Archive for September 2013

The time has come for all good men — and women — to come to the aid of the party. But celebrities are often treated as outsiders by political parties. Parties want them to win election but not rise.

  • Poll call: Krishna Poonia

Elections are in the air. Hoardings line the roads, prime ministerial candidates hop across the country to address the masses and recorded messages on the phone canvass for votes.

There’s another sign of the 2014 parliamentary elections. Political parties are looking at well-known men and women — and vice versa — as possible candidates for the polls.

Consider this: Information technology (IT) honcho Nandan Nilekani is likely to fight an election from Bangalore. General V.K. Singh, the just retired army chief, recently shared the dais with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Athlete Krishna Poonia may fight an election as a Congress candidate. And Olympian Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore has resigned from the army to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“Excellence in sports is limited to personal achievement but it doesn’t excite me anymore. Politics will complete my life,” Rathore, 43, stresses.

  • Diya Kumari

Alliances between celebrities and political parties are not new. Over the years, a great many icons have joined politics. The list includes Sunil Dutt, Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra, Raj Babbar, Shatrughan Sinha, Govinda, Kirti Azad and Mohammed Azharuddin. People have come in from other fields too — such as the army (B.C. Khanduri and J.F.R. Jacob), diplomacy (Shashi Tharoor) and science (Raja Ramanna). “It is a marriage of convenience,” says Shatrughan Sinha of the BJP.

At the core of this arrangement is a political party’s desire to rake in more seats, and a well-known personality’s wish to make a mark — usually when on the verge of retirement.

“Celebrities are already seen as heroes in the public eye, so this makes the seat winnable for political parties. For celebrities, it is a shortcut to more fame and the unlimited power that come along with politics,” explains Dhirubhai Sheth, senior fellow at the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Indeed, in these cynical times, when politicians are being roundly castigated for corruption, crime and communalism, the outsiders are often seen as whiffs of fresh air. “We need them to give a boost to politics. They have both visibility and credibility, which politicians often lack,” Congress spokesperson P.C. Chacko states.

  • Nandan Nilekani

That could be the reason the Congress plans to offer the south Bangalore seat to Nilekani, chief of the Unique Identification Development Authority of India.

“South Bangalore is a constituency of technocrats and for them, Nilekani needs no introduction. We wanted someone like him to fight the BJP’s candidate, Ananth Kumar, who has been winning the seat,” Chacko adds.

Like the Congress, which fielded actors Rajesh Khanna and Sunil Dutt, the BJP has a long history of showcasing candidates with no political backgrounds but immense public appeal. During the Ram Janmabhoomi wave — when Ramayan and Mahabharat aired on Doordarshan — its pantheon included Deepika “Sita” Chikhalia, Arun “Ram” Govil and Arvind “Ravan” Trivedi. Among the many Bollywood stars it has successfully — or not so unsuccessfully — projected are, apart from Sinha, Hema Malini and Dharmendra.

  • Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore

“We welcome them because they have already proved their calibre in certain fields,” says BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman.

Not many, however, have had memorable stints in politics. Chikhalia, who faded out soon after her debut, describes her move as an “accidental jump” into politics. “I was seen as the perfect candidate to promote the ideology of the party then,” Chikhalia, who won from Vadodra in 1991, says.

Smriti Irani of the BJP — who made her mark on television as Tulsi — is among the few who segued into politics effortlessly. Though she lost to Kapil Sibal of the Congress from Delhi in 2004, she is the articulate face of her party.

  • General V.K. Singh

“It’s all about the meeting of minds,” Rathore maintains. “I chose the BJP because I believe in its philosophy of nationalism, cadre-based politics and good leadership.”

For political parties, celebrity endorsement is important. “Celebrities are in demand because of their ability to communicate with the people,” explains Chakshu Roy, head of the outreach team of the Delhi-based PRS Legislative Research.

But popularity doesn’t always translate into votes. Actor and Union tourism minister K. Chiranjeevi, who contested the Andhra election in 2009, had lakhs of people attending his rallies. But his erstwhile Praja Rajyam Party could win only 18 of 294 Assembly seats.

