When A Brush Holds A Voice





Courtesy: www.dipalibarthakur.info

“Kontho-Ruddho kunu xugayokor

Provaat aanibo pora, othoso nuguwaa

Eti omor geetor babe

Moi jen eti xudha-kontho hou,xudha kontho hou”

“For an eternal song

Of a now, voice-less, mesmerising singer

That heralds in many a mornings;

Let me be an apt voice.

Let me be an apt voice”


This was Bhupen Hazarika’s tribute [i] to the voice of a lady, who can only be termed as the “Nightingale of Assam” in the minimalist terms. This song was written by Bhupen mama on the 16th of December 1969, in Kolkata (then Calcutta). He was obviously saddened by the fact that Dipali Borthakur had lost her voice that year, in her fight with the Motor-Neuron disease, and which finally led her to a wheel chair. It was in that year itself that she had sung her last song “Luit O nejabi Boi” (Don’t flow, Oh river luit…). With her, Assam had lost a voice that serenaded thousands, with her intensity, her melodic mysticism and her diction.

Dipali Borthakur was born to Biswanath Borthakur and Aaimoni Borthakur on the 30th of January 30, 1941 in Nilamani Tea Estate, Sonari, Sivasagar [i]. It can only be said that she sang her way through life. Her voice was her support, her beacon. She was adjudged the Best Singer Award in the Sangeet Natak Akademi Music festival in 1956, and it was in 1957 that she was selected as an official singer for All India Radio, heralding a new life for her. A life that was knitted together by her voice. In 1959 that she took another step towards realizing her destiny by starting out as a playback singer with the song Joubone Amoni Kore, the film was Lachit Barphukan that eventually released in the year 1961. But it was the year 1962 that brought her closer to the masses, with songs that since then have withstood the test of time. These were songs that defined almost a generation, which revelled on them, identified with the inherent ethos and the pathos of the lyrics and swooned to a voice that almost put them under a spell. These songs were “Xunor Kharu…”, “Chenai Moi Jao Dei” “Bondhu xomoy pale”


Dipali baidew’s voice attained a new, unheard dimension, when it teamed up with the lyrics of another stalwart from Assam: Dr. Nirmol Prova Bordoloi, and together, they created what can only be called – magic! A case in point being that evergreen song- Xunor Kharu Nelage muk Biyaar babe Aai, Seneh jori toi dia muk hatote Xuwai (I don’t seek golden bangles for my marriage O mother, If you can give me those bangles of affection, they suit me better).When Dipali baidew [ii] sang what Nirmol Prova baidew wrote, the listener’s world opened up to the varied intricacies and subtleties of the female heart. These songs were layered with meaning and melody. Tarali Sarma in her article [iii] rightfully points out that most of these songs were women-centric, and she exemplifies the point with that beautiful example Aai moi xunisu aghonot bule patiso mur biya. [Mother I have heard that it is this Aaghun (Nov end-mid Dec) that you are going to get me married]


But soon tragedy struck. It was in 1968 that she was diagnosed with the motor neuron disease that would from now on, ensure that Assam’s nightingale loses her voice. And while stalwarts like Bhupen Hazarika were all concerned about this great loss, another question was in the air – Would she ever have a family life? Who would take care of her? Who would now nurture a voice that now spoke in silence? And though destiny often works in strange ways, this time around there was poetic justice. For another artist, a painter, himself of the highest artistic repute; came towards that lady with the now-lost golden voice. His name was Neel Pawan Baruah.


Neel Pawan Baruah got art through his DNA. Being the son of Dhwani Kobi Binanda Chandra Baruah, he already had the artistic tutelage. But more than an artist he was also a rebel. As an artist he explored many avenues from poetry, painting, pottery, mask making etc., without getting stuck to any. He flowed like a river through all these domains, carrying the best of each, with him. His bohemian approach helped him explore the if’s and but’s of Modernity, in a way that few in Assam had ever explored before. More than anything his abstract art speaks of a world that gets left behind in the terrible urgency, that we call our lives. He joined the Kala Bhawan of Shanti Niketan in 1961, from which he graduated with a degree in fine arts. Then he joined the Guwahati Art School, despite opportunities abroad, to further the course of art, that he so believed in. Later, he along with several other like-minded souls formed the “Assam Fine Arts and Crafts Society” in 1971, where the primary focus was teaching children the nuances and the basics of art. The Assamese art fraternity held this gentleman in high esteem for the kind of constructive changes and the varied outlook he was bringing to the fine art scenario. And this respect and admiration only increased, by what happened next in 1978.


By 1970’s Dipali Baidew was totally under the grasp of that merciless affliction. She had lost her voice and was increasingly being confined to a wheelchair, for her disease was reducing her motor functions. And it was at one of his relative’s neighbourhood that Neel Pawan Baruah first spotted her. To him her affliction, her condition, never became a barricade and he fell in love! In his own words “I first spotted her at her sister’s house and instantly fell in love with her. In 1976, we got married. My father never opposed my decision as he could understand what love is being a poet himself. We never craved for anything materialistic, but only wanted peace and understanding,”[iv]


And the true artist that he was, he handled baidew’s condition with adorable patience and understanding. Baidew’s deteriorating condition mandated that she had to be taken care of, almost like a baby. And Baruah withstanding the test of time has done so, without fuss and with dedication and love. From bathing her, doing her daily chores, watching over her and feeding her, his devotion to his wife, itself became a piece of art ! And this has been the case for the past 37 years without fail. The love and dedication of Neel Pawan Da can only be proper evaluated from the fact that being a painter has its own demands. It demands an unflinching drive, time, an untiring effort and energy. And he has done all that, while taking care of Dipali Baidew to his utmost best. Now what else to say but say that sometimes a person does become greater than his/her art. Neel Pawan Baruah exemplifies that.


In a world besotted with the idea of love, in a world where relationships are getting made and unmade before the blink of an eyelid, Dipali Baidew’s and Neel Pawan da’s story exemplifies and demonstrates the idealism, the near-godliness that love can be. It shows us the way in a world ever ready to give in to loneliness-dejection-depression. They tell us that despite everything, the meanings of our lives are dependent on us, on our actions. They point to us the Sisyphus that exists in each one of us. They are a couple dependent on each other, and no, that dependence is not just one way. Each is, in some way, the other’s strength. For they are in the truest sense of the term;‘Artists’. For they make life and living beautiful. They give us hope of what can be. As Baidew, when asked about Love, murmurs to an interviewer :

“Love is God and there can be no substitute for it. Love is sacrifice and marriage is about maintaining the atmosphere of love in the house.” [v]

 (All translations are done by the Author. The Author would like to emphasise the wonderful work done by some artistic individuals for coming up with that wonderful platform called www.dipalibarthakur.info a must visit for all Dipali Baidew fan’s. With a wonderful repository of articles, statistics, songs it is a voyage to the past!)


[i] Hazarika B., ed by Hazarika S.(2008) “Bhupen HazarikarGeetXomogryo” BaniMondir : Dibrugarh

[ii] A colloquial term in Assamese for elder sister

[iii] Sarma T (2015) “Dipali Barthakur – A Magnetic Voice” accessed from www.dipalibarthakur.info

[iv]Das G. (Feb 15th 2013) “For better or worse, till death do them part” The Times Of India (accessed on 8th April 2015)

[v] ibid


Bistirna Barua

Bistirna Barua

Bistirna Barua writes, because writing is his exorcism. In a world defined by money-status-power, his aim is to change the currency to words. Words gift him peace. And a realization that when sound meets silence sans an ego, magic becomes possible. He is currently posted as Assistant Commissioner, Dhubri.