Kalpana Lajmi - As I knew herby Vinta Nanda September 24 2018, 1:02 pm Estimated Reading Time: 14 mins, 39 secs
Lalita Lajmi, Kalpana’s mother, called me on the 4th of September 2018, and asked me to help her with writing Kalpana’s speech, which she said that she would need to read on the 8th September, the day when Kalpana’s book, Bhupen Hazarika – As I knew him, was to be launched. Kalpana had been hospitalised once again. Because of kidney cancer, she was on dialysis for the last three years approximately; but there was hope that she would be discharged from hospital and that she would be present at the launch of her book.
I met Aunty Lajmi and discussed the speech with her. Over the next two days, I wrote this, which I am sharing with you today, a day after my dear friend, Kalpana passed away. Aunty cried when I read it to her over the phone and then she asked me to read it once to Kalpana as well. I went to meet Kalpana at the hospital on 7th September, and read this speech to her.
Kalpana sat silently and heard me. Then she told me, “If my mother is not able to read it, because she might get too emotional, you should read this speech, Vinta.”
At that time the doctors had said that Kalpana should be able to attend the event. However, the very next day they declined to give her permission to leave hospital, because her conditioned had worsened.
For some reason that I am not aware of, neither did Aunty read the speech, nor was it suggested to me that I should read it by anybody at the event; so the speech remained unspoken. While I was writing this speech, of course after having been briefed by Aunty Lajmi, and then later told by Kalpana to correct a few of the tenses (past and present) in the speech; I was moved far beyond the words that I was keying in.
I’m publishing it today; a day after Kalpana left us, to join Bhupenda among the stars in the sky.
Bhupen Hazarika - As I knew him…
By Kalpana Lajmi
Kalpana’s speech at the launch of the event, to be read by Aunty Lalita Lajmi
Dear friends, you are my family.
Kalpana and I have known most of you gathered here today for so long, so closely now, that it seems odd for me to be addressing you formally. However, I am going to read this speech on behalf of my daughter today and it is my privilege to do so because I am the producer of this brilliant director who has given our industry of cinema a repertoire of films, which are going to live far beyond all of us. She has made each of her films fearlessly and all the stories, which she has told so honestly, will showcase the times that we have inhabited, in the last 50 years; to many generations of people, who are yet to come.
Now I will read the speech… on Kalpana’s behalf…
Before I start to tell you about the book that we’ve gathered here today, to launch, I would like to thank Harper Collins, my publishers, without whom the first book that I’ve authored would not have seen the light of day…
Neither, for that matter, would it have got the dark of night to see…
I want to thank IndusInd Bank and Balipara Foundation who have supported this event, which wouldn’t have been as rewarding as it is because of them.
I would also like to thank Renita Vaz and Richa Dubey, my events team that has worked tirelessly to make this evening happen so beautifully.
It was approximately seven years ago, when Bhupenda left me, that I realized I had let the last 6 years, which I left behind me, gone unnoticed.
Those years were spent at first looking after my ailing father whom I loved so deeply till the day that he passed away, and then the remaining years were spent by me taking care of an ailing Bhupenda. There had been no time for me to absorb anything, therefore no reflection. Sorrow, as well as, the impending pain when it is anticipated, perhaps does that to you.
Once it was all over, dare I say, when I thought that my world had come to an end; I would sit among my friends for hours, and they would say to me, “Kalpana, what next?”. I would wonder why they were asking me a question like that. Could they see something that I couldn’t see? Was there something about me that was worrying them? Soon, as time rolled by and things became clearer, I started to understand what they were trying to say to me.
I began to realise that I had lived 46 years of my life with a person who was a giant, remained immersed in his conquests as an artist, although comforted by his poetry, which as a matter of fact would be disturbing to many people and an awakening for others; and I was lost in the music that he was consistently making. The creativity he inspired in me in those glorious years that we shared with each other, had transported me into a space from which had emerged all the realism that most of you saw in the stories, that I told you through my cinema; and Bhupenda’s music helped me to give them form. He composed music for me and even lent his voice to the films that I made. He gently stirred those emotions within me, that we mostly prefer not to visit and which we separate ourselves from by building walls between ourselves and the truth that haunts us, at different stages of our lives.
