By Tafazzul Ali
On the 1st of July 1948, when the Akashvani Guwahati Kendra (then known as the Shillong Gauhati Kendra) was inaugurated, I was a student of the tenth standard in the Mangaldai High School. About four months prior to the inauguration function of the Akashvani Kendra, I was selected to sing modern songs and pastoral genre songs for Akashvani. The reason was, six months before the inauguration, the erstwhile officers of Akashvani Kendra, namely Ubedul Latif Barua and Puroshottam Das, visited most of the towns in search of singers to sing for the radio centre and selected the artists after locally taking auditions. Quite unexpectedly, in the auditions taken in the circuit house of Mangaldai, I was the only one selected as a radio artist. To cut a long story short, let me tell you that from the first week of August in the year 1948 (I do not remember the exact date) till the end of the year 1957, I used to regularly sing Assamese modern songs for Akashvani. Unable to improve either the voice or the singing quality even after a decade of performing, I discontinued singing for radio. But my association with Guwahati Kendra did not cease. In addition to compose songs for radio, I wrote lyrics, plays etc. and have thus maintained my relationship with the Guwahati Kendra. For the last fifty years, a significant part of my life has been associated with Akashvani.
Since it was through modern songs that my association with Akashvani started and I was introduced to the singers, lyricists and musicians, I wish to share a few facts regarding the contribution of Akashvani in the initiation, development and popularity of modern Assamese music.
Though the trend of Assamese modern songs started sometime around the year 1890, in the absence of any appropriate media, it did not reach out to the masses. Many invaluable works and compositions of prominent musicians like Lakhiram Baruah, Durlobhchandra Das, Padmadhar Chaliha, Umesh Choudhury, Ambikagiri Raichoudhury, etc. remained unheard due to the lack of media and were lost in the darkness of oblivion. Even in the third and the fourth decades of the century, the creations of Kirtinath Sharma Bordoloi, Parbati Prasad Baruah, Jyotiprasad Agarwala and Bishnu Prasad Rabha were unable to reach the common man in the absence of any popular media. With the exceptions of a few gramophone records and a handful of feature film songs, it is difficult to give examples of modern Assamese music of those times. In such a scenario, modern Assamese music remained largely in the dark and the music-makers were waiting for an appropriate media for self expression.
On the first of July 1948, Akashvani opened a new door of opportunity to the artists, writers and the general public of Assam. The nation was rejoicing the newly found freedom from the British rule and a wave of renaissance was evident in the society. In Assam, a creative wave of renaissance was ushered in by Akashvani. Fortunately, a number of wise and talented people were associated with the initial stages of Akashvani in Assam, whose farsighted and efficient administration made it possible to give a strong foundation to the Guwahati Akashvani Kendra. They regarded Akashvani as a national agenda and devoted themselves wholeheartedly to the development of nationalism. In the later years, Akashvani had to go through difficult times due to the absence of dedicated officials. Nevertheless, in the initial years, the music section of Akashvani was under the supervision of Birendra Kumar Phukan and Puroshottam Das. These two talented musicians managed to showcase the talent of many new musicians through sheer dedication and efficient planning through Akashvani, working even in unfavourable circumstances at times; they also inspired the newly discovered musical talents to take up the cause of modern Assamese songs and provided their personal help too. They tried to extract the inherent wealth of interest of the debutants towards Assamese music and thus tried their utmost to create a healthy, strong and impressive genre of modern Assamese music. The efforts of Birendra Kumar Phukan and Puroshottam Das bore fruits during their two decade long service.
