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The making of a shrine

- Some things are best kept private: What we don’t need to know

There was this little sign that someone had put up at Jalukbari a year ago, as thousands came, as if on a pilgrimage, where near Gauhati University, Bhupenda had been laid to rest, his body consigned to flames. “Please don’t put money here,” it said.

Bhupenda was transforming, from man to God, having crossed the hazy lines of rationality in the minds of so many listeners. They just kept coming, crying, bowing, prostrating themselves before him and praying for him, and all so often it seemed, to him. Just days before that, a person, now unknown again, had felled a sandalwood tree in his home and brought the logs for the cremation. They are the nameless millions, the listeners who made him.

This morning in Guwahati, in some of the many altars where his picture stood garlanded, amidst the rising twirls of burning incense, there was money again, offerings by the faithful to a man they had made their God. There weren’t so many signs this time; within a year of his death, Bhupenda it seemed had entered the realm of the heavenly, his songs turned to chants that could save their souls. And give hope. His passing has been called the mahaprayaan, the great departure.

There was a time though, when Bhupen Hazarika was just Bhupenda, a balladeer from the banks of the Brahmaputra who sang Autoricksha solau and spoke of “dignity of labour”.

There was a time too, when his Dil hom hom kare would draw droves of giggly schoolgirls to Delhi’s Chanakya cinema, which ran to packed houses with Rudaali. There was a time, it is said, when Bhupenda would entice many a Khasi belle with his Shillongore Monalisa Lyngdoh.

Those who knew him said Bhupenda could draw his muses to him, such was the power of his verses and his voice. There was also a time when he had to take a salary cut as a teacher of Gauhati University, for coming late from a trip.

But let’s dwell a little more on his muses. Who was it that drew him to write Bimurto mor nixatijen — and a line such as tare eti mitha bhajot nishhaxore um aru jiya jiya ador? Who was it that his dreams snuggled up to, finding “in a fold of the blue night, the warmth of a breath and tender love”? Whose affection was it that tickled his thoughts to sum up love as “mitha sura doi” (sweet curd and flattened rice)? Whose scintillating Bihu was it that pranced through his mind when he spoke of the nasonir kolaphul (the twitching calves of the dancer)? Whose courtyard had the poet’s mind wandered to when his verses gushed the almost erotic Kopah kopah mekhelare, dhaki thoa nokhere dhulit sobi aki tai kije xoad pai, moi ajio nubujo (what is it that she likes scrawling pictures in the dust with her toes that lie hidden behind her mekhela)?

Of course Bhupenda would have had his muses. Muses he would have known and admired, muses he would have grown close to, muses he would longed for in life, muses he would have missed in death. Yet do muses ever outgrow the verses they bring forth with their beauty and their being? Have they ever? But for reasons academic, there isn’t much to know of the muse. Bhupenda never spoke about them. Should we?

A year after his passing, as Bhupenda’s pilgrims gather at his shrine, his muses are best left there, with him, with gratitude for the songs they brought forth. How else without a muse would he have sung Golap golap galote niyorore ghambore okai pokai boi jai kije xoad pai, moi ajio nubujo. Whose warm face did he cup in his hands when he sang of “dew drop beads of sweat trailing down her rosy cheeks”? Of course, Bhupenda had his muses; they, like his pilgrims, gave him his shrine.


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