Bhupenda had been a fortress that had protected me from everything adverse.
And he had been so resolute in securing me in our personally imagined acropolis, that I had known nothing other than that universe, which I had inhabited within the fold of his embrace. And suddenly now, he wasn’t there anymore.
I didn’t miss him when he wasn’t well, hospitalised for weeks when I could meet him only for a few hours every day, neither when he lost his sense of recognition during his final days, nor even in the months that followed his death; the months in which I went about consolidating all that he had left behind; his memorabilia, his music, his life…
He was a man immortal for me, and all that I did, post his passing, and for the months that followed his death, was to put myself behind him; to immortalise him for the rest of the world.
Then came the void. The vacuum slowly started to creep in and the words spoken to me over and over again by my friends began to echo around me. What next?
Mahesh Bhatt asked me to make a film on Bhupenda. In one evening among the many, that I would spend at his home, he said to me that I was so consumed with Bhupenda, I needed to write about my life with him, which then he said, he would like to produce as a film for me to direct. This book got written first....
There was so much to tell about Bhupenda that a 150 minutes film could never do justice to his life. Moreover, committed as I was, to my realism, I didn’t want to stylise the story of a man so close to my heart until I had released him from what was confined within the space I had shared with him personally; so this book we’re launching today became the first step towards making the film, which I’m quite sure, will be the next. The fact is that I didn’t ever attempt to distance myself from the man while writing about him. On the contrary, I was veering closer to him while I was writing this book, and started to view him with clarity for the first time. I don’t know if I’m making myself be understood to you, but as the number of days started to roll out post his passing away, the grief I felt for losing him, bonded me to him like never before.
I have not glossed over anything, nor succumbed to tedium while writing this book. It has been an adventure for me, a progressive experience in which I have migrated back and forth at will, revisiting some of those times that Bhupenda and I shared together, and understanding those days better now, than I did at the time when we were actually living them.
My mother, Lalita Lajmi, who is reading this speech to you on my behalf, is the Commander-in-Chief, the General in the battle that we are fighting for my life, today. She is also a person I really started to understand far better than I ever knew her, while I was writing this book. For some reason, my relationship with Bhupenda and my relationship with Lalita Lajmi crisscrossed with each other.
I was an aggressive child, stubborn and unrelenting, all qualities that thrust me forward when I drove my wheels against threatening storms; as a woman director in a male dominated industry. It is much better for women today, but back then when I started to make films, I perhaps was a woman among just about as many as you can count on the fingers of one of your hands. When you raise your child to soar, you cannot rein her in, as they say. She’s no kite, and she’s got the bite, are words that many a mother like mine, understand well.
I was only 14 years old when Bhupenda visited our home with my uncle Atmaram, the very well known producer and director; for whom he was working. I was the one who opened the door when they arrived, and it was love at first sight for me. I didn’t want to separate myself from Bhupenda after I met him then. I couldn’t. I started hiding from my mother and meeting Bhupenda on the sly. An affair started and I was unable to deal with life without this man, who I felt, had cast his spell on me. I wanted to drown in his music; I wanted to die in his arms.
Word spread and reached my mother’s ears through the grapevine. She was livid but she could not do anything about it as I was that daughter of hers who was now a woman, whom she had brought up, to be a person with a mind of her own.
I would be aggravated by her concerns and angry with her when she tried to reason me out of my relationship with a man 32 years my senior and a man who was married, with children living away from him, back in the State of Assam, of which the river Brahmaputra is what he revered therefore wrote endless poetry upon. Bhupenda too, was not able to tear himself away from the awe, the adulation and the love that I showered upon him. He was my maker, and I became his.
