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Pratima’s voice falls silent
- weeklong battle against multiple ailments ends

Guwahati, Dec. 27: Folk singer Pratima Barua-Pandey, credited with integrating the hitherto little-known genre of Goalpariya lokageet into mainstream Assamese music, passed away today at a private hospital here after a weeklong battle against multiple ailments.

She was 67.

Doctors at the Guwahati Neurological Research Centre (GNRC) weaned her off the respirator around 7 am. Her husband Gauri Shankar Pandey, a former principal of Gauripur College, was by her side when she breathed her last. The couple’s two sons-in-law and four grandchildren were there, too.

The funeral will take place at the family’s ancestral cremation ground at Hawa Khana, Matiabagh. Chief minister Tarun Gogoi, among the first to rush to GNRC on being informed of Barua-Pandey’s demise, said she would be cremated with full state honours. “The state’s cultural firmament has suffered an irreparable loss,” he added.

Bhupen Hazarika and the president-elect of the Asam Sahitya Sabha, Biren Dutta, paid floral tributes.

Barua-Pandey, a niece of filmmaker Pramathesh Barua of Devdas fame, had been on life support since Tuesday. She was suffering from “multiple organ dysfunction”.

The services of Farhad Kapadia of Mumbai’s Hinduja Hospital had been sought to revive Barua-Pandey. The expert in critical care arrived here on Wednesday to assist the team of doctors led by neurologist Nomal Chandra Borah, who also heads the GNRC.

Barua-Pandey, a recipient of the Padmashree, had been shifted from Dhubri Civil Hospital to the intensive care unit of GNRC on Saturday night. She was taken ill after returning to Gauripur following a performance at the Tezpur Festival on December 19.

The All-Assam Students’ Union had taken the initiative in shifting her to Guwahati when her condition worsened. Her body was draped in the student organisation’s flag and taken in a procession to Swahid Nyas Bhavan, from where the cortege headed for Gauripur.

Born into the princely family of Gauripur on October 3, 1935, Barua-Pandey’s talent was first spotted by Bhupen Hazarika during the making of Mahut Bandhure in 1958. He brought the then upcoming singer to Guwahati, saying, “She must go out and sing for the world”. However, it took immense hard work for Barua-Pandey to gain acceptance.

“The people of the state were not accustomed to the songs of the mahouts. The dialect was unfamiliar, too,” said Prabin Hazarika, who based his documentary, Hastir Kanya, on the singer’s life. The documentary won the national award in 1997 for best biographical film.

Conferred the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1988, Barua-Pandey’s soulful renditions of Goalpariya Lokageet gave the genre a universal appeal. Her guru was the chief mahout of Gauripur, Bhabesh Singha Roy.

Barua-Pandey used to often talk of her father Prakritesh Chandra Barua’s contribution to her growth as a singer. “He was a constant source of inspiration, though he once turned down a suggestion that I should become a classical vocalist,” she recalled in one of her interviews.

The novelty of Barua-Pandey’s music lay in her voice, which had a husky tone that critics consider perfect for Goalpariya lokageet. Apart from the songs of the mahouts, she loved Paul Robeson’s evergreen hit We are in the same boat brother. She used to sing it whenever she performed on stage.

Bhupen Hazarika, who spent many hours with Barua-Pandey during the making of Hastir Kanya, said her greatness was amplified by her “childlike, simple soul that yearned for love and affection”.

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