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MY SPACE - Jetha, my guru, my friend

By The Assam Tribune
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Dr. Samyami Sangeeta Chowdhury

Prabhat Sarma jetha was an extraordinary musician. And what an unparalleled bond we shared with jetha. We were brought up with the authentic sounds of Assam — Borgeet, Lokageet, naam, and a plethora of authentic handcrafted Assamese instruments. I first heard the sounds of a bahi (flute) during my mother’s recording of a Borgeet album in 1993. That was jetha’s bahi. That sound. That magical mystical mountainous sound; the voice of bamboo. The beginning of a neverending Assamese music addiction for me and my siblings.

From here on end, jetha would become the epicentre of my musical life. Lots of people said to my mother, “Don’t let Dibloo play the bahi, it will spoil her singing voice.” Jetha disagreed, “Ehhheku nohoi, riyaaz lagibo dui phaley, tumi ki nuara, Dibloo? Kua sun?” (Nothing like that, she just needs to practice both. You can do everything, Dibloo.) Jetha was my unconditional supporter. If I wanted to try something, he would always say “Kora!” Jetha was the first person who taught me that the world is truly my oyster and absolutely nothing can stop me from following a dream.

"During the release of our mother’s Goalporia Lokageet and Kamrupi Lokageet album in 1995, Jetha gifted me two flutes in C and B-flat, which he had made with his own hands. Until today, they are my only flutes that are still in tune and sound more beautiful each day."

During the release of our mother’s Goalporia Lokageet and Kamrupi Lokageet album in 1995, Jetha gifted me two flutes in C and B-flat, which he had made with his own hands. Until today, they are my only flutes that are still in tune and sound more beautiful each day.

Growing up, in the UK, we were musically isolated in a foreign land that had never experienced the sounds of Assamese music. Jetha helped us spread this music into unexposed quarters. People were fascinated.

Jetha taught us, sisters, the Borgeets, and he taught Rishii, my brother, the khol, nagara, dogor, bhortaal and taught us all some pieces from his Debogandhar set. So, as a family, we learnt to be a five-person band. Our mom, my sister, and I would sing, while mom also played the xoru taal with our Borgeets and Rishii would be on the khol. Daddy would play the bhortaal for naam-praxanga, with Rishii on the nagara, and we would all sing naam together. Any mistakes made, even by mom, and jetha would screech, “Nai nai nai… hua nai!” Amidst a thorough telling off, there would be a joke and jetha would impersonate a man singing or playing out of tune and dramatise how the audience would walk away if such a person is allowed on stage! We spent so many hours laughing our hearts out with jetha. Sometimes, even whilst performing, my siblings and I would have a slight grin on stage, remembering how jetha may have told us off at the next stanza and we knew we had to get it right. Thankfully we did. We do. And we hope we always will.

In 2000, we recorded our own album — Atijya, where I sang and jetha composed and produced the album. Both my siblings accompanied and we created such a rare memory. The rehearsals took place in the familiar formation of jetha’s music room. We spent hours sitting there – practising, sharing jokes, stories, eating snacks and tea and being part of the cultural ambience. The current would go off in the evening which meant the fan went out. That didn’t bother us! We carried on singing/playing. What an atmosphere. What melodious carefree days.

Our home in the UK was a cultural hotspot that jetha and borma loved when they came to visit. I would go for long walks with jetha and borma. At the time I was preparing for my driving test and I was reading the highway code for the theory test. I would make jetha and borma test me. I promised that jetha and borma would be my first passengers once I passed! So, the day after I passed my test, I took jetha and borma to Straford-upon-Avon to visit Shakespeare’s house.

I could go on and on, sharing memories of jetha. We shared such a uniquely solid bond that was a mixture of guru-shishya, jetha-bhagin, koka-natini and friend. Jetha really was my buddy. I would call up jetha frequently about various things; whether it was before a concert for blessings, after a concert to tell him how it went, share my feelings about yet another blasphemous musical occurrence that was happening, a new job, passing exams, forgetting a tune or some lyrics. Sometimes I would surprise jetha by just turning up at their house! I would pre-warn borma that I was in Assam and not to tell jetha so I could surprise him! I would turn up unannounced and the shock, surprise and glee in jetha’s face would be epic!

I’m utterly devastated… and I look at my flutes today knowing how sad they must be. Thank you jetha for bringing wisdom, melody, rhythm and laughter to all our lives in so many ways… you will always be my favourite guru.

Sleep well and enjoy lal-sah and biscuit with my koka, aita and all my loved ones who have left for the heavens. With your morom and axirbad, I will try and make you proud in everything I do.

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