Bhupenda's funeral: non stop coverage

BY TERESA REHMAN| IN Media Practice | 10/11/2011
A channel announced,"There will be two classes of people in this world. Those who attended Bhupen Hazarika's funeral and those who did not." And NETV chose to intrude on his estranged wife's privacy,
It was touted as the “event of the century”, at least in this part of the world. The long-drawn-out last voyage of the maestro Bhupen Hazarika which stretched for four days and nights left everyone spell-bound. As his aficionados stood in a serpentine queue to pay their last respects to the mortal remains of the Bard of the Brahmaputra in Guwahati for two whole days and night, the television cameras of the satellite channels aired from Guwahati stood vigil 24x7, painstakingly trying to capture miniscule details.
As the entire Northeastern region and his home state Assam were soaked in tears, the local media did a laudable task and brought home visuals of the historic moment to his ardent fans all over the region cutting across geographical barriers. With Hazarika’s baritone voice playing in the backdrop, the television visuals were a godsend for all Bhupen Hazarika buffs who could not make it to Guwahati to have a last glimpse of the sublime singer, who is described as the “greatest Assamese in the modern world”.
And for the nascent satellite television industry in the region, the demise of the sublime artiste was probably the biggest event ever where they managed to strike an emotional chord with their audience. A channel announced, “There will be two classes of people in this world. Those who attended Bhupen Hazarika’s funeral and those who did not.” Observers felt that his funeral attained a larger dimension because of the exclusive coverage by the 24x7 television channels, which was probably inconceivable a decade ago in a place like Guwahati.
November 5 was a fateful day for Assam as Bhupen Hazarika passed away after a prolonged illness in Mumbai. Ever since the news broke, there has been a ceaseless string of programmes on the six television channels aired from Guwahati – ornate rhetoric and reminiscences, as well as musical tributes as well as talk shows and panel discussions dissecting the life of the genius who was a singer, composer, lyricist, music director, filmmaker, journalist and a politician all rolled into one. An ardent viewer said, “This is the first time I am tempted to think about Bhupenda from different perspectives apart from being gifted with a mellifluous voice. There were so many things I did not know about him.”
And when finally when the body reached Guwahati on November 7, the television crew followed the maestro on his long journey right from the airport to the countless stopovers where passionate fans thronged to have a glimpse of their hero. It was however interesting to see the tag “exclusive” on screens of all the channels, though they happened to show the same visuals, maybe from different angles. As fans remained glued to their television sets as the reporters spoke to the fans – little children to the elderly who came to pay floral tributes. One lady hurriedly took out a piece of paper and read out a poem she had written in his honour. Some were choked with emotions and broke down as they tried to express their feelings.
It was a never-ending saga that followed, with these channels having a dedicated exclusive coverage of his last journey till his mortal remains were consigned to flames. The television channels gleamed images of passionate fans thronging to see the mortal remains of their icon neatly kept in a glass box flanked by members of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. The image has bleached from the front page of newspapers and television channels into the psyche of common people of the region. “It is a momentous event. It had never happened in Assam or in the Northeast before. We have shown to the world how to pay respect to a real artiste,” said another onlooker. One channel focused on pro-talk ULFA leaders who paid tribute to the genius in their army fatigues.
One television show tried to explore the impact of Bhupen da’s songs on the Hindi-speaking population as well as neighbouring states like Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya which finds mention in his compositions. One panelist said, “No life could be as complete as his. Bhupen da has been transformed into a demi-God. Undeniably, media transported him to a different league.”So much so, heated television debates on the exact location of Bhupen Hazarika’s Samadhi actually coerced the authorities to shift the venue of the cremation from near a busy marketplace to a more secluded place near Gauhati University.
As the focus stayed on Judges Field in Guwahati which became a pilgrim spot for all his fans who thronged to see his mortal remains, NETV came up with an exclusive telephonic interview with Hazarika’s long estranged wife Priyamvada Patel in Toronto. The lady sounded shocked as to how could they get her private number. She repeated that she was a very reclusive person and did not want to discuss anything. When they insisted she air her feelings, she said, “He is just a father of my son and grandfather to my grandchild.” She was asked if she would come to Guwahati, she disclosed that she had no such plans as she was not in good health.
One channel focused on a few pigeons which came and rested on his portrait. They had a phone-in programme where viewers called and said what they felt about it. Some of the comments were, “It indicates that he had a unique personality, “they are mourning his death”, “they are messengers of peace as he always spoke of peace.” Another channel had a sms contest where they asked viewers to suggest a name for the Samadhi of Bhupen Hazarika.
The people of the region are yet to unwind from the poignant scenes in the past few days. The soul-stirring music is ringing at the back of everyone’s mind, thanks to the constant playing by the tv channels. The Assam Tribune’s editorial aptly summed up the momentous event – “As a cultural icon of international repute Assam’s very own Bhupen da had traveled across the world. He had sung, “From the Luit through Mississippi I have seen the beauty of the Volga/From Ottawa through Austria/I have embraced Paris/I carried the ancient colours of Ellora to Chicago/Heard Ghalib’s ‘shairi’ in the minarets of Dushwembar…..”. But never had the self-confessed ‘jajabor’ (wanderer) made a journey as memorable as his final one!
 (Teresa Rehman is a journalist based in Northeast India).
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