Kavita Baruah, who is popular among the Assamese as Rose Hazarika, retired from films years back but the multi-faceted artiste still remains a household name in Assam.
Born in the famous Hazarika family in Guwahati in 1940, Baruah’s musical journey began at an early age and was greatly influenced by eldest brother Bhupen Hazarika. In fact, her formative years were influenced by stalwarts like Bishnu Rabha, Jyotiprasad Agarwala and Phani Sharma, who spent a lot of time at the Hazarika family home, working closely with Hazarika and rest of the brothers and sisters.
“My training started at home and I never had any formal training outside the family. We were 10 brothers and sisters and all of us were trained at home. I had also performed Manipur dance,” says Baruah, who is the seventh among the siblings. All the siblings were once closely associated with All India Radio, she informs.
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Baruah says Hazarika, or Bhupenda as the siblings called him, was the guiding star after their parents, Nilokanto and Santipriya Hazarika. Her cultural life included dancing, acting and singing. She was in Class II when she first performed in Bishnu Rabha’s Xurore Deulore (1948), a dance drama, in Bhorolumukh, Guwahati.
A young Baruah was involved with various cultural and social organisations in various parts of Assam. She represented Assam in the first Republic Day cultural performance in New Delhi and performed tea community folk dances for the state’s tableau.
Baruah did her schooling from Panbazar Girls High School and finished Bachelor of Arts (BA) from Handique College, Guwahati University. Later, she went to Kolkata to get Diploma in Library Science from Calcutta University.
She grew up as an artiste with Indian People Theatre’s Association (IPTA) along with luminaries like Hemango Biswas. “Hemango da was like a member of the family and he was a great inspiration. After Bhupenda, he was our mentor,” says 78-year-old Baruah.
Later, she was a part of the founding team of Madhusayanika, a socio-cultural organisation recognised for its contribution to Assamese art and culture. She was also an active member of the Cotton College cultural affairs where she studied.
Baruah first went to Kolkata in 1960 for a song recording for Assamese film Shakuntala. Later, she moved to the city in 1962 to pursue higher studies and stayed with her brother Bhupenda at Golf Club Road in Tollygunge.
When Baruah was in Kolkata, the art and culture scene in the city was at its zenith and she worked with several big names, besides Hazarika. Few Bengali artistes she met during her stay in Kolkata are Jahar Rai, Nipoti Chatterjee, Tarun Kumar, Anil Chatterjee, Aparesh Lahiri, Basuri Lahiri, Pahari Sanyal, Shabana Ajmi, Hemanta Mukherjee, Salil Choudhury and Hoimanti Shukla. She also sang with Debabrata Biswas, who is considered the king of Rabindra sangeet, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay and others.
Baruah was closely involved in the making of various Assamese films by Hazarika contributing to various aspects of production and music.
Filmed in Assam and Kolkata, some of these productions include Loti ghoti, Pratidhyoni. Chik Mik Bijuli, Erabator Xur and Mon Proja Poti (co-produced by her husband Upendra Kumar Baruah).
Kavita acted in ChikMik Bijuli, narrated and sang Bihu with Moghai Uja for Pratidhyoni and performed folk dances for Erabator Xur.
With All India Radio, Guwahati, Baruah was part of programmes like Akonir Mel (during her childhood), Aidew Buloni (women’s programme) and later with various radio drama series. Her popular songs include: Prathama Prahore Ratri (with Ila Bose) for the film Sakuntala; Godhuli Ahil (music Jayanta Hazarika, lyrics Nirmol Prabha Bordoloi) and Radha Sura’r Phool Guji (inspired by tea community folk music/lyrics Bhupen Hazarika) for a commercial His Masters Voice (HMV) record, folk song Baijensun for long playing record, a folk compilation Bareboronia; Goalporiya folk Dhouli Mure Mai and Birinda Bonere Kune Bahi Bai for Hazarika family albums Nijoraparor Xur and Rod Puabor Karone.
She got married to Upendra Kumar Baruah, an architect, author and cultural patron from Tezpur and lived in the US for a few years before returning to Assam. Upen Baruah’s works include production of early Assamese movie Mon Proja Poti, involvement with the Civil Rights movement in Chicago in the 1960s culminating in the authoring of A Portrait of A Gandhian — A Biography of Dr. Martin Luther King with foreword from Mrs King and Mrs Gandhi. These were besides his contribution to the northeast India as an architect.
Talking to The Shillong Times over phone from Guwahati, Baruah says she has wonderful memories of Kolkata and the house where she stayed with Hazarika. She visited the house in 2015 with her son, Joor Baruah, a documentary filmmaker.
“In 2018, there was news that the Assam government is trying to buy back the house. We (the brothers and sisters of Bhupenda) are extremely grateful to the Assam government for this initiative and hope that the old memories of the house are restored and maintained,” says Baruah.
Baruah has been involved in social work for the last two decades. She is currently an advisor for Xixu Kanon, an Ethos project involving underprivileged children and orphans and volunteer Vice President (Joint) of Association for Social Health in India, a non-profit organisation that focuses on health issues of the region, especially women’s health. She often teaches music and dance as part of these initiatives.
Recently, she worked as the creative advisor for the documentary Adi | At The Confluence (2016) directed by son Joor. The documentary has been shown in over 30 international film festivals and won eight best documentary awards.
About Shillong, she says she spent some wonderful time at brother Balen Hazarika’s house. “We would visit Shillong during summer. His house was the meeting place of artistes from the region, including Khasi artistes like Helen Giri. We would get together, compose and sing songs. Bhupenda would visit the hill city often,” she adds.