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Bhupen-da: Ballads from the Margins

Bhaskar Seal

Bhupen Hazarika, the bard of the Brahmaputra, is acclaimed internationally for

his evergreen songs. Song is the most powerful instrument to arouse peoples
feelings because it is the easiest way to reach someone. People from all sections
of the society, regardless of caste, religion, profession, age group, gender etc.
are influenced by it. All the influential persons like politicians, doctors, judges,
teachers etc, buzz songs in their leisure, while the hard working labourers sing
songs loudly when they perform their jobs. The hard working labourers get
adequate energy to do more works from the songs. It is a truth that song is the
only aesthetic art that can influence even a heartless villain and he too at a time
starts humming in a relaxed mood. No wonder, of all performing arts, singing
songs are regarded as the most effective medium to reach and influence people.
Most people show their reluctance to go through a classic novel or story book
twice, but they like to enjoy the melody of particular song several times even in
a single day. This is the extraordinary power of songs.
Since it can touch everyones heart easily, it is obviously the great tool for
motivating people. The reason of using songs in all great revolutions can also be
understood from perspective. Like many other great singers, Dr Bhupen
Hazarika too, used his songs for social change, to reform and to establish a
classless society. In a function in Moscow, he declared, my songs demand a
society to be casteless, classless and to live in harmony, peace, progress, unity
and non-violence. To live the romance of life. Unlike several other singers of
his generation, Dr Hazarika sang his songs with a definite purpose. All his songs
convey to the people some messages or the other. They are not merely songs for
entertainment, but are valuable treasures of our literature which have enriched
the cultural as well as literary fields of Assam and India. His prowess in the
field of music is regarded as unique since he was not merely a singer. To his
credit, all talents of this field are assimilated in one person; Dr Hazarika is a
lyricist, composer, music director and also a singer. This is why, Hazarika is a
rarity in the field of music and earned the niche in the world of music all of us
know of.

Here I will discuss how Dr Hazarika charged with a reformist zeal depicted the
miseries of the poor, weaker and marginalized sections of our society with
allusions to five of his memorable songs. He launched revolt against the
injustices to establish a world without class and caste. The IPTA (Indian
Peoples Theatre Association) also inspired him a lot to create such inspirational
songs to motivate the people and at the same time to warn the so called higher
classes of dire consequences. Dr Hazarika depicted the hard woks of the labour
sections who were engaged in breaking stones in his famous song bhang,
bhang,bhang, bhangota shil bhang. From the early morning the stone-breakers
start breaking the stones. Their naked backs are burnt in the sun, the soles of
their feet too burnt with the red soil and the entire bodies get wet with sweating.
Their duty is to do hard labour without any respite. Unfortunately, the ruling
class thinks that the poor people have no power to demolish the stones i.e. to
perform any great job, but ironically, according to Dr Hazarika, it is only the
poor and marginalized section of the society who has the power to turn the
stones into dusts.
Bhabe xoru xoru manuhor nai shokti churno koribo shil shoktir murti
The surface meaning to a casual listener may be simple, but if one goes to the
depth of the song, one will realize that only the people of lower section is
capable of bringing a drastic change to the society. Here we find the literary
skill of the music maestro who used his language to define a particular thing
differently for different listeners. One listener may get different meaning in his
next reading or next listening. Dr Hazarika says that, the labourers make the
path digging soil and filling it with little stones and the next civilization
marches forward through that very path.
Toi nij hate gorh dia aalitire oha jugor xobhyotai agbarhe
The bard indicates that the rich section has no contribution in bringing
civilization to the society, but it is the lower sections that are behind all
civilizations. They write the history of the mankind with stones and thus they
imagine a heaven of equality. But they are remained unsung and died without
having acknowledgement. The Marxist influence is evident in his advocacy for
a society of equality and brotherhood.
His famous song Dola,Dola laments the miseries and misfortunes of the
servants of the rich people. Dola (Palanquin) is a typical vehicle used to carry
the bride in North and Northeast India. It is carried by four people on their

