The funeral pyre at Nabagraha crematorium in Guwahati on Thursday. Picture by UB Photos
Guwahati, July 5: Twenty-one guns didn’t boom for Hiruda today. Thank God for that. Instead, the birds chirped and cawed, keeping Hiruda’s locale intact.
Later, as the sky darkened, they sat in the wide trees in bunches, flapping, fluttering, chattering, keeping watch till the first drops of rain set in, the water dripping off roofs, building the first puddles of the day...
Later, it poured.
Nabagraha is a place where people congregate to say their goodbyes.
They come dressed up, they come with family these days, say their thank-yous. This morning, they came at leisure, knowing perhaps that Hiruda would take his time coming, draped in glowing white, a phulam gamosa to go with his collection of marigold garlands.
He would be there at 9, they said. He was late, but they waited for nearly four hours. There were so many thank-yous to tell: at All India Radio on RG Baruah Road, the Gauhati Artists Guild nearby, at Zoo Tiniali, the crossroads where so many had gathered... It made time, though, for the many who had gathered, to rummage through their thoughts on Hiruda. So many poems, always so straight from the heart, how did he do that?
That one question he answered last evening as well, on a television re-run: “To write poetry, you have to love someone, something, somebody — trees, plants— whoever, whatever, but there is no alternative to love.”
The drizzle this morning had grown to almost a shower after noon, when the first strains of the gayan bayan wafted in past the rain at Nabagraha.
Hiruda arrived soon after, carried in a cortege of love, through and past the rain, to a shed bedecked with flowers.
His pyre was lit by daughter Santa, to the sound of urulee by the womenfolk who had come, and the blowing of a conch, to the word of the scriptures, as his hundreds huddled around him.
The time was 1.20 this afternoon.
The tales, though, they kept telling.
“You know, Hiruda used to often disappear from the dais in our meetings,” said friend and writer Bhabaniprasad Adhikari.
“Go looking for him and you will find him chatting with people among the audience, all cosy and comfortable.” A poet at home everywhere.
And Hiruda did have his own thing with time. Asked to deliver his speech at a function where the organisers had botched up, he stepped onto the stage and said the simplest possible: “I offer my thanks to the organisers for letting me come onto the stage.”
“Protest ran in his blood,” said poet Nalinidhar Bhattacharya.
“Hiren Bhatta was about people and their emancipation. And he wasn’t a romantic as some people thought. He was a progressive writer.”
The flames at the second shed at Nabagraha settled to a flicker by about four this afternoon.
The pyre had turned cold by 5. A quiet sendoff for a quiet man, a people’s poet. A thousand and many thank-yous.