BY BISTIRNA BARUA
“What’s in a name?” asked Mr Shakespeare. Well for one thing a name sometimes, is not only merely a signifier for a person, but sometimes a name, or more specifically the word that stands for it can have its own legacy. I don’t blame Shakespeare Dada, he wasn’t born in Assam and he was not fortunate enough to be enthralled by the genius of a musical giant called Bhupen Hazarika.
For most Assamese Bhupen Hazarika is our reference point, our mirror to ourselves. His songs, lyrics, his voice entwines us with the deepest part of us. We make sense of ourselves through the lenses of his songs. Our living reality becomes decipherable when we have his songs to lean back on. His songs, can in the truest sense be called the most egalitarian. They break boundaries of caste-class-age to touch each one of us equally, in places that we didn’t even think existed before. As a language, Assamese in its tonality and texture is itself very melodic. And in the solemn timbre of Bhupen Hazarika’s mellifluous throat the language takes a new dimension. When they erupt from him, words take a new meaning, a new semantic longevity. They become immortalized, riding on the shoulders of his songs. They attain an indestructibility that is generally bereft from the contours of a language. His words of tonal words like “Goom-Goom” to signify a thunder, “Hom-Hom” to signify the beatings of a lonely heart, “Hur-Hur” to point out the ravishing fright that a storm evokes; are but experiments in tonal imagery that are surely going to outlive him. What he does is, with his rustic simplicity gives the song a new dimension, an almost subaltern touch that makes it equally appealing to the old and the new, and it is no wonder that his music evokes a kind of loyalty, a fierce nostalgia that can only be understood when felt.
Fans of his music try to hold on to them like straws that help them float in life’s invisible ocean. They find avenues to keep Bhupen Hazarika alive. And my Dad being a fan, wasn’t any exception.
My dad has been a Bhupen Hazarika fan, ever since he can remember. Like many Assamese of the 60-70’s and later, he has grown up with Bhupen Mama’s songs, been moulded by his songs, evolved with them, understood his social milieu better through these songs. As the story goes, dad used to survive on two Rosogolla’s a day, during his days at Kanoi College, to save money for the next B.H. Long playing record. (It’s another matter that Dad has Type II Diabetes now). And much like dad, in some other corner of Assam, my mom grew up under the singular influence of this great balladeer.
Hence when I was born, it was no surprise that they decided to name me after one of his songs. As Maa tells me it was a choice between Bistirna (Bistirna Parore…) or Bimurto (Bimurtomurnixati…) and I am glad they went by the first choice. As I was growing up, as soon as I replied to that routine query of what my name was – I mostly got that all-so-familiar reply “Oh, like the song…” But I never got bored, never felt bad about being reminded about where my name comes from. And I still feel a chill down my spine when someone reminds me of the origin of my name. Yes, the word Bistirna existed in the Assamese Lexicon well before Bhupen Hazarika, yes, it will exist after him but the way he used that singular word to question the voiceless magnanimity and silent glory of Brahmaputra and hence define the pathos/angst/sadness of a generation, will never be done by anyone so aesthetically again.
Bhupen Mama, I can never be good enough to stand up to my name in the context you used it. But I sure as hell will try. For you have given me a perspective, of looking beyond the obvious of seeking answers anew. And I know that your songs will be there to guide me and gently nudge me along as I fall back, each and every time. I am aware that these are dark times but as Bertolt Brecht reminds us, even dark times will have songs-atleast about the dark times. All we need to do is to keep trying to mould a future that is way better than our present, to keep believing in the beauty for our dreams. Thank you for living through me, and many others who are but children of your legacy. And we will carry your legacy as both a shield and a sword to swipe through the darkness that surrounds us at noon. We need you Bhupen mama, now more than ever. And we know, if we seek, we shall find you-in a lyric, in a melody, in a word, in a song…