shoulders. The rich people like kings and landlords also used it to travel from
one place to another. Dr Hazarika has depicted the miserable lives of the dolacarriers. They take the dola on their shoulders and travel up the meandering
hilly ways. They get tired and sweats ooze out of their bodies. The poor carrier
compares his own fate with the fate the rich man on the dola. The costly
costume of the rich traveler reminds him of his poor naked son whom he could
not offer a simple cotton shirt in last Bihu festival. He condemns himself for
being a poor and helpless. He sheds tears but immediately rises steadily to go
forward carrying the dola. He finds that his shoulder is heavily wounded with
the weight of the rich traveler, but the traveler is totally indifferent to it and
travels in a drowsy mood. Dr Hazarika has closely observed the class distinction
of the society and has shown how the rich class oppresses the poor ones in this
famous song. They live luxurious lives on the shoulders of the poor labourers
but never feel any sympathy for them. They are careless to the wellbeing of
their family. They even do not extend their helping hand to their servants even
in their extreme needs. But the servants are determined to perform their duties.
They go forward with the dola on their shoulders. They climb the pick of the
hill. They ask one another to put the steps cautiously because, if the dola slips
away from their shoulders, the rich and powerful man will fall off.
Aamar kandhor pora picholibo lagile
bagori poribo dola
Roja moharojar dola
The singer inscribes this that the destiny of the so called upper sections is on the
hands of the poor. Dola is the symbol of power and aristocracy; its carriers are
the ordinary people. One section of the society becomes powerful living
luxuriously and ignoring the power of the poor with their subversive, rebellious
energy. Dr Hazarika appears as the advocate of the oppressed classes citing
them as the fulcrum of the society. The shoulders of the dola-carrier are
bruised and burdened not because of the simple weight of the rich rider alone,
his shoulders since time immemorial have borne the load of the privileged. He
laments the continuous process of exploiting the marginal from the beginning of
the human civilization till today. Slip of the dola symbolizes mass revolution
which may bring about a drastic change in the society.
Diwali is one of the most popular festivals of India. It is the festival of light and
happiness. People of all age groups celebrate this festival gorgeously. The
members of a family use to get together, relations use to visit them and enjoy

together. Especially the children enjoy the festival lighting candles and bursting
crackers. People celebrate this festival with different colours of lights. But in
reality, is it possible to celebrate this function equally by all? Does everyone
enjoy equally? Dr Hazarika raises this question and depicts two houses close by
but contrasted in pith and import. One house belongs to a rich man and the other
to a poor. The celebration in one house goes on with pomp and ceremony. They
light diyas, wear new garments, receive friends, eat delicious food and enjoy a
lot. Their happiness and celebrations cross all the limits. But the neighbour of
that family is poor and lives in a cottage. Their small cottage sinks in darkness
when enjoyment goes on in the nearby building.
Uchora uchori duti ghor
ati roja aanto poja ghor
Roja ghore hahe matho
pojatit bonti nojole
The poor family is unable to purchase the costly materials to celebrate Diwali.
It has only an earthen light, but that too fizzles out due to scarcity of fuel. Dr
Hazarika has depicted the picture how the rich family enjoys and the poor one
living nearby sighs and sheds tear silently in the darkness. The rich people in the
neighboring building sings loudly in happiness but the children of the poor
family sleep with empty stomach. The mother sings lullaby to get their hungry
children fallen asleep. But Dr Hazarika says that the poor cottage will also shine
in the light soon. The sun will rise in the morning and it will drive away the
darkness from the poor cottage. The morning will bring back all its happiness
and the cottage will also smile like the neighbouring building. In the daylight
the cottage will discover that they can also smile and enjoy.
Kailoi ahibo dokmokali
ani dibo pojatit rong rangoli
Ani dibo herowa dinor dhemali
.dekhiba tato je bonti jole
In this song, Dr Hazarika compares the rich and the poor with the help of light
and darkness. The light lit by the rich family in Diwali is artificial. So, their
happiness, celebration and enjoyments are also artificial. They are the so called
sophisticated people of the society. Their joy and happiness have no connection
with the pure light of the day. They live artificial lives and so, they do not try to
feel fellow feelings with their neighbours. According to Dr Hazarika, the rich

