Legendary folk singer Pratima Pandey dead

The voice that rendered such unforgettable songs, like Dine dine khusia paribe, Hastir kanya hastir kanya, sonar baron pakhi, etc, her death marked the end of an era in the State’s folk music. A genius who strode the world of folk music like a colossus, she was the lone force that opened the doors of Goalparia lokageet to a worldwide audience, immortalising the folklore of the area in the process. Her last rites will be performed at her ancestral home at Gauripur tomorrow with full State honours. Before being taken to Gauripur today, her body was kept at the Swahid Nyas Bhavan for a few hours to enable her admirers to pay their last respects.

Born at Baliganj Charkula Road, Calcutta, on October 3, 1935, to a royal family, her father Prakritish Chandra Baruah (Lalaji) was the second son of Prabhat Chandra Baruah Bahadur, the king of Gauripur Karaibari State (now in Bangladesh), and Malatilata Baruah. The eldest of nine sibling Pratima did her matriculation from Gauripur High School in 1953 and left her college education at South Calcutta Girls’ College halfway to return to Assam and devote herself whole-heartedly to the cause of music and culture. She got associated with the Indian People’s Theatre Association and became a very popular artiste after her performances together with stalwarts like Dr Bhupen Hazarika, Hemanga Biswas, Dileep Sharma, etc. at Guwahati and Shillong. She got a major break in Dr Hazarika’s Era Bator Sur in 1956 and went on to lend her golden voice in several others like Palashar Rang, Gajamukta, Hastir Kanya, Mahut Bandhu Re, besides a Bengalee film Balar Bangadarshan. Two HMV records released in 1975 where she sung with Dr Hazarika also gained immense popularity. Besides, she has got a large number of cassettes and CDs featuring hundreds of songs rendered in her inimitable style. She tied the nuptial knot with Prof Ganga Shankar Pandey, now Head of the Deptt of English, Guaripur Pramathesh Baruah College on September 16, 1969.

Winner of Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1989, she was conferred with the Padmashree in 1991 and DLitt (from North Bengal University) in 2000. Among her other awards and honours include Asom Silpi Divas award, Joymati award, Bishnu Rabha award, Asom Natya Samiti award, Abbasuddin award, Calcutta, citation from Rabindra Bharati, Calcutta. Asom Sahitya Sabha, in its Abhayapuri session in 1977, felicitated her. Gauripuria Mahut is her last audio cassette which she recorded with her daughter Alaka who is also a reputed lokageet singer. Upcoming filmmaker Prabin Hazarika has also made a documentary on Pratima Pandey which has earned a lot of critical acclaim.

Dr Bhupen Hazarika who was among the thousands to pay tributes to his long-time associate, termed her as ‘among the greatest folk singers in the world” who single-handedly succeeded in projecting the rich folklore of Goalpara before the world. “She left her royal palace to merge with the very soul of the soil and it is because of her feeling of oneness with the folklore that enabled her to leave behind a legacy that will stand the test of time.” Eminent folklorist and president-elect of Asom Sahitya Sabha, Dr Birendranath Dutta said she accorded a new stature and recognition to Goalporia lokageet. “I don’t see anyone taking her place, but the dhara (trend) she has created with her inimitable style, will definitely continue.”

Former Chief Minister and NCP leader Sarat Chandra Sinha felt the void created by her death is irreparable and acknowledged her untiring efforts as behind the appreciation and recognition of Goalpara’s folk song. Echoing his sentiments, AASU adviser Dr Samujjal Bhattacharya said the person behind the golden voice in no more, but her songs will always carry forward her message. Recollecting the moments spent with her mother, Alaka Pandey Jha said, “Ma was the centre of all activities in the family and she was an extremely caring person who looked after all our needs.” Although none can take her place as a singer, guided by her blessings, I will try to keep her tradition going on.” Nikhilesh Baruah, cousin-brother of Pratima Pandey who shared a very special bond, said despite being a princess, she was very amiable and soft-hearted. While still in her teens, she founded a body Kala Tirtham to spread the message of music. A daring lady, she once killed a leopard also, he added. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi who was among the first to pay homage to the departed artiste, announced that her cremation would be accorded full state honours, and that the Government would bear all the expenditures of her treatment.

Meanwhile, people from all walks of life flocked to see their beloved artiste in her last sleep since morning. Prominent among those included Ramen Baruah, Pulak Banerjee, Harekrishna Deka, Dulal Roy, Nilu Chakraborty, Manisha Hazarika, Khagen Mahanta, Rituparna Sarma, Samar Hazarika, AK Absar Hazarika, etc. Dr Bhupen Hazarika led the processionists while the body was brought to the Swahid Nyas Bhawan from the GNRC. Later in the afternoon, the processionists stopped at several places in the city to enable the people to pay homage before finally leaving for Gauripur.

(The Assam Tribune)