Often, once the election is over, the newcomers find that they have no place in the party hierarchy. They face resentment from party members who’ve worked hard over the years in the hope of contesting from a particular constituency.

“Politicians want stars to get the crowd but they don’t really want them to rise,” Sinha says.

Shooter and Asian Games gold medalist Jaspal Rana agrees. “I was 19 and wanted to be a youth leader when I joined the BJP. But seasoned politicians don’t let others grow,” says Rana, who is now with the Congress.

This, a source close to Poonia says, worries her too. Though overtures have been made by the Congress, she is not clear about the offer. “She would leave her job in the railways and join the Congress only if it promised her a good role in the party,” says the source.

Chikhalia’s story may deter Poonia. The ex-actress recalls that her equation with the BJP changed soon after she won the seat. “Gradually, I realised that the party fielded me because it wanted the seat. Once the seat was won, its attitude towards me changed. I was always seen as an outsider.”

Some newbies, on the other hand, claim they have no expectations of the party. “I am here to serve the people in the manner my party would like me to,” holds Diya Kumari of the erstwhile royal family of Jaipur, who has just joined the BJP.

Politicians stress that in this dog-eat-dog world, only the fittest survive. “If the individual has acumen, he or she gets an opportunity (to rise),” Sitharaman holds. Sinha adds that newcomers need to understand the rules of the game. It took him many years to mature as a politician, he says.

Political leaders add that the so-called “outsiders” often don’t know how parties function. “Many of them think that if they have won a seat, they should get a ministerial berth. They don’t understand the dynamics of politics,” Chacko complains.

Some of them are hardly seen in Parliament. Sinha and Hema Malini, who asked 117 questions and participated in six debates over four years, are exceptions. Others — such as Dharmendra and Azharuddin — have contributed little to policy or polity.

PRS Legislative Research reports that Azharuddin asked five questions and participated in two debates between June 2009 and September 2013. Chiranjeevi neither participated in a debate nor asked a question.

The electorate has to wait to see how the season’s new politicians will perform.

Abdul Shakeel Basa, who works with riot victims and homeless children, was accused of being a Maoist and arrested by the Delhi police under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) three years ago. Though he is out on bail, the case continues.

Basa, who says that he was tortured by the police while in custody, is a strong opponent of the act. “It allows the police to concoct charges against activists by calling them members of banned organisations,” he holds.

The government is seemingly ready to do something about cases which are believed to be false, but which carry on for years, often with the accused in jail. The Union home ministry recently said it would provide special legal assistance to Muslim youths and set up special courts for dealing with such cases.

Activists working in this field, however, feel that this will not help. “Special court is shortcut populism,” says Manisha Sethi of the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA), a forum of teachers fighting against human right violations.

Experts maintain that what is needed is a repeal of the UAPA. The act was first passed in 1967 as an ordinary criminal law but later amended to deal with terrorism after the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (Tada) and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) were repealed. They believe that amendments to the act in 2004, 2008 and in 2012 made the law even more stringent.

“The two anti-terrorist acts — Tada and Pota — were widely misused and therefore repealed. But unfortunately, the government gave more teeth to UAPA instead,” says human rights lawyer V. Suresh of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.

The government strongly believes there is a need for such an act — a view that’s supported by sections of the legal fraternity. “Since this act is a substitute for Tada and Pota, it is needed to control organised crime and terrorism in our country. Only legislation as severe as this can prevent this,” says Supreme Court lawyer K.T.S. Tulsi. “But we should see that the law is not misused.”

Human right activists point out that UAPA doesn’t even have the protection given to those slapped with Tada and Pota. “Under Tada and Pota, a police officer had to take special permission of a superintendent of police or above for filing an FIR and a chargesheet. But this has been knocked out of the UAPA,” Suresh stresses.

After amendments made in 2004, a terrorist act is defined through its “intent” in the UAPA. It states that any act can be called a terrorist act if there is intent “to threaten or likely to threaten the unity, integrity, security or sovereignty of India” or intent “to strike terror or likely to strike terror in the people or any section of the people in India or in any foreign country”.

“It is an extremely vague provision. One cannot criminalise the intent of a person,” Suresh says.

