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Parvati Prasad

by Bishnu Prasad Dutta

Parvati Prasad Baruva is one of the cultural icons of Assam, having handled poetry and cinema with equal panache and passion

The first decade of the 20th century can be deemed as highly significant for Assam because three eminent sons were born to serve the state with lilting music and inspiring poetry. The proverbial three Prasads — Jyotiprasad Agarwalla (1903), Parvati Prasad Baruva (1904) and Bishnu Prasad Rabha (1909) — were synonymous with literature, culture, dance, music and cinematography. The triumvirate kept the literary and cultural arena of the state illumined and vibrant for almost the next six decades.

There was a distinct similarity between Jyotiprasad and Parvati Prasad in lifestyles and area of work, as they both belonged to tea planters’ families and had identical interests in Assamese music and poetry. Bishnu Prasad Rabha was a genius, with revolutionary ideas and a bohemian lifestyle, constantly mingling with the people at the grassroots.

The people of Assam love to take the names of all three patriotic sons of the state in the same breath because they had the unique ability to touch the chords of sensibility of the dormant cultural instincts of the common people.

A simple man

Parvati Prasad Baruva, a debonair, young man impeccably attired in white dhoti-kurta and a traditional Assamese cap on his head, always impressed people with his erudite aristocratic demeanour. Yes, aristocratic he was, but it was never a burden for him. His sublime features radiated a halo of benign simplicity, which enabled even the poorest of the poor to feel easy in his company.

Parvati Prasad Baruva was born in Sivasagar, which is on the banks of the Dikhow River. His ancestral home, at a later stage, had to be abandoned because of erosion by the river. The family shifted to Sonari, 50 km up east, and now the subdivisional headquarters of Charaideo subdivision of the district. Sonari remained the place of his work and worship till he breathed his last on June 7, 1964.

A staunch devotee of Rabindranath Tagore’s works during his college days, he was once ticked off by the hostel warden of Cotton College for constantly humming Rabindrasangeet and disturbing fellow boarders during study hours. He had then admitted before the warden that he could not resist the impulse to burst into Rabindrasangeet tunes despite his best efforts. The warden, a mild-mannered gentleman, had then patted Parvati Prasad’s back with a mild frown.

Parvati Prasad was 30, adventurous and flamboyant, when a tragic mishap caused a profound blow and ultimately brought about a change in the very fabric of the poet’s mind. It was 1933, and a drama was to be staged in Sivasagar town on the occasion of Durga Puja.

Parvati Prasad, along with the entire family of his elder brother Bhagawati Prasad, a promising poet himself, was proceeding in a car towards Sivasagar, where he was to play a major role in the drama. On the way was Desang Ghat, where the travellers were to cross the river in a ferry. Parvati Prasad was at the steering wheel of the car.

As luck would have it, the car with all the members inside, while proceeding to embark on the ferry boat, did not stop where it should have, but instead broke the bar and plunged headlong into the river. Only Parvati Prasad survived, while his brother and the entire family ended up in the watery grave.

The tragedy left an indelible mark on Parvati Prasad and a profound melancholy and dejection that was born of it continued to linger in his mind. Naturally, it also found expression in almost all his poetic creations thereon. Parvati Prasad had an unfathomable fascination for the tranquillity of autumn. The sublime beauty and magnificent purity of nature that emanated from the earth with the advent of autumn often permeated the lyrics and poems of the bard. That is why he was often called the “prince of autumn” in poetic circles. Admittedly, the list of Parvati Prasad’s creations is not very long. But qualitatively his lyrical poems and dance dramas can claim a place at the pinnacle of Assamese culture. By virtue of his imaginative poetic excellence, he turned the soft simple words of day-to-day life into dazzling gems.

Rural canvas

The subject matter of his poems was invariably picked up from the rural canvas of the state. The vast expanse of the mighty Brahmaputra locally called the Barluit, with lonely islands and flowery reeds and tiny boats, were the themes of many of his poems and songs. Hills and hillocks, rivers and rivulets, forests and grasslands, flora and fauna, the turbulent summer sky or the calm serene sky of autumn found a place in the sensitive poetic lap of his imagination and ten published authologies of his poems and lyrics.

Parvati Prasad was a pioneer in the field of cinematography of Assam. His one and only film Rupahi was next to Jyotiprasad’s legendary creation Joymati. The poet, besides producing and directing the film, acted in the role of Ananda Mahanta, a minstrel of devotional songs. He was out and out a romantic in his perception of life and poetry.

In his youth, he used to dream of a musical soiree under the canopy of twinkling stars of an autumn sky which he called Saradi sandhiyar jonaki mel. The first rule he formulated for the soiree was that there would be no rules whatsoever.

Whoever came to the jonaki mel could come on to the stage with an entertainment item like a song, a dance item, a poem, a joke or a talk. An imaginative item of cultural entertainment was always welcome. When he was alive, he held several memorable jonaki mels which found place in the annals of cultural history of the state. It was sheer irony of fate that in 1953 the poet was confined to bed after a massive heart attack. He survived the trauma, but remained paralysed for the rest of his life.

Courtesy: The Assam Tribune (2003)

The writer is an academic and president of the Parvati Prasad Baruva centenary celebration committee. The centenary celebration of the versatile lyricist was observed during 2003-04.

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