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Pallabi Biswas

Calcutta, Nov. 5: In their lifetime, they honestly knew they were popular. The sales figures of both books and records/cassettes/CDs said it all. But did they really know how much?

A year after Bhupen Hazarika passed away, more than a thousand people queued up at the samadhi on the Gauhati University in Guwahati to pay their tribute. Yesterday, in Calcutta, scores of people protested because they were not allowed inside the venue where Sunil Gangopadhyay's family and friends were holding a very private memorial service.

Bet both singer and author would have been euphoric if they had seen the queues. Bet they did, from somewhere up there or anywhere. Both eulogized, loved, missed.

Bhupen Hazarika and Sunil Gangopadhyay were born six years apart but died only a year apart, leaving in their wake two grieving neighbours, millions of mourners and a question: will there be another Hazarika? Like Satyajit Ray's iconic sleuth Feluda, has Bengal read its last Kakababu adventure?

I guess Bengal has. My other guess is Assam and the rest of India won't see another Hazarika for a long time to come. Simply because icons are not made everyday.

I was in my teens when my father bought me my first long-playing record of Hazarika. Baba had bought this brand new Sony record changer in which I played my brand new Hazarika record.

But it didn't have Ganga Amar Maa, my favourite. So I got another. Record, I mean. It had Ganga Amar Maa, Bistirna Dupare, Manush Manusher Jonye and Dola, another favourite. I crossed my teens, my twenties and thirties but I still know those songs by heart.

Isn't Hazarika timeless? For me, he doesn't have to be around to sing it. I tear up when I listen to Ruma Guhathakurta's rendition of Ganga Amar Maa.

I lip sync when some other artiste sings it in the video on the underground Metro platform, oblivious to the stares. After all this time, the words are still heart-warming, endearing and simply unforgettable. But of course, Hazarika wrote the lyrics.

I was a little older when I entered the world of Sunil Gangopadhyay's Neera and a little more so when I gobbled up Shei Somoy and Pratham Alo. Shei Somoy was serialised in Desh, with which he had a long-term association. I still buy Anandamela, primarily a children's sarodiya (Puja annual), just not to miss Kakababu's latest adventure. I have grown up with Kakababu and Shontu, was a little girl when Tapan Sinha turned Kakababu's heroics into a film called Sabuj Dwiper Raja. I would have loved Gangopadhyay's Mahabharat for children, which unfortunately he left unfinished.

I never knew them personally, though I came up in the elevator with Gangopadhyay in this office only a month before he passed away (well, we shared a workplace). So, therefore, I cannot say their deaths are a personal loss. But was it anything personal when the Puja committee, where Gangopadhyay's apartment stood, stopped playing the dhak after he passed away on Navami?

My mother took it personally, wiped a quiet tear when she watched Gangopadhyay's last journey on TV. A poet put it bluntly after Gangopadhyay passed away: "Every Bengali woman has become a widow today."

Ma has kept the series of The Telegraph's Guwahati edition, which carried Hazarika's death, in our bookcase. To her, Hazarika was Bhupenda, whose songs she had grown up listening to in Guwahati.