Further, the crimes that are included in the UAPA are also defined under other existing criminal laws. For instance, under the act, the use of bombs, dynamites or other explosive substances or causing damage or destruction of property which is supposed to be used for the defence of the country is punishable. But these acts are also defined as crimes under laws such as the Indian Penal Code, The Arms Act and Explosives Act.

So it’s “unethical”, the lawyers say, when people are booked under UAPA for the same crimes and labelled terrorists. “It becomes arbitrary,” human rights activist Mahtab Alam states.

What’s worse, the activists say, is that a new amendment was passed in 2012 bringing economic offences under terrorism. The act also criminalised all forms of associations, thus providing sweeping powers to security agencies.

The legal experts are also critical of a clause that criminalises the raising of funds from a legitimate or illegitimate source knowing that such funds are likely to be used by a terrorist organisation. “This is vague as arrests are made notwithstanding whether such funds were actually used for the commission of a terrorist act. This is open to misuse,” holds Gujarat High Court advocate and Human Rights Law Network member Subramaniam Iyer.

“The police can now ‘legitimately’ arrest people who have raised money or sent remittances home, on the merest suspicion that they had subjective knowledge that it might be used for terrorist activities,” he says. The experts believe that the law intends to “create terror” rather than control it.

Under such circumstances, setting up special courts is just an “ostrich-like” approach, they say. The government should instead address the core of the problem, which they hold is the law that is programmed for abuse.

“By creating these dreaded ‘terrorist courts’ while keeping the system of prejudiced investigations, vengeful prosecution and judicial abdication intact is not going to help,” Sethi of JTSA said in a recent statement.

Another point of concern with the law is the banning of organisations. Under the law, the state can ban an organisation without giving a reason. Similarly, an organisation can be declared a terrorist body on the grounds that the Central government believed it to be one.

Under Section 3 of the act, the bans are in effect for two years. Under Section 34 (which deals with so-called terror organisations), the bans are forever.

Critics also say that the punishment under the law is “highly unjust”. For example, the punishment for someone who takes part in or commits or advocates, abets, advises and incites the commission of an unlawful activity can be punished up to seven years and fined.

“Knowing that state and government officials can accuse citizens of unlawful activity simply for expressing discontent, a seven-year sentence is grossly unjust,” human rights activist Gautam Navlakha opines. Those voicing political differences can be sent to jail for a term equivalent to that of a convicted rapist, he points out. He further adds, “These sections extend the ability of the government to use the law to silence political dissent enormously.”

The experts also call for action against security forces abusing or misusing the law. “We have been demanding that police officers be made liable for false prosecution. Even if they have retired, they should be prosecuted,” Suresh says.

A special court, they believe, makes sense only when the problems in the law are addressed.

(A version of this story was published in The Telegraph, Calcutta on September 25.)

Asaram Bapu has never shied away from talking about sex. There are YouTube videos that show him dispensing sex advice to his devotees. “Don’t have sex during amavasya, purnima, Shivaratri or Holi. A child conceived on these days will be born handicapped,” he warns. “Even if a child is not conceived, intercourse on this day will lead to impotence and the man could face several other problems,” he adds helpfully.But lest his devotees should despair, he tells them that there is also a right time to do it. “If a child is conceived between 12.30 and 2.30 during the day, he or she will go on to become a very intelligent person.”There’s more. A booklet meant for his followers says that masturbation or homosexuality in men leads to wastage of energy, thus making them physically and mentally weak.

Unfortunately, the man who gave out such “valuable” sex advice is now embroiled in an unsavoury sex case — arrested by the Jodhpur police for allegedly raping a 15-year-old girl in his ashram.

Of course, this isn’t the first time criminal charges have been levelled at Asaram Bapu. In 2008, two young boys died in his ashram in Motera in Gujarat. But his trusted lieutenants say the charges against him are all fabricated.

“There has been a conspiracy to malign him for many years,” says Asaram Bapu’s media manager Sunil Wankhede. According to him, Asaram doesn’t have any sexual desires as he is not a “common man”. “He is a sant (saint). And saints don’t have sexual desires,” he asserts.

Though gurus or godmen in India have huge followings and are usually considered holy and utterly blameless, allegations of sexual misconduct and depravity on their part crop up with regularity.

