I knew Bhupen from our schooldays in Tezpur. I was just seven years old and was staying at my peha deo’s (uncle’s) place. Bhupen and I became good friends from school and we were of the same age. I can never forget the first song he sang there. Kaxote kolosi loi jai O rasoki bai. I could recognise that he was a special talent. There he was guided by icons Bishnu Prasad Rabha and Jyotiprasad Agarwala which helped him shape his career.
But the Tezpur association was brief, for just about a year. I went to Calcutta and he to Dhaka for higher studies. Our next meeting was in the US, after about two decades. Coincidentally, we were still students. I was pursuing an MBA in Harvard and he was in Columbia University. Those were the early fifties and it didn’t take much time to know each other again as to my knowledge there were hardly any Assamese students in the US at that time.
Our next association was in Calcutta where I settled. Bhupen had come over to Calcutta and was residing at Tollygunge. I was amazed by the mass appeal that he had in Calcutta or for that matter, Bengal. Aami ek jajabor was the number that stole many a heart not just in Bengal but in Bangladesh as well.
Bhupen, as I knew him, was never inclined to sing songs composed by others. He would never go beyond his songs. I introduced him to writer-composer Parbati Prasad Barua of Sonari. Bhupen later sang two of his creations.
He was a filmmaker as well. Once, he wanted to make a colour film. I promised to finance Shakuntala. But I realised that I had made a commitment in haste. So I asked him in jest, “I will help you only if you offer me the role of King Dushyanta.” He was taken aback by the “term” I set and never took the risk. A year later, a businessman offered to finance the film.
I had in a way introduced Kalpana Lajmi to Bhupen some three decades back. Kalpana wanted to direct a movie and it was then that I took her to him. The friendship started then. She had directed a film Ek Pal, which I had funded. Their association grew stronger after Bhupen started living in Mumbai.
Priyam Patel, who he got married to, was a good dancer. But Bhupen was never the family person. He was out-and-out an artiste.
My last meeting was just about a month before he passed away in Mumbai. He wanted to return to Assam but the doctors said he was not in a condition to do so. I still remember how he held my hand in the hospital and how he reacted to the Bihu songs played in the background.
Bhupen was a special person, a multi-faceted personality, and I can’t think of anyone replacing him.
I have lost a dear friend.