“Like Knowledge, music has no end”
There are some people in this world who take life just as it comes – be it success, fame, love or mass adulation. The most vital ingredients towards achieving real success in life depends to a large extent, if not entirely, on the way we treat ourselves and those near us, not to speak of possessing ample doses of talent and capability. Surya Goswami is definitely one such person and we call him a successful musician and an achiever, in the true sense of the term. Honesty and humility are undoubtedly, the watermark traits of the veteran Tablist who endears himself to one at first sight with his frankness and rationalistic view of things.
Born and brought up in Nagaon in 1950, Goswami has accompanied legendary Axomiya singer Bhupen Hazarika for sixteen long years and has performed all over the country besides performing in every nook and corner of Assam. However, he has not let his vast experience and maturity as a musician interfere with his other human traits like compassion, tolerance, humility and love towards other people. This statement can be judged from the fact that his is a revered name in not only, the musical fraternity of the state but also all other professional and social fields.
For someone who spent his entire life in total pursuit of good music, Goswami had to juggle a lot between his other passion – football – before an unfortunate accident made him more inclined towards the subtleness of rhythm. One can surmise that if that fateful accident would not have occurred, Assam would have lost one of the greatest musicians it has ever produced. The Tablist was initiated to the world of music by none else other then his own brother, Lavanya Kumar Dev Goswami. However, his acquisition of technical knowledge of music started only when he came under the tutelage of his Guru, Vivekananda Bhattacharjee of Nagaon.
Goswami had always been inclined towards light music and his first break came about when he accompanied Khagen Mahanta and Surya Das in 1964. Till date, these two artists continue to advise him and suggest means to improve his rhythmical pursuits. However, it was in 1967 that the biggest break of his career came about when he accompanied Bhupen Hazarika in one of his functions in Kampur, Nagaon. Recounting the beginning of a long tryst with Bhupen da, the artist says, “It was in 1967 that both Bhupen (Hazarika) da and Jayanta (Hazarika) had come to Tezpur where then MP Nipen Goswami persuaded the artists to perform at Kampur. It was Nipen Goswami who introduced me to Bhupen da and I still remember the MP taking me to meet the legend in a battered ambassador. Bhupen da addressed me as ‘Bapu’ (Son) when we met for the first time and asked Jayanta da to show me to songs that he was going to sing that afternoon”. Goswami’s test as a Tablist fit enough to accompany Bhupen Hazarika was taken by Jayanta Hazarika along with Bhabesh Thakur. Goswami recounts, “They tried to test my musical acumen and asked me to play Dipali Borthakur’s ‘Kauri Ja, Uri Uri Ja’, which had no link of any sort with that days cultural function. However, I think I passed that test for I have accompanied Bhupen da for sixteen years since that day”
‘Xahaj Sajane Muk Prashna Kore’ was the first song with which he accompanied the legend. He was just sixteen years old then. Talking with The Sentinel, he states, “Bhupen da was a very good person and he loved me a lot. Maybe it was because of my age and he saw his younger brother in me. During long trips, he used to wrap his jacket around me so that I did not feel the cold. I simply cannot forget his love”. To accompany a singer of Bhupen Hazarika’s stature is no easy task and Goswami has been successful in doing so. “Accompanying any singer is not an easy job. To accompany an artist, you need to know what the artist really wants. One has to concentrate a lot while accompanying Bhupen da; you have to know his expression, his moods which are vastly different from other artists”, says Goswami. He further adds, “Staying with him has enriched my life a lot. I have gained lots of experience, visited a lot of places, came to know a lot of things, met a lot of people and all these would not have had been possible if I had not met him. I have met filmstars like Amitabh Bachan, Mithun Chakraboty and a lot of celebrities while staying with him”.
Surya Goswami has played with all the old artists of Assam and there is no denying his rhythmic penetration which has engulfed entire generations. Though, it is a lesser known fact that Surya Goswami has also played as a playback artist. He played for the 1969 film Bibhaat and two songs in the 1978 blockbuster Chameli Memsaab. Playing for Chameli Memsaab was no cakewalk and he had to register himself in the Calcutta Music Association before he could even record for the film. “The Calcutta Music Association was very strict with these matters during that period. You could not just go there and play your instrument. Nowadays, even our music scene has become strict in these matters”.
Very active in the musical scene of Guwahati University during his time there as a student, Goswami was selected to represent the Guwahati University cultural troupe in the commonwealth youth festival in New Delhi in 1969. This particular troupe was led by doyen of Assamese cinema and litterateur Dr. Bhabendra Nath Saikia. He was also a member of the University’s cultural troupe, which performed in Patna and Bhubaneshwar as part of the cultural exchange programme. Visitng Patna as state guest for one month, he had performed in various cultural functions in Chandigarh, Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ambal Cant., Wagha Border, etc besides acting as the cultural convenor of ‘All Assam Chemoniar Chora’ in 1972.
The veteran Tablist has accompanied all the prolific artists of Assam; right from Pulak Banerjee to Samar Hazarika and from Ridip Dutta to Manjyotsna Dutta. He has also accompanied the legendary Md. Rafi in one of his shows. “The duty of a Tablist is not just to accompany an artist but to suit his needs and moods”, feels Goswami. He says, “It ultimately comes down to rhythm. Rhythm is the same almost everywhere. We have to alter our techniques with the needs of the singers so that they do not mind”. “It is imperative that the present day accompanists keep this in mind”, says Goswami who’s all time favourite song remains Jayanta Hazarika’s ‘Jodi Kahaniba Xur Bur Xekh Hoi’.
Upon being asked if he ever got the feeling that his role in a music performance was sidelined due to the involvement of the singers who got the opportunity to strike a rapport with the crowd, he replies in the negative. “That is a very important topic but to be frank, it has not happened with me. But that attitude is definitely there in the mindset of the people especially the organisers, who chose to downplay our role as musicians. We are not hands but accompanists and the people should keep this in mind. Though any discrimination on these lines has never happened with me, I have seen a lot of this attitude all over the state”.
An approved instrumentalist of All India Radio, Goswami has also composed a few Assamese songs, which had been recorded at H.M.V. Gramophone Company, Kolkata and have also been performed by several professional singers of Assam. Some of the singers who were involved in the H.M.V. project include the likes of Bhupen Hazarika, Jayanta Hazarika, Runimi Thakur, Dr. Birendranath Dutta, Anima Choudhury, Mridula Das and Rameshwar Pathak to name a few.
The present musical scene disturbs Goswami a bit. “I have judged more than hundred music competitions all over Asom and I regret to say that present day Tablists hardly have any knowledge of grammar. Musicians should not learn music just to pass examinations but unfortunately, that is just what’s happening here”, says Goswami. He adds, “Just like literature has no end, music too, has no end. One should learn rhythm properly and then continue with it throughout his or her life”. According to the veteran Tablist, present day Tablists accompany singers without even knowing them. “This is wrong for an accompanists should know the singer if he has to compliment the singer’s emotions. They also use too many Alankars and it is important that present day musicians learn how to adjust their microphones”.
Surya Goswami’s musical insight is amply augmented, if not solidified, by the support of his wife Meera Goswami and daughter Stuti Goswami. Meera, a noted writer and translator, and Stuti – an upcoming writer, has always been there to inspire the Tablist. “I have received a lot of inspiration from them. Stuti and her mother has inspired and encouraged me a lot”. Surya Goswami plans to open a school of music in Guwahati in the near future.