The artistes are joining political parties in hordes. Some of them who have joined the ruling party once pretended to be ardent anti-CAA protesters. Should we view their joining the BJP seriously? Does this shamelessness deserve any serious attention? If we take them seriously it will be lowering the standard of public discourse.

Public discourse should involve issues of public interest. But, yes, here is an occasion to remember some of the stalwarts in the field of Assamese art, culture, literature and music not to compare them with this lot, but to deepen our understanding of them and to remember their contributions to the Assamese society. This remembering can be done in soliloquy or in the form of a conversation with the other.

There is nothing wrong in soliloquy because it is also a kind of conversation where you remember various things, different views and weigh them all in your mind before forming some opinion. Soliloquy is a conversation with the self. May be I had a bout of intense conversations with myself before choosing a partner to test my understanding these stalwarts with him.

Only a few names came to my mind to engage in this exercise   and finally I decided to discuss it with Chandan Kumar Sharma. Chandan is a professor in sociology in Tezpur University. On the phone we discussed Sankardev, Bezbaroa, Jyotiprasad, Bishnu Rabha and Bhupen Hazarika.

Among all these personalities, I put Sankardev at the top. Sankardev was an example of a multifaceted and integrated personality. He was a saint and a seer. In many ways he transcended his times and took the leadership in showing a path to the wretched people of his time. He was so intensely involved with the woes and toils of the people that the masses took him to their hearts. They considered him their saviour.

That love of Sankardev is still alive in the hearts of people in Assam. Chandan went a little ahead and said that such a genius and personality was rare in his time not only in India but also in the world.

Then comes the personality of Bezbaroa. Bezbaroa stands out in the annals of Assam’s history for his unique contributions to the formation of modern Assamese identity. His contributions were mainly in the field of literature, culture and scholarship. Away from Assam, he lived a struggling life in Calcutta, but that couldn’t stop him from contributing to different fields in Assamese literature.

His study of Sankardev will always remain a path-breaking one. Chandan said Bezbaroa valiantly fought for a respectful position for the Assamese language and literature in the contemporary world of scholarship of his time. If there was some limitation of Bezbaroa, it was only in his political understanding.

Jyotiprasad follows Bezbaroa in this genealogy. He is always remembered by the Assamese people as a cultural icon. His songs, set in Assamese folk and classical traditions touch the Assamese psyche and were a source of inspiration for the volunteers who took part in the freedom struggle. These songs still resonate and reverberate our musical world.

Many scholars try to draw a profound cultural vision from the writings of Jyotiprasad with which I don’t agree. Theoretically I consider him to be romantic. Chandan said that after independence he was not happy with the workings of the Congress government and veered towards socialism. I said that may be the case but that didn’t affect his creative oeuvre.

The other name immediately comes to our mind after Jyotiprasad is Bishu Rabha. Rabha was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party of India (RCPI). But he is remembered by people for his songs. Most of his songs are not revolutionary. His songs are embedded in the roots of Assamese culture and though they are evocative of Assamese life and identity they have also universal aesthetic appeal.

Rabha was a man of extraordinary calibre. But he was eternally restless and there were some anarchic elements in his personality. Chandan remarked that Rabha identified so much with the masses of the people that he was very popular among the ordinary people and Rabha always emphasised that Assamese nationality was a pluralistic identity.

The last Assamese cultural icon was alive till the other day. He was none but Bhupen Hazarika. Again Bhupen Hazarika was a remarkable personality. Bhupen Hazarika’s most creative time was when he was yet to gain popularity and recognition among the people. His understanding of music was profound. He inherited the cultural and musical traditions from Sankardev, Bezbaroa, Jyotiprasad and Bishnu Rabha. He studied the effects of mass culture in one of the best universities in the world in the US. He composed and sang some of the most memorable songs of our time.

There was absolutely no doubt that he was a living legend and a rare genus. Pluralistic Assamese identity was flowing through his music. His music was the music of harmony, unity and humanity. But his political understanding was naive.

He muddied his hands hobnobbing with the BJP though he was miles away from their communal politics. I don’t think there was another Assamese who had such wide ranging exposure. Here some elements of opportunism crept into him and he lost his creative zeal in his famousness and popularity. Chandan said may be it happened because the Assamese society didn’t take care of him. I said I am not sure.

Paresh Malakar

Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at: malakarparesh@gmail.com