The Water-Carrier: Bhupen Hazarika

The boat ride along the river Brahmaputra in Guwahati would have been like any other boat ride, till I saw a blue plastic bag swirl in the water. Irritated at first over this synthetic intrusion, I began to notice the people. Not tourists like me, but locals. Waiting for boats to take them across or plying their trades – selling flowers, beads, hats. Jostling for space with the cultural appendages on their person were often garments made of easy-to-wash material. Like that plastic bag. It swirled and twirled, sometimes swelling like a dancer’s skirt, sometimes twisting serpent-like. It stayed afloat. It had ceased to be a plastic bag and took on the nuances of a reef. It loved the water.

If I had to say that one thing that defined Bhupen Hazarika’s music – his compositions, his voice, and even his lyrics – the ones I could understand if they were in another language – was the touch of water. He might have been attached to the soil of his native Assam, but the sense of love for the river came through more potently. Rivers are not seas; there is languor, there is a sense of them being anchors and the shores are short distances away – you can clutch at straws in rivers and scrape your nails on trees. And when you weep, you add salt to the water. You make it different.

Bhupenda’s voice and music carried that plaint of the boatman who is feeling a bit lost even in that small space because there are so many questions. The most memorable one was “O Ganga behti ho kyon?” (O Ganges,why do you flow?) Like the Baul singers, he meshed simple folksiness with political ideas. Yet, the predominant feeling was of being one with every drop. He reminded me in some ways of S.D.Burman, not in the quality of the music or the voice, but both had this affinity for the ebbs even as storms lurked.

Have you ever sat by a river as clouds gathered overhead? Don’t you feel that the rumbling above echoes in the gurgling below, even though the sky and water do not meet at the horizon? Bhupenda was that water-carrier of sweat and rain showers, of sustenance, and of tears, the cry of the mourner wondering why Time does not wait.

Listen to this. The crescendo builds up almost right from the beginning, as though there is truly no time to wait for time to fly, the constant beats in the background, even as the voice is slow hoping to stretch the moments. It is a composition that is both compact and languorous, urgent and fatalistic at the same time.

Samay dheere chalo:

And here you have Bhupen Hazarika singing the original version of the more popular Rudaali song ‘Dil Hoom Hoom Kare…' where the heart replaces the clouds...

Megh thom thom kore:

Bhupen Hazarika died at 85. A reef still...


  1. Thanks, Hitesh. I discovered him a bit late, though...


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