Dipali Barthakur - A Magnetic Voice : Tarali Sarma

“Whose voice, songs and smile will make the heavenly flowers bloom
In the hearts of people and inside and outside all the homes of this world
Spreading beauty and untainted happiness to create a dream...”
(Xunpokhili : Jyotiprasad Agarwala)

Dipali Barthakur is a name – which is like an everlasting melody, whose voice has mesmerised thousands of listeners and whose melodious voice can create dreams in the minds of people.

It is as if Assam was waiting eagerly for her birth – 30th of January 1941. The denizens of Assam were on the threshold of entering a new musical era – to hear a unique melodious voice, as if a queen bee of sweet voice had been born. The voice had shaken each and every person on the shores of the mighty Brahmaputra. The echo of that voice still rings in the blue skies and in the air – and will remain so forever.

A wave of change was flowing through the entire nation. The end of the second World War and the independence of our country had brought in many changes in the country. Indian cinema and the music world also saw many changes. The period between 1947 to 1961 came to be regarded as the golden age of Indian cinema and music. It was at the beginning of this golden era that Dipali Barthakur came to the limelight as a singer par excellence, through the programme Moina Mel.

A new appellation was coined in the history of Indian cinema around this time – playback singing. Distinguished writer Amita Malik has described the initiation of playback singing as a “special incident in Indian cinema”. In 1959, under the direction of Lakhyadhar Choudhury and Prabin Phukan, Dipali Barthakur debuted as a playback singer in the movie ‘Lachit Borphukan’, singing the songs penned down by music director Khirodakanta Bixoya – “Abegor bukusa bobo moi nuwaru, jowbone aamoni kore/ kihore senaidhon tumare boiri mon, lahoti kopou phool xore”.

Thanks to the All India Radio (AIR) and Radio Ceylon, the Hindi movie songs topped the charts of popularity. During that time, the then AIR Director Dr. A.M. Natesh took the initiative to organize numerous cultural programmes in various places all over Assam with the aim to record them. In such a programme in Sivasagar in upper Assam, Dipali Barthakur was the prime artist in staging the creations of distinguished academician and artist Paragdhar Chaliha. When Dr. Natesh heard about the talent of Dipali Barthakur from Mr. Chaliha and also saw her perform live, he invited her to sing for AIR without an audition. In 1957, Dipali Barthakur recorded her first Assamese song (a lullaby) for the AIR which was written by the late Leela Gogoi – “mor bopai lahori / nonaisu lahori / bora juriboloi aho he”.

Before hearing Dipali Barthakur’s voice, the Assamese people had heard a lot of other female singers - Gunada Kaur, Tultul Bharali, Queenie Hazarika, Bandana Baruah and many others. It was during the struggle for Independence that respectable Assamese people like Lakshminath Bezbaroa, Jyotiprashad Agarwala, etc. created songs, plays, poems, essays, etc. and the tradition continued post independence too. These songs, poems and other creations touched the hearts and minds of the people and created awareness among them. Due to this, even after independence, the Assamese people reacted strongly against the powerful, capitalist England and developed an aversion for their style of living, their rules and laws, their business sense, their Elizabeth-Victorian architectural styles, etc. The people started to harbour feelings of worship, love and responsibility for their motherland. Songs of Agarwala and Bishnu Prasad Rabha had become very dear to the listeners in Assam. It was as if the Assamese people discovered themselves in their songs. On the moonlit nights, when the gentle breeze made the tall trees sway, the mesmerizing sound of a distant Bihu song or a familiar tune sent shivers up the spine of the listeners and made them feel nostalgic and added to the sense of belonging to their motherland. Dipali Barthakur brought about the same feeling with her unparalleled voice.

The speciality of Dipali Barthakur’s voice was its clear-cut ability to connect with the people. Most of her popular songs are based on the tunes of Bihu songs, Bongeet, wedding songs and local lullabies. Her voice sparkled like the pole star – enriched with the indigenous touch - Aagoli baahore lahori gogona / bohi taator patot bao / aahe ki nahe o murei o senai o / siri paati mongolkhon sao. 

Regarding Dipali Barthakur’s hold over the Bihu tune, Paragdhar Chaliha had remarked, “During the performance of Bihu songs, Dipali Barthakur manages to take the mind and soul of her audience to faraway lands. I feel that even if Dipali utters a few notes rather than singing the full song, it will ascertain her immortality.”