Take Swami Nithyananda of the Dhyanapeeta Charitable Trust in Bidadi, near Bangalore. In 2010, local television channels aired footage that showed the swami in a compromising position with a Tamil actress. The same year, Aarthi Rao, a former follower of Swami Nithyananda, filed a complaint with the criminal investigation department, Bangalore, alleging sexual harassment by him. Nithyananda was arrested but freed in 53 days. The case is now before the court.

“In India, godmen wield a lot of power over their devotees, which is a heady feeling. They have the money power and influence. So they begin to believe they can get away with anything,” says Rao.

Rao, an engineering graduate of Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, and a software engineer, joined Swami Nithyananda’s ashram and even changed her name to Ma Nithyananda Trineshwari Nayi.

  • SEX AND THE SWAMI: Asaram BapuNithyananda
    Illustration: Onkarnath Bhattacharya

She also signed a “non-disclosure agreement” that had a clause saying that the existence of such an agreement could not be revealed to anybody. It went on to state that the programme could involve tantric secrets associated with male and female ecstasy, nudity, access to visual images, graphic visual depictions, and descriptions of nudity and sexual activity.

Followers being sworn to secrecy is a common practice of godmen. In 2006, Vikas Joshi alias Swami Vikasanand was arrested with more than 60 CDs full of sleaze material. An influential guru in the Jabalpur area, he was with three women, one of them a teenager, when he was picked up from a city hotel.

“He had told the women who were close to him that any revelation of their sexual activities could have adverse consequences for their families or themselves,” says a Madhya Pradesh police official who investigated the case.

Called “Saahab” by his followers, Vikasanand used to give pravachans (sayings) and bless his devotees wearing Ray-Ban glasses. “He claimed that he had tantric powers to cure every human misery. And his devotees, many of them well-educated, believed that,” recalls the official.

Though most of his women followers refused to testify in court, Vikasanand was convicted by a Jabalpur fast track court in 2010 and is now in jail.

In another case involving Delhi-based Shreemurath Dwivedi alias Ichchadhari Sant Swami Bhimanand Maharaj Chitrakoot Wale, six women, including two airhostesses, were arrested for allegedly running a prostitution racket from his ashram.

So why do so many “godmen” get embroiled in sex scandals?

Experts say that it is the blind faith of their devotees that enables these “gurus” to influence them. “We Indians are great believers in miracles and feel that somebody can get us out of our miseries. This is the prime reason we fall for these godmen,” says Prabir Ghosh, general secretary, Science and Rationalists’ Association of India, Calcutta.

Sociologist Dipankar Gupta agrees that godmen prey upon the vulnerability of their followers, especially women. “Once the women are drawn in, it is easy for these godmen to force themselves upon them,” he says. But he adds that sometimes, these sexual relationships are “consensual”.

Naturally, the devotees dismiss all such allegations. Wankhede, for one, claims that Asaram Bapu never had sexual desires even when he was young. He also insists that Asaram’s ashram is absolutely safe for women. “Men and women don’t even sit together here,” he says.

Then why did Asaram call the 15-year-old girl to his room? “Don’t fathers meet their daughters?” he retorts. “To him, all younger women are his daughters and older women his mothers.”

Asaram’s devotees are equally insistent that the guru has been falsely accused. Take Rukmini Devi, who has come all the way from Kurukshetra in Haryana to pick up ayurvedic medicines for her ailing husband from Asaram’s sprawling ashram on Vande Mataram Marg in Delhi’s ridge reserve forest. She says all allegations against her beloved “Bapuji” are baseless. “Bapuji has been trapped by his enemies who are jealous of his popularity,” says Devi.

Experts say, however, the belief that so-called godmen are above sexual impulses is totally false. “Their sexual desire is no less than that of an ordinary man,” says andrologist Sudhakar Krishnamurti.

Others say that so many incidents of rape or sexual assault by godmen happen because they deprive themselves of a natural sex life. “Since they don’t engage in self-stimulation or masturbation, they are left with no alternative but to molest or rape women to satisfy their sexual urge,” says Mumbai-based sexologist Prakash Kothari.