On one hand, by regularly airing the songs of Anandiram Das, Baloram Das, Dhirendranath Das, Tariquddin Ahmed, Durga Bhuyan, etc., Akashvani managed to share a comparatively older genre of Assamese modern music with a section of the listeners, and, on the other hand, it also managed to acquaint the new talents with the existing music trends. Secondly, by airing the songs of Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, Rudra Baruah, Brojen Baruah, Nizamuddin Ahmed, etc., Akashvani made it possible to give the listeners a glimpse of the newer trends in Assamese music, in addition to providing a new opportunity to the freshly emerging singers. Thirdly, inspired by these ideologies, talented singers like Hemen Hazarika, Deben Sharma, Tultul Bharali, Mukul Baruah, Lakhyahira Das, Jnanada Kakoty, Vandana Baruah, Dipali Borbora, Birendranath Dutta, Gunad Das, Ramen Baruah, Dipali Borthakur, Jyotirmoy Kakoty, Jyotish Bhattacharrya, Mihir Baruah, Khagen Mahanta, Jayanta Hazarika, Kula Baruah, etc. achieved immense popularity among the listeners with their compositions and newer styles of singing, thereby making the musical journey of Akashvani strong and successful. Subsequent generation of singers like Anima Choudhury, Pulok Bannerjee, Shantwana Baruah, Dolly Ghosh, Beauty Sharma Baruah, Namita Bhattacharrya, Ridip Dutta, Mahananda Mazindar Baruah,Rajen Gohain, Dilip Das, etc. have successfully managed to take forward the journey of Assamese modern songs in Akashvani. Here, we must mention about the unparalleled contribution of the music composers who contributed immensely in the popularity of Assamese modern songs through Akashvani. At the very outset, I would like to mention the names of the officials of Akashvani who were also excellent music composers. They were Hiralal Bannerjee, Manik Chakravarty, Shiva Bhattacharrya, Hemen Hazarika, Deben Sharma, Jiten Deb, Naba Baruah (singer, musician and composer) and Mukul Baruah. The speciality of these composers was that they penned down one or two songs for programmes like “Xuror xorai”, “Ei maahor geet”, etc. and gave tunes to these songs with a lot of dedication and effort. When these songs were aired in Akashvani in the voice of the melodious singers, they left a deep impact on the minds and hearts of the listeners. It seems as if these officials tried their best to set a certain standard for modern Assamese music. This may be mentioned here that Birendra Kumar Phukan and Puroshottam Das also gifted a few gems of Assamese modern songs through Akashvani.
Many composers, who were not employees of Akashvani, also created many modern Assamese songs. These songs were made popular by Akashvani and thus another genre of modern music was initiated. The most prominent among these composers were Anandiram Das, Dr. Bhupen Hazarika (who worked for Akashvani for a few years) and Rudra Baruah. These three composers had their own unique and distinctive styles. Contemporary composers like Brojen Baruah, Durga Bhuyan, Darpanath Sharma, Tariquddin Ahmed, Vivekananda Bhattacharrya, Nizamuddin Ahmed, etc. also contributed immensely to enrich Akashvani. The Assamese modern song industry was given a new lease of life by a few composers in the 1950s. Listeners were able to relate to the creations of these composers, and their songs gained immense popularity. This new generation of composers comprised of Dr. Birendra Nath Dutta, Ramen Baruah, Amit Sarkar, Ajit Singha, Khagen Mahanta, Jayanta Hazarika, Kanu Mukherjee, Kula Baruah, Jyotish Bhattacharrya, etc. The active association of these music composers with Akashvani helped immensely in the development of modern Assamese music. Also, it was because of Akashvani that these composers could bring their creations and talents in the public domain.
Lyrics play a pivotal role in a song. The famous lyricist Puroshottam Das was very particular about the poetic and the literary aspects of the lyrics of the modern Assamese songs. In the initial years, there was not much scrutiny of the type of lyrics that were used in the sings aired by Akashvani. This situation was ideal for a lot of aspiring lyricist. But, on the downside, it led to the incorporation of some songs whose lyrics were not upto the expected standards of Akashvani. This led to many controversies. Subsequently, a couple of years after its inception, the songs of only those lyricists who were permitted by the Kendra were aired by Akashvani. This regulation led to shortage of new creations. To meet this shortage, Akashvani took up an immediate agenda. The writings of renowned poets and composers were written down in a register and these poets and composers were given recognition as the official lyricists by Akashvani. In the second phase of the agenda, Birendra Kumar Phukan and Puroshottam Das either wrote letters or personally requested the famous writers and poets of their times to pen down songs especially for Akashvani, and after receiving the lyrics, they gave them the status of official lyricists of Akashvani. Also, while attending any function or meeting, Birendra Kumar Phukan and Puroshottam Das looked out for lyricists and if they found someone who met their expectations, he/she was asked to write atleast twenty five songs especially for Akashvani. If the songs were found appropriate, official status was given immediately to the lyricists. Thus, Akashvani contributed to the discovering and nurturing of many newcomers in the field of music. Akashvani always endeavoured to present excellent songs with strong lyrics, tune and melody.
The fact remains undisputed that while Akashvani provided the much required inspiration and platform to generations and generations of singers, composers and lyricists, it also contributed in making modern Assamese popular not only in Assam, but all over the country. We hope that this journey never ends.