘modar ‘, a flower which is never used in any religious rituals.
He regretted his brief dalliance with the BJP, late in life. His political missteps notwithstanding, what Bhupen Hazarika will be remembered and revered for is for being a voice of the common people.
The Wanderer Has Left Us
General Secretary, Sadou Assam Jansanskritik Parishad
That golden voice that gave a distinct identity to the entire North East, and sang “Ami ek jajabor” (I’m a wanderer), has fallen silent….
In the 1950s, Bhupen Hazarika had to leave Assam under unfortunate circumstances and come to Kolkata. Harassed for his links with the Left cultural movement, he was forced to resign as Professor of Guwahati University. As a member of an all India cultural delegation, he had visited Helsinki and Finland, and had been unavoidably delayed. In spite of the fact that he had cabled the University about the delay, the administration cut his salary for three days. With that, Bhupen Hazarika left the university, and began his journey as a cultural activist.
Even after IPTA fell apart, Bhupen Hazarika did not lose his balance. He stood firm, with his feet firmly grounded among the people. His immortal composition, ‘Shiter shishir bheja raat’ speaks from his soul: “On a dew-soaked winter night, may our song become the flickering embers that warm the unclothed labourer in the field; the solace of the cries of the terrified minority; the sound of the song of the new dawn – the same song sung by a singer whose voice was silenced.” He published a cultural magazine called ‘Pratidhwani.’ That magazine embodied the spirit of his song ‘Pratidhwani Shunu Ami Pratidhwani Shuni’, in which he hears, from beyond the hills, the grief-laden song of a young girl and the hunger and pain of a peasant – and then hears that grief and hunger and pain end. He hears the footfalls of a new day in the tumult of the sea of humanity.
After IPTA, he became the President of the Sadou Assam Jansanskritik Parishad. That was in 1982, when the Assam movement was at its peak, and was being misled by both chauvinists and communists. In that atmosphere of communal and ethnic conflict, when it was difficult for people to come out on the streets, Dr. Bhupen Hazarika himself formed a cultural team of the Parishad and came out on the streets. Around this time, HMV released the long playing record of progressive folk musician Bishnu Prasad Rabha’s selected compositions – a historic moment for Assam that would have been impossible without Bhupen Hazarika. From 1982-1989, he remained President of the Sadou Assam Jansanskritik Parishad for two successive terms of four years each. He had an invaluable role in building this organization.
Bhupen Hazarika’s passing is a huge blow, not only for Assam and the North East, but for the whole country. He was indeed a great scholar, intellectual, progressive human being and great musician. He was that fire and flame that burns within and without the hearts of the people of Assam. He will always live in their hearts. Noone can match that fearless, sweet, golden voice and its message.
Assam’s Government are trying to project Bhupen Hazarika as a divine soul. In fact, he was a true son of the soil, inspired by the toiling people and inspiring them in return.
The Sadou Assam Jansanskritik Parishad salutes the immortal legacy of Bhupen Hazarika!
Adieu Adam Gondvi
‘When 70 people in every 100 are still poor – put your hands on your heart, and tell me, is the country really free?’
People poet Adam Gondvi, who penned the above words that can be heard in countless protest demonstrations in the country, passed away on December 18, 2011 at Lucknow. Gondvi, (pen name of Ramnath Singh), was born in Gonda in UP in 1947, the year of India’s independence. He made ghazals a medium for people’s protests. He demolished the myth that protest poetry cannot find inspiration except in times of rising people’s movements. Gondvi’s ghazals expressed the challenge of change even in the darkest times, when organised protest was at its weakest.
Gondvi was primarily a peasant by livelihood. His poetry got its revolutionary edge from his proximity to left movements. He took ghazals into the ‘Chamar’s Lane,’ bringing it face to face with feudal oppression.
His poetry was a powerful voice against communal frenzy, calling passionately for an end to war on religious lines, and calling instead for a united war on poverty and oppression. He lived and died in poverty.
His passing is a huge loss for the Left cultural movement of North India, and for activists who would be filled with a remarkable spirit when they began their protests with his songs. q
Inspiring Persona Mamoni Raisom Goswami
(Soon after Bhupen Hazarika’s demise, Assam suffered another painful loss. Harendranath Barthakur pays tribute to Dr. Indira Goswami.)