Not only that, many godmen visit andrologists to deal with their sexual problems. Krishnamurti, who is also a member of the Sexual Health Committee, World Health Organization, says that the most common problem with godmen is erectile dysfunction. He also says that many come to him wanting to know how they can “perform better” with multiple partners.

Kothari asserts that some of these godmen also take drugs to enhance their sexual prowess. “Many of them confess that they want drugs to be able to perform better at sex,” he says.

Shantum Seth, who had once accused a godman (who died a few years ago) of indulging in sexual misconduct, says that there is nothing wrong with them having a sexual urge, but that they should have a responsible sexual life. “Godmen should set an example by behaving responsibly as there are millions who follow them,” Seth, a preacher of Buddhism, asserts.

Some godmen get away with their unpleasant acts simply because they enjoy political clout. “With the support of politicians, these godmen get a space to play. That’s the irony,” says sociologist Gupta.

It will be interesting to see if Asaram Bapu’s case grinds on and fades into irrelevance. But one thing is certain, as long as these “holy” men enjoy the blind faith of thousands of followers, it will always be easy for them to indulge in unholy practices.

Scandal sheet

2013, Sehore (MP)

Mahendra Giri alias Tunnu Baba,65, arrested on charges of raping a 24-year-old woman.

2013, Jodhpur

Asaram Bapu arrested on charges of rape.

2010, Delhi

Shreemurath Dwivedi alias Ichchadhari Sant Swami Bhimanand Maharaj Chitrakoot Wale arrested for running a prostitution racket from his ashram.

2010, Bangalore

Swami Nithyananda arrested on charges of sexual abuse.

2009, Chennai

Kanchipuram Devanathan of Machaesa Perumal temple accused of sexually exploiting devotees. Arrested.

2006, Jabalpur

Vikas Joshi alias Swami Vikasanand arrested for sexual abuse of young girls and making obscene films. Serving jail sentence.

2005, Junagadh

Priest of Swaminarayan temple Bhaktiswarup and three others arrested for role in alleged sex scandal.

1994, Tiruchirapalli

Swami Premananda sentenced to life imprisonment for rape of 13 inmates of ashram and a murder.

(This story was done jointly with my two colleagues )

Filmmaker Kalpana Lajmi, Bhupen Hazarika’s partner of 39 years, talks to Sonia Sarkar about her passionate relationship with the legendary singer, his commitment to his work and his liking for Bengali cuisine

There is a chill in the Guwahati air — as if underlining the climate of bereavement and sorrow. At almost every crossing, huge hoardings pour out condolence messages. We feel your absence, says one. We pay homage to you, says another.

Three weeks after the death of Bhupen Hazarika, the city is still in mourning. As the driver of my car puts it, “Every leaf of every tree here has been grieving his loss.”

But as I enter a three-storey house — called Nirjarapar, or stream on its side — in east Guwahati’s Chandmari, the mood is different. There is a sense of calm and peace in the house. Filmmaker Kalpana Lajmi — Hazarika’s partner for 39 years — is not red eyed any more. But then, as she says, the fact that he is no more is still to sink in. “I have been attending to streams of people since his cremation. I haven’t got the time to mourn,” says Lajmi, 57.

However, a month before the death of the Dadasaheb Phalke award and Padma Bhushan winner, she realised he was slipping away. “I used to cry inconsolably then. Perhaps, I was preparing myself for this day.”

Singer and composer Hazarika died in a Mumbai hospital after respiratory and kidney failure. His body was cremated in Guwahati. There was a public outpouring of grief as hundreds of thousands of people turned up to pay their last respects to Assam’s best known cultural icon.

For Lajmi, however, the grief was intensely private. “It was terrible to see him turn into ashes. But I had promised to be with him till the end,” says Lajmi.

She had pledged to be with him way back in 1971. She was 17 and studying psychology at Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College, and he was 45 and already an established singer and composer. They first met when he was scoring the music for Aarop, a film directed by Lajmi’s uncle, Atma Ram. “I was awed by his charisma,” she recalls.