peoples celebrations are meaningless because they observe it in the night. The
artificial light cannot brighten their hearts and minds. Though they are rich, they
are unsympathetic towards their poor neighbours. They are really ignorant,
unpolished, inhuman and rustic. On the other hand, Dr Hazarika consoles the
poor family saying that they need not bother for the artificial light. They are the
pure human beings; they earn their livelihood with hard work. Their
celebrations can be observed only in the real light of the day. Hazarika tries to
mean that both the rich and the poor can celebrate their joys. The only
difference is that like the rich people, the poor people do not want artificial light
to observe it. The bard also tries to say that the misery of the poor people is
short-lived. The darkness of their lives is temporary and soon the joy of light
appears and removes the darkness to make them happy. It indicates that only the
poor people can enjoy the real happiness of lives. Ironically, Dr Hazarika says
that the night is for the rich, but the daylight is for the poor section of people. At
morning the richs celebration comes to an end but the celebration of the poor
starts. Through this song, Dr Hazarika exposes before us the class distinction in
our society where the so called rich people are completely indifferent to the
needs and sorrows of the poor. They forget that there are some people living
among us who need to be cared.
Dr Hazarikas revolutionary song , Dug dug dug dug domboru is a scathing
attack on the caste discrimination. He attacks the narrow thoughts defiling the
society. The composer Hazarika has symbolically depicted a backward society
which opposes inter-caste marriage. He composed this song in 1954 when the
Assamese society was relatively conservative. Even the educated people were
inhibited to welcome inter-caste marriages. The courage of a simple boy to wed
a girl belonging to different caste is symbolically presented in this song. It is
presented as the courage or desire of a small fish (puthi mas) to swallow the
lightning of the sky.
Xoru xoru pukhurir
xoru puthi mas bore
bijuliko gilibo khuje
he chikmik bijuli
Both the boy and girl, belonging to different communities, ultimately dare to
leave the narrow society and engage in the bond of marriage. Dr Hazarika has
created an imagery of the natural elements which extend their support in this
marriage. The wild fire comes forward to be used as the Hom i.e. the solemn

fire used in a Hindu marriage ceremony, the lightning offers itself to be the
canopy, the gnats coming forward to sing the marriage songs and the wind
giving them inspiration playing gogona. Dr Hazarika, tries to say that,
marriage between one boy and one girl is a natural phenomenon and no man
made rule can stop it. So, the nature comes forward to help the young couple.
Nature is our creator; it is generous and it leads people to a new era. The old
generation often supports stagnancy, but the new generation always works in
favour of development and progress. In the process of development they are
bound to face hurdles, but they win ultimately. The writer taunts the rule makers
of our society and says that even some illiterate and lay men do not like their
decisions. They try to protest but no one cares them. They feel ashamed with the
injustice of their society.
Xoru xoru xomajor
Xoru xoru bicharot
Bhekulia bor laj paye.
Bhekuli (frog) is here the lay man who shouts against the injustices but no one
listens to him. He and his class do not get importance in the society. The use of
imagery, symbol and beautiful poetic language has made this song interesting
and extraordinary. But with this technique the composer and singer has attacked
our society where inter-caste marriage is not allowed.
Dr Hazarika also wrote several songs on inter-caste marriage and attacked our
society. In his famous song Juboti anamika Goswami aaru jubok Prashanta
Dase biat heno kichu badha pale, he exposed how the so-called upper caste
shows their reservation against the castes they considered as lower caste of the
society. The parents of the girl belonging to upper class oppose the marriage but
the lover and the beloved ignore them and get married. After solemnizing the
marriage at Kamakhya temple they come to meet the writer seeking blessings
from him. The writer, Dr Hazarika, presents before them the picture of the
modern world where people have no time to think of the meaningless things like
so-called upper caste and lower caste. He says that the rest of the world is
thinking about using the nuclear for the benefit of the mankind, instead of using
in mass destruction. But at this juncture, the people of our society are still
sticking to some tiny and meaningless matters like castes and religions.
Aya anobik shoktik danobor pora ani manobor xewat logoar jug.

He says that it is the Age of knowledge and scientific development and we

should look forward and shed away the matters which drive the society back to
the past. The writer here advocates for the humanism and progressive
ideologies, and appeals everyone to look forward forgetting the notions of the
uncivilized era.
Dr Hazarika appeared as a reformer and a voice of the marginality, and
vehemently attacked our society through his songs. He was in favour of a
classless and casteless modern society. He dreamt of a modern society and
wanted us to pace up with the rest of the world. To do so, according to him, we
must remove our primitive ideas and embrace the modern ones. Without a
classless society it is worthless to think of moving forward. So, the reformer
Bhupen Hazarika tried to teach us through his songs and make us fit to live in
the modern world. If we cannot establish equality in our society, the process of
our development will be stopped. He sang for the oppressed classes and appeals
us to acknowledge their contribution and help them in their needs.
(Bhaskar Seal is a music aficionado. He teaches English at Birjhora Kanya
Mahavidyalaya, Bongaigaon).

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