By Gargi Vachaknavi
Eric Khoo, the acclaimed filmmaker from Singapore, has another feather in his cap. His films have been acknowledged for contributing to ‘international solidarity’ with the Bishwaratna Dr Bhupen Hazarika award this year.
Said Eric Khoo, the fourth recipient of this biannual award: “I believe that every person has intrinsic value beyond his or her race, religion, nationality or social class. This belief I understand was also shared by the late Bhupen Hazarika in whose honour the Award for International Solidarity was named. In this spirit, my films seek to bring people together, despite their apparent differences and thus, I am truly privileged to receive this award and to be associated with the late Bhupen Hazarika and his philosophy of International Solidarity.”
The Bhupen Hazarika award was instituted in 2011 by the Assam Sahitya Sabha ( Assam Literary Society). Given to artistes who exhibit international solidarity through their works, the awards represent the best in bridging borders drawn by mankind as did the lyrics and writings of artiste after who the award is named.
Bhupen Hazarika ( 1926 – 2011) was an artiste of international repute. He was not only a writer/ singer/ film maker who wrote lyrics that went beyond borders but also an intellectual with a doctorate on audio-visual techniques of education from Columbia University. He wrote numerous books propounding his ideology. His doctoral thesis is being put to use as a part of a book, Demystifying Dr Bhupen Hazarika, soon to be published. Hazarika turned towards social activism and international solidarity with his musical compositions. He befriended a prominent social activist and baritone singer, Paul Robeson in New York in the 1950s. This friendship influenced some of Hazarika’s works. He created songs in a similar spirit to that of Robeson’s. Bistirno Duparer (Extensively on Two Banks) was based on the theme and imagery of Robeson’s Ol’ Man River, which focussed on black suffering. Hazarika translated the notes to that of universal suffering of all mankind, bringing to the fore that people across the world faced the same kind of issues and were united in their yearning for a better life.
Bistirno duparer oshonkho manusher
Hahakar shuneo, nishobde nirobe
O…Ganga tumi ! Ganga boicho keno..
(Extensively on both banks among countless humankind
Despite hearing the cries of suffering, quietly and silently
O… Ganges, why, Ganges do you keep flowing?)
In his heart, Hazarika remained a “ jajabor” or wanderer as he sang in one of his best known songs, Aami ek Jajabor (I am a wanderer). The lyrics of this song span the Volga, Ganges, Mississipi where the artiste claims to have sat by Mark Twain’s grave to talk of Maxim Gorky — and this was in the days of the Cold War. The song seemed to soar above all ideologies and borders to create a home for him in any part of the world as he wrote,
Aami ek jajabar, aami ek jajabar
Prithibi amake apon korechhe, bhulechhi aami ghor.
(I am a wanderer, I am a wanderer,
The world has made me its own, I have forgotten my home.)
With his heart and soul, Hazarika created some of the most powerful music to build bridges among mankind.
Much awarded by the Indian government and one of the top musicians in Bollywood, Bhupen Hazarika was given the highest civilian honour of Bharat Ratna posthumously this year.
The Assam Sahitya Sabha had started this award for international solidarity six months after Hazarika’s death in 2011, the first recipient being a dancer from Bangladesh and the last, in 2017, being a film-maker from Sri Lanka.
The award hopes to transcend beyond Asia across to other continents to give recognition to all those who create works that focus on values that are propounded by the ideals of Bhupen Hazarika, according Dr Paramanda Rajbongshi, one of the judges of the Bhupen Hazarika International Award and the president of the Assam Sahitya Sabha. He was in Singapore for the ceremony. The Assam Sahitya Sabha is trying to reach out to the rest of the world by opening branches in different countries. The one in Singapore is headed by Mr Abhimanyu Talukdar.
Dr Rajbongshi added that Eric Khoo from Singapore was selected this year among entries from twenty different countries.
Bio: Gargi Vachaknavi wafts on a sunbeam through various realms and questions the essence of all existence with a dollop of humour.
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