She was introduced to his music with the song He Dola, which portrayed the life of palanquin bearers. “Being a teenager with an artistic bent of mind, I was bowled over by his creative genius. He was a rebel, a maverick, a humanist — and also an indisciplined and disorganised person,” says Lajmi with a smile.

Five years into the relationship, she decided to move in with him to his Golf Club Road flat in Calcutta. “My father thought that the attraction would not last for long. My mother is still not able to accept the relationship,” she says.

But she went ahead — to become not just his companion but also his manager. “He was an alcoholic then and spent all his money unwisely. So I had to convince him to put things in order.”

But Lajmi, then in her early 20s, soon realised it was going to be an “uphill” task. “The initial days were tumultuous. Though he was much ahead of his time when it came to work, he also had a conservative mindset. It was difficult for him to accept a woman managing his work.” Lajmi points out that she — the daughter of artist Lalita Lajmi and niece of filmmaker Guru Dutt — came from a “progressive-minded” family. “Such prejudices did not exist in my family,” she says.

“Earlier, in most social gatherings, he introduced me as his manager,” she remembers. “From the mid-1980s, he started calling me his partner,” says Lajmi, who directed her first Hindi feature film Ek Pal in 1986. Hazarika composed and sang for the film.

But why did they not get married? He had, after all, separated from his wife Priyamvada Patel almost 20 years before Hazarika met Lajmi. Patel lives in Canada, while their son Tej, who was present at his funeral, is in the US.

“He was horrified by the idea of marriage. I also gradually realised that he would never have made a good husband for anyone,” she says.

Two years ago, though, he did propose marriage, but Lajmi turned him down. “Perhaps he was insecure that I would leave him because he was ailing. For me, marriage made no sense then. But you know it is impossible to understand the mind of a man,” says Lajmi, and then advises me — perhaps only half in jest — to remain single.

The two didn’t consider having children either. “I love children but bringing up children outside marriage is difficult in India.”

But right now, Lajmi is fighting a battle with Hazarika’s son over the Bhupen Hazarika Cultural Trust, set up by Hazarika in 2000. “The trustees are more interested in holding on to his estates rather than preserving his legacy,” Tej said at a press conference — angering Lajmi, who called his comments “wild, blasphemous and irresponsible”.

Tej, she counters, did not keep in touch with his father when he was alive. “Why didn’t he try to know about Bhupenda’s work and the trust all these years,” asks Lajmi, who is now the chairperson and secretary of the trust after Hazarika.

“This is an insult to each and every eminent member of the trust. But I also feel that it is a label against me personally because Tej presumes his father has bequeathed everything to me, even before the will has been read,” she says.

The will’s not out, but what she has certainly inherited from him is the will to carry on. “He was very proud of me and my work. He always encouraged me,” she says, running her fingers through her short hair. The sparkle of her gold and diamond rings catches my attention. I ask her if any of these were gifts from Hazarika. “He paid for a couple of them but never chose them for me,” she laughs.

Hazarika’s career started when he was barely 10. Legend has it that he was spotted by Assam’s leading cultural lights — Jyotiprasad Agarwala and Bishnuprasad Rabha — when he was singing a devotional song. As a 12-year-old, he sang two songs in Agarwala’s film Indramalati. He wrote his first song Agnijugor firingoti moi at 13. Later, he produced, directed, composed and sang for several Assamese language films, including Era Bator Sur, Shakuntala and Pratidhwani.

A leading member of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), a Left cultural group that was a part of the freedom movement, Hazarika was known for his rich baritone voice as well his lyrics, which touched on themes ranging from romance to social and political issues.

Though a child of Assam, Hazarika was in many ways a national and global citizen. Bengal — where his Ganga tumi is an anthem — saw him as its own. He also composed for many Bengali films, including Jibon Trishna and Jonakir Aalo. Across the border in Bangladesh, he was equally feted for his Joy joy nobojato Bangladesh (triumphal salutations to newly born Bangladesh) — a song that celebrated the country’s liberation.

“Bengal and Calcutta made him a world citizen,” says Lajmi. He loved the “artistic fervour” of Bengal, she adds, as much as he loved its other flavours.

A gourmet, he was particularly fond of begun bhaja and kasha mangsho, she says as we sit down to lunch — over dal, crispy eggