Bhupen Hazarika was cremated this morning in Guwahati, at a ceremony on the banks of the Brahmaputra that was attended by an estimated 100,000 people present to pay their tribute to the legendary singer.
His politics did go somewhat awry in his last years, but I don’t want to think about that right now. Here is Bhupen Hazarika, with the original Assamese of the song many of us have heard him sing in Hindi, Ganga behti ho kyon. While studying at Columbia University, New York, Hazarika met Paul Robeson, whose song Ol’ Man River moved him so much that he rendered it into his mother tongue Assamese as bistirno parore. In Ol’ Man River, Robeson had adapted to the context of slavery, an American folk song of the Mississipi region. It is believed that this song in turn was an American version of a popular Russian song, Song of the Volga Boatmen. Hear the song in Robeson’s voice here.