You should know my family is a musical lot. We wear our music right on our sleeves. My mother says I started singing when I was all of two and a half. My sister and I were trained later in formal Hindustani Classical, but we grew up with the radio. That, and songs our father composed for us. Music was the solution to everything you see. So mother and my sister are outside and six-year old me is getting restless and bored? No problem. Dad will compose a song. Twenty-four year old me is on the verge of a nervous breakdown over the final semester project and is ready to break into tears each time she turns on the laptop? No problem. Dad will sing a song! And it’s not just my Dad. At our place, when one starts bathroom singing, it turns into a family chorus without fail, with the others joining in from everywhere else in the house, of course. No major celebration was complete without bringing in the good ol’ harmonium (which sadly got stolen couple of years ago) and singing our hearts out. New Year’s eve, birthday celebrations, even engagements and weddings (not that there have been many yet); everything had to be laced with a few hours of joyful singing. What I had really enjoyed growing up was seeing Mom, the “less-talented” (read slightly tone-deaf) singer in the house, actually complement Dad, with her perfect memory for the lyrics of all the songs. It would always be heart-warming to see Mom and Dad sing a duet. Even though I have absolutely forbidden Mom to sneak into the sacred domain of classical music because I can’t stand a song being murdered.
Which is all good and blah blah, but at this point you might be wondering where this is all leading up to. Which is what I should have mentioned in the first place. Last time when we were in Guwahati for my father’s check-up (did I mention he fell down and fractured his knee-cap?), despite the hectic schedule, we did manage to pack in a few hours of family singing post dinner on the night before we left. And as I tucked myself to sleep that night (it was past midnight) I realized that each time we have one of our “musical” evenings, I travel across decades of Assamese music, and I am grateful to have a set of parents who imbibed in me this love for what I would call our classics. So here’s a short (not!) list of the songs we sang that night (now we’re talking!) and although I am not saying we’re experts or anything, here’s just a sneak peek into what I think should cover the base on at least a few decades of Assamese cult songs.
The “session” started in the dining table itself with Bhupen Hazarika’s “R’od puwabor karone” which was for the movie “Era Baator Xur” in the year 1956. Sticking to Bhupen Hazarika we then sang his first ever recorded song (he was just a kid then), “O Moina ketiya ahili toi“. I must have heard it on the radio just once, and it is a very rare recording, I have been told. By then we had finished dinner and we moved our jamming to the next room. On vocals, everyone. On synthesizer, my cousin (who, by the way, is still on the Fur Elise stage). On percussion, my Moha (Uncle) with a steel glass and a fork which I later took away from him. At which point he went into the kitchen to get two steel ladles. On the dhol, my father. And here I must mention he rested the dhol on the very knee he had injured. Yes, that’s what music does to all of us.
Nothing starts really happening unless it is with folk, so we started with a Kamrupiya lokageet and followed it up with the famous Goalpariya “Komola Shundori“. On public demand (more like Moha’s constant pestering) my Dad sang Tarikudeen Ahmed’s “Imaan dhuniya mukuta’r mala” which was written by Molin Borah sometime in the 1940’s. Amazingly beautiful song, with really deep lyrics. From there we moved on to Hemanga Biswas’s “Dur neela paharot” which is a trans-creation (not a translation) of a Chinese folk song. Another song I grew up with. Don’t ask me the time-frame. I don’t think even my Dad is sure. But then after two “heavy” songs my Moha wanted something light, which led to Dipen Barua’s “Jiliki jilika tora aakaxore” from the famous movie Dr. Bezbaruah. People who have heard this song will identify with the quirky funny take on the philosophy of “xomoyor tikoni aagphale ure” which could be the Assamese equivalent of “Opportunity doesn’t knock twice”. To take funny to a whole new level, my Moha actually danced to Mohd. Rafi’s “Oxomire sutalote” while we sang. Yeah, we are a bunch of crazy people. Specially since we followed it up with “Mur dristi’t tumi dhora porila” in immaculate Mohd. Rafi accent.
If we sing Jiliki jilika, can “Moina kun bidhatai” be left out? So we sang Moina kun bidhatai with gusto, and then moved on to “Laaj Laaj Laaj Bhonti” which is again, a perennial favorite. But then after goofing about a bit, we moved on to the slightly serious. We started with Parbati Prasad’s “Maaj nixa mur“. Each time I sing the song I see the entire painting right in front of me. Of the dark night, and a closed room, and the turmoil within the writer. After Parbati Prasad we moved on to Dipali Borthakur’s “Bondhu“, because the song paints a portrait of rural Assam as depicted to an outsider, like nothing else can. Although I must mention that my favorite is “O senai moi jau dei” but then again, maybe it is everybody’s. Speaking of portraits, another not-so-famous song paints a really beautiful one of a typical village in Assam, with its Naamghor and the Krishnasura-lined roads and the riverside, “Rohedoi Oi, eiya Nirmala Nodire ghat“. I had heard this long long time back once, and then again the other day, and my father was surprised I even remembered the song. To sign off, we topped the “portrait” songs with the ultimate portrait song, Lata Mangeshkar’s “Junakore Raati” again from “Era Baator Xur”. Somewhere in between I think we also sang Jyoti Prasad’s “Xaat Xagoror Dex Bidexor“. But fluctuating between deep and funny is what we do best, so we again started off with Bhupen Hazarika’s “Pokhiraaj Ghura” which is also a ballad, albeit a funny one. It was almost midnight, but we were still “in the mood” for more, so this time we sang Khagen Mahanta’s famous “Kauri Pore” which is a heart-touching ballad about a postman who keeps delivering messages all over, and talks about how much he misses his home and his wife and his kid, and how he is denied of getting messages from them. And then, the creme de la creme, my favorite of all times, “Hoi Era Jetuki Bai“. The song always moves me, but the first time I heard this song about the “naamoti” who lost her own daughter (one who sings naams) and keeps celebrating other’s daughters’ weddings to compensate for her loss, I really wept.
I am not mentioning the Bihus we kept singing in between because the list would then become really really long. So what do you think? From Bhupen Hazarika to Dipali Borthakur to Khagen Mahanta, did we leave out much? Maybe we could have thrown in a few Jayanta Hazarika numbers. And a couple of Zubeen Garg’s (my dad’s favorite till date is “Xunere Xojuwa Poja“. But what can you do when two hours is all you got, eh?
P.S. If you need more information on any of these songs, let me know. I will personally record snippets and post them here, I swear!