By Bimalanda Barua
Tafazzul Ali is an unforgettable me in the field of Assamese music. This versatile musician had joined as a lecturer in the Assamese Department of Kanoi College in Dibrugarh in 1956, and had stayed there for 14 years till 1970. That period of time can be said to be the golden era of his musical life in the course of which he composed many immemorial songs. He became a well-known and popular persolity not only in Kanoi College, but in the entire cultural field of Dibrugarh. I first came into contact with him when I was a school student, and was later fortute enough to find him as my teacher and guide when I studied in Kanoi College.
This self-made individual was more popular as ‘Ali Sir’ in Dibrugarh, and later on, all over Assam. It is rather amusing that people much senior to him in age used to address him as Ali Sir. This shows the kind of respect they had for him. Almost all the leading singers of Dibrugarh were drawn to him, and showcased their talent by lending their voices to his beautiful compositions. Amongst them were Jyotish Bhattacharjya, Gagan Barua, lini Devi (Ranu), Santa Barua, Doly Ghosh, Hasi Hazarika, Ranja Chowdhury, Rajen Gohain and Sandhya Devi. However, he was not restricted to Dibrugarh alone, leading singers from all over Assam gave voice to his beautiful songs.
His songs became popular not only because of the rhythmic flow of words from his pen and the most appropriate word selection; but also because of the matching tunes he created for the thematic contents of the songs, and the way he tailored for the voices of individual established singers. He did so by employing elements of Hindustani classical music, folk music, western music and even tunes from other local forms of Assamese music. But it was never done randomly; he always kept an eye on the essence and compatibility of the song.
Referring to the Bargeet(s) and dance dramas of the great Vaishvite saint of Assam, Srimanta Sankardev, he had written: “If we look at the elements of Assamese music, we can understand its ancient and origil characteristics. There is no doubt that ingredients of North Indian classical music or Raga music had entered into Assamese music from very ancient times. Many of the mes of the ragas that we find in what is presently known as Hindustani Music have been in use in Assamese music at least since the last five hundred years.” (Tafazzul Ali, Saskritir xaru xaru katha, Guwahati, 2008, P- 82)
Ali Sir had always dreamt of a beautiful, hope-filled world. He was a humble man who said:
If your message (tumar baniye jadi)/speaks about yourself (tomar kathake kai)/it is but your defeat (xi je tomar parajoi)/an insult to the soul of the artist (silpi prar apaman)/don’t, don’t you ever sing such a song (gaba, gaba xei gaan)
An examition of his songs reveal that most of them are romantic in ture; not of the cheap variety, but of healthy, tasteful composition. That however does not imply that he had chosen to ignore the injustice and unfairness in our society. There are many who feel that the songs of Tafazzul Ali lack social awareness because they do not alyse his songs properly. A few lines from some of his songs are quoted below for their enlightenment:
Wherever you see bondage and injustice (bandhan abisar dekhiba jote)/ protest fearlessly there (nirbhik pratibad kariba tate)/ time garlands the victor (bijoyik joimala xamaye pindhai)
Where there is suppression and oppression without reason (jot akarane daman piron)/ domition and exploitation through the ages (juge juge xahan, xuhan)/will wash them away with the floods of the Ganga, inevitably (utuwai nim gangar banere durnibar)
Not handicapped are they (bikalanga hoi)/ nor are they incapable (akhyamu hoi)/ nor are they friendless (hoi xihat nixanga)/ they are of ourselves (xihatu je amare)/close to our hearts (bukur apunjan)/a part of our society (amar xamajare anga)
My close association with Ali Sir provided me the opportunity to know him persolly. He was the type of man who was happy in another’s happiness, and sad in another’s sorrow. One day I was walking with him towards his house, when we saw a small boy crying in a barber’s shop at one end of the road. On enquiring we found out that his father the barber had not been able to buy puja clothes for him. Ali Sir handed over some money to the barber and asked him to buy some clothes for the boy.
A few days after the incident, Ali Sir taught us a new chorus for a cultural function:
Under the same sky (ekekhan akaxar talate)/ In the bosom of the same earth (ekekhani prithibir bukute)/why will you cry when I laugh (moi hahile toi kiya kandibi)/ why will you laugh when I cry (moi kandile toi kiya hahibi)
He must have written the song with that little boy in mind – he was as sensitive as that.
Today, on his ninth death anniversary, I pay tearful tributes to his memory with a very relevant stanza from one of his songs:
We tell hope-filled stories in a sorrow-filled world
(aami dukhe bhara prithibit axabhora kahini xuo)
We take the dust of the earth, to paint the world with pigments (of colour)
(dharanir dhuliko paari jagat renure bulao)
We welcome the golden sun early in the morning
(puwate adari anu xunuwali xurujak)
Greeting it with love.
(moromere ulag joi)
(Translated from the origil by Rubaiyat-ul Ali)