Dipali Barthakur’s singing is soulful, clear and simple. Correct and clear pronunciations of words are the specialities of her voice. With correct tune and proper vocabulary Dipali Barthakur pours her soul into the singing process. She could dwelve deep into the soul of the song she sang without losing her personal touch – Xunor kharu nelage muk biyar babe aai / seneh jori yoi diyo muk hatote xuwai. This song was penned by the famous lyricist Nirmalprobha Bordoloi and music was by Bhaben Borhakur; it expressed the feelings of a young girl of marriageable age. Dipali Barthakur could aptly express the feelings of a young girl who was on the threshold of entering a new phase of her life, on the verge of dedicating her life to a different family where she will be married off. There is no over playing of the emotions, no over dramatization of events - rather, a subtle expression has given the song a profound feel.

1957-1968 – this was the period that belonged to Dipali Barthakur. This was the time when her magical voice mesmerized thousands of listeners. Like a river flowing into the sea, Dipali Barthakur sang song after song and unleashed a river of melody. Invaluable support came from her brother Bhaben Bortahkur. Nirmalprobha Bordoloi’s lyrics, Bhaben Barthakur’s music and Dipali Barthakur’s voice constituted an excellent team. And this team contributed many evergreen songs to the Assamese society. Kun xei rupowoti jai, xunuwali buta boisa oxomiya paat, xuntir xuwoni lawoni mukhoni, Jonbaai e beji eti de are a few examples.

The songs composed by Nirmalprobha Bordoloi for Dipali Barthakur revealed the feelings of a woman’s mind and the diverse feelings of various age groups. Upon close scrutiny, we find that most of Dipali Barthakur’s songs are women centric - Aai moi xunisu aghonot bule patiso mur biya (Lyrics: Nirmalprobha Bordoloi; Music: Bhaben Barthakur); Aagoli kolapaat lore ki sore (Lyrics: Nirmalprobha Bordoloi); Konman boroxire sip / tare aagot ronga singa rajkonya nase diplip (Lyrics: Jayanta Baruah; Music: Birendranath Dutta); Bondhu xomoi pale aamar phale ebaar aahi jaba (Music and lyrics: Rudra Barua).

The circumstances, the surroundings and the family are capable of leaving an everlasting impact in a person’s life. The town which was illuminated by the courage of Joymoti, which is alive with traditional song and music, which carries the proud heritage of the Ahom kingdom – it was in this historic town of Sivasagar where Dipali Barthakur was born into an illustrious respectable family. The town’s heritage and the environment at home had imparted immense feel and simplicity to the voice of Dipali Barthakur. That person had a profound personality, who upon hearing me sing the first song that she had recorded years back had tearfully remarked, “Tarali, you have beautifully rendered the song. I hope that you excel to the utmost...”. She used to wait eagerly for a serial every Thursday, to hear the rendition of the borgeet that I sang for the serial; this gave a lot of encouragement and I craved to do better. But destiny had other plans for the great singer. Dipali Barthakur, who ushered dreams in the listeners’ minds with her songs, found her own dreams shattered when in 1968 she fell ill and lost her golden voice. Life became a sad melody, a eulogy.

But a real person is one who can surge past the difficulties, pain and the haphazardness of real life. Dipali Barthakur endured immense physical pain and mental agony, and never uttered a word of complaint or despair. No one knew the hurt that she carried inside her. I salute the person who, inspite of knowing about her illness, came forward and embraced her – I bow my head in respect to Nilpaban Barua and Dipali Barthakur, and their courage, and their desire to keep love and hope alive.

“Even if the entire ugliness of the Earth is smeared with black, then also the shadow of its beauty will never be lost from the imagination” (Rupohi: Jyotiprasad Agarwala). The people realize that despair and despondence can smear any amount of darkness but the beauty of the voice and melody of Dipali Barthakur will forever remain in their hearts : He niyoti toi / jodiu dukhor pihoni xilot thoi / bhangili mur jibon xosyo surno-bissurno koi / baru saabi mur sokulure tuke / xaaniputoki loi / bandhim aaxaar pitha pona laru / bhunji nisukibi toi (Ajeya: Chandrakumar Agarwala)

Tarali Sarma is a National Award winning music director from Assam.