When he moved to Kolkata a few years later, I packed my bags and went with him. I didn’t tell my mother that I was going with him for good. I told her that I was going to Kolkata as a member of a film crew; and would be back in Bombay soon. When I didn’t return for months, my mother arrived in Kolkata, to take me back home, and she stayed with us; in Bhupenda and my house. I was angry with her that she wanted me to return with her, and I refused to comply. I was so upset that I refused to go and drop her at the railway station on the day when she was booked to return to Bombay. Bhupenda accompanied her, and when she was boarding the train, he told her that she should not worry about me because I belonged to him and that he would take care of me.
Our relationship, Bhupenda’s and mine was sealed, but my mother’s relationship with me from then, was torn apart. It was not until Bhupenda’s death in 2011, when Lalita Lajmi and I started to rediscover each other. At the time Bhupenda left this world, we were living with my mother for over 10 years. As a matter of fact, even from much before my father had passed away.
While my relationship with my father remained undamaged, there was a silence between my mother and me that hung upon us even during the conversations that she would have with me; and the stealth was palpable. The elephant in the room was not her rejection of Bhupenda because she had not only accepted him as a part of my life long ago, but it was the anger I had felt, at the time when she had come to take me away from Bhupenda, which I still had not let go.
She wanted to see me married, and Bhupenda couldn’t marry me. His family wouldn’t let him, and I wouldn’t allow him to fight them. The tranquil that I felt when I was with Bhupenda came from the trust that we shared with each other but it was not possible for me to explain it to anybody else. Nothing mattered where the two of us, Bhupenda and I, were concerned.
After we moved in with my parents, an extraordinary relationship blossomed between my parents and Bhupenda. My father and Bhupenda would sit for long hours over their scotch, and my mother and Bhupenda would chat with each other about everything under the sun. When my mother walked the dogs, Bhupenda would cut the vegetables and make them ready for her to cook on her return. But the strain between my mother and me remained. It just kept growing. I think it was because I had left home to touch the independence that was numinous in my imaging of it, to give it tangible form; but deep inside of me, I knew that I was still dependent on somebody. If it wasn’t my mother and father, it was Bhupenda. It was at this juncture that I also started to question how liberated I really was, how emancipated, exempt, how absolved?
In those days, I also became the man of the house, the young son, looking after three seniors because Bhupenda was closer to the age of my parents, than to mine. He continued to make music and I followed my destiny and made one film after another, telling stories about matters, which were close to my heart. From Rudaali, to Darmiyan, to Daman, Kyon and Chingari. Bhupenda started to call me ‘Ma’. He had taught me to speak Assamese and Bengali, he had taught me to think to music and he had learnt from me to tear through obstacles, he had learnt from me to break down barriers walls. But I was his Ma. Quintessential.
Mahesh Bhatt, a dear friend, stood by us through thick and thin. When Bhupenda got talked into politics and stood for elections in Assam in 2002, representing the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Bard of the Brahmaputra was humbled. A man known to be victorious through his life was lost when defeated. It was Mahesh who stood by the two of us, holding our hands in friendship, and providing us the touch of warmth we had so needed then. Himself, a man of conviction, Mahesh grows on every rebel around him, like a creeper, and so did he grow upon me; as an influence that has lasted over the years of my friendship with him and his wife Soni. If it wasn’t for his words, which assuaged me after Bhupenda passed away, I would not have found my calm. I would say that it was because of Mahesh and Soni’s friendship with me, that I never felt misunderstood, I never felt victim. I always felt like a warrior; a courageous tigress. I still do.
From the Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 1987, to winning Dadasaheb Phalke award in 1993, Bhupenda, the recipient of the titles of Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and Padmashri, was indefatigable, but this defeat during the elections of 2002 in his home state, where he was worshipped for his music; was unbearable for him; and it broke him. I looked after him until his last days, but I could never awaken the bard in him again.
Of the 85 years that he lived, Bhupenda had spent 46 of his years with me. His family couldn’t accept my relationship with him, and wouldn’t forgive me either. While he was alive they couldn’t do anything, but after he left us in 2011, they, his wife and his children, ostracised me. But neither did that stop me, nor did it deter me from going forward to put my Bhupenda’s name out there in the stars; from where there is no force in the world that can take away his shine. I loved him dearly and I feel immersed in the stillness of his love, immoveable.