The unconquered storyteller of the contemporary Assamese literature, Mamoni Raisom Goswami, (Dr. Indira Goswami) breathed her last on 29 November.
She achieved distinction for her materialist vision and her unique choice of themes. Born in 1942 in an affluent Brahmin family and brought up in a feudal, conservative environment, her life journey was not smooth. In that patriarchal society, she faced many troubles and injustice as a woman. The intellectual prowess she achieved through her single-handed fight against all odds is astonishing. She never compromised with any obstacles.
Her untimely widowhood was a terrible blow to her, but she addressed her loneliness by turning her gaze towards society. She took up her pen as her companion – against decadent feudal values, capitalist exploitation, denial of women’ rights, and the status quo. Her stories and novels look at the life struggles of the oppressed people struggling for liberation.
She did not confine her vision to the social life of Assam, but extended it to the rest of the country. Creations like “The Shadow of the Dark God and the Sin” (Nilakanthi Braj), “An Unfinished Autobiography” (Adhalekha Dastabej), “Saga of South Kamrup” (Datal Hatir Uyen Khowa Howda), “Selected works of Indira Goswami (1988),” “I and my writing (1988),” “Two Ramayanas”, “Selected Short Stories of Indira Goswami” and research on Ramayanas gave her international repute.
Her novels “Chenabor Shrot”, and “Ahiran” dealt with exploited lives of labourers. With the inspiration and assistance of her engineer husband, the late Madhaben Roisom Iyengar, she got the opportunity to come in contact of the working class. Seeing the plight of the working class, her writer’s spirit rebelled. Her novels are among the few in Assamese literature which portray workers’ struggles. In “Nilakanthi Braj” and “Datal Hatir Uyen Khowa Howda”, she narrates the horrific tale of the feudal oppression of widows and discriminatory attitudes towards women. In “Tej Aru Dhulire Dhukhorito Prista”, she discussed the atrocities on the Sikh community after Indira Gandhi’s murder. Her intense protest against animal sacrifices found voice in the novel “Chinnamastar Manuhtu”. Her novel “Saudaminir Katha” is a lively document of the social status of Indian women. Her notd story “Sanskar” vividly depicts the tragic conflict between feudal remnants and modernity. Her writings heralded a new chapter of progressive writing in Assamese and Indian literature.
She was moved by the neglect of characters of Seeta and Urmila in Ramayana to deeply research the epic. In search of knowledge, she communicated with many writers-intellectual around the world and travelled to Japan, South East Asia, Indonesia, Spain, America, Pakistan, Maldives, and Thailand etc. She achieved a PhD degree in “A Comparative Study of Madhav Kandalir Axomiya Ramayan and Tulsidasar RamCharit manas.” She has been awarded with many national and international awards including the Sahitya Academy Award (1993), Assam Sahitya Sabha Award, Bharat Nirman Award(1989), Souharya award of Uttar Pradesh Hindi Sanstha (1992), Katha Award of Delhi (1993), Kamal Kumari foundation Award (1996),International Tulsi Award (1999), Bhartiya Gyanpeeth (2001), Padmashree (2002), Ambassador for Peace Award by South Korea, Principal Prince Club Award of Europe (2007), Gold Plate of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (2008). By translating the two volumes of Stories of Premchand, a Malayalam novel (Adhagonta Samay) and Jatak Katha, she tried to introduce Assamese readers to the literary world of different Indian languages.
Her painstaking research illuminates each of her novels, which have a deep sense of history, time and place. Most of her novels draw on true life stories of oppressed sections of society. She participated in the lecture series on the “Inspiring Life of Mahatma Gandhi For World Peace” in Thailand, and played a leading role in the peace talks between ULFA and the Indian government.
Humanism is the soul of Dr. Indira Goswami’s literary writing. As a writer, she was fearless, unambiguous and uncompromising. We bid heartfelt adieu to Mamoni Raisom Goswami.
Comrade R P Dimri
Comrade R P Dimri passed away on 4 December 2011, after a brief bout with cancer of the urinary bladder. He was around 66, and is survived by his wife and two sons.
