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End of an era of progressive poetry

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Staff Reporter   |   Guwahati   |   Published 01.04.06, 12:00 AM

Guwahati, March 31: Octogenarian poet-lyricist Keshav Mahanta, who literally shaped the collective consciousness of modern Assamese society with his simple but provocative lyrics, passed away at his Nikaji Pump residence in Guwahati’s Artists’ Colony in the wee hours today.

He was cremated at the Nabagraha crematorium this evening in the presence of a large number of admirers, friends and relatives. Before that, his body was taken around the city in a procession.

The Sahitya Akademi award-winning poet’s death ends an era of “progressive and powerful poetry”.

Mahanta’s lyrics left a lasting impression on the young and old alike. But it was a love for children that he cherished the most. This was evident this morning when people of all ages poured in to pay their last respects to him.

“I am short of words today as the man of lyrical imagination is no more. He gave meaning to my voice through his poetry,” said Khagen Mahanta, veteran singer and a close relative, grieving at the death of the lyricist who had penned most of his songs.

“His songs are pillars of strength for the cultural ambience of the state. His contribution is beyond words. His poetry is a celebration of Assamese society in its purest form,” added Mahanta, tears welling in his eyes.

Tarali Sharma, national award-winning singer and Mahanta’s neighbour, said: “His poetry carried the fragrance of Assamese soil. He had his unique style ? one that speaks of the land and its people.”

It was this unique style that made Mahanta a poet of the masses and earned him the sobriquet of “people’s poet”.

Mahanta wrote five books of songs, four on poetry, several books for children and translated the works of some of India’s best known authors, which has been highly appreciated. He penned songs for almost 30 Assamese films. He also wrote musical scripts for the AIR on the life and works of several prominent personalities, including Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla and Bishnu Rabha.

He was honoured by the Sahitya Akademi of India for his book on songs, Mur Jey Kiman Hepa, in 1993. His other book of verses, Tumar Teej, bagged the Assam Sahitya Sabha Raghunath Choudhury Bota.

Namrata Dutta’s book Priyotomo Ei Jeevan is a tribute to the master’s lyrical works and diverse creativity. She also paints a picture of the poet’s life, including his participation in the Quit India movement of 1942 and courting imprisonment.

“Very few know that Lal Bahadur Shastri, as then Prime Minister, bestowed a special honour on Mahanta for his poem Jai Jawan Jai Kisan. The song was translated into 14 Indian languages,” said Dutta.

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