Comrade Dimri was one of the few comrades in Delhi who joined the CPI(ML) early in its underground days. His home provided one of the main shelters for party activists and leaders in Delhi. Many comrades, including Comrades Vinod Mishra, Nagbhbushan Patnaik and Ram Naresh Ram, took shelter at his home when in Delhi for medical treatment. He took an active role in organizing party education in Delhi.
He was a delegate to four party state conferences of Delhi, and also remained a state committee member for some period. He was secretary of school teachers’ party branch. Hard working and ever-smiling, Comrade R P Dimri, even in his last days, always felt very inspired by the spirit of the Naxalbari movement, and by news of mass militant struggles.
Red Salute, Comrade R P Dimri!
Comrade Lalan Kumar
Comrade Lalan Kumar of Begusarai passed away untimely on 9 November 2011 at the age of 50, due to kidney failure, after a life-and-death struggle for the past year.
Comrade Lalan joined the party in 1983 and took membership in 1984. He was active in IPF, and in cultural activism that attracted urban youth to the party. He also earned the respect of intellectuals with his bold and persuasive participation in debates.
Just before his illness, he had helped to organize newspaper hawkers and led a successful struggle of the hawkers against the local agent. The Hawkers’ Association, Begusarai, is still active.
The party flag at the Begusarai flew at half mast in tribute to the departed comrade. Party leaders and activists as well as masses gathered to bid final farewell to Comrade Lalan.
Red Salute to Comrade Lalan Kumar!
Comrade Rameshwar Singh
The sudden demise of Comrade Rameshwar Singh, employees’ leader of Bihar, on 7 December 2011 from a haemorrhage has come as a sudden shock for the entire party as well as his family.
Comrade Rameshwar Singh was born on 11 January 1954 in Bahera village of Kamur district (Kudra thana). Active in the CPIM, he joined the CPI(ML) in 1988 along with a group of activists.
He was the State Secretary of the Bihar State Non-Gazetted Employees’ Federation (Gope faction), and the General Secretary of his departmental union, the Bihar Cooperative Extension Officers’ Association. He was also honorary President of the Bihar ASHA Workers’ Association, and played an invaluable role in organising the struggle of woman ASHA workers. At the recently held National Conference of the AICCTU in Bhilai, he was elected a National Council member. He was also a member of the Patna Town Committee of the party.
His loss is very hard to reconcile to, and his example with continue to inspire us in the days to come.
Red Salute to Comrade Rameshwar Singh!
Comrade Nandji, party leader in Delhi, passed away early morning on 20 December. He was 59. He had suffered from a paralytic stroke not long ago, but was fast recovering, and was recuperating at the party’s NOIDA Sector 10 office when he suddenly suffered another fatal stroke and passed away.
Comrade Nandji was a district committee member of East Delhi. He was one of the senior-most party members in Delhi. He was founder President of the IPSS Security Workers’ Union, and that union fought many militant struggles in his leadership. Though he took VRS and retired, the IPSS Union continued, being one of the few unions where all the labour laws are implemented thanks to workers’ struggles.
Active in the party from his early youth, he had been a squad member in Bhojpur when the party was underground. Subsequently he had come to Delhi as a migrant security worker. When the party’s first MP was elected from Bhojpur in 1989, he sought out the party in Delhi and remained active with the party in Delhi since then.
Comrade Nandji, till the very end, played a very active role in building the unions of rickshaw pullers, domestic workers, and street vendors in NOIDA. The Delhi party could rely upon this sturdy comrade in every situation. His demise is a shock and a great loss, but his commitment and loyalty to the party will be a role model for all party members.
Party activists and leaders including Comrade Swapan Mukherjee, CCM and General Secretary, AICCTU, Delhi State Secretary Sanjay Sharma as well as CCM Comrade Rajendra Pratholi, as well as Delhi SCMs Shyam Kishore, Santosh Roy, Shankaran, VKS Gautam, Mathura Paswan, Ramabhilash, Aslam, Uma Gupta, and many others gathered at the NOIDA office to pay tribute to Comrade Nandji. Comrades marched in a procession with the cortege, wrapped in the party flag, to the cremation ground, bidding farewell to Comrade Nandji on his final journey.
Red Salute to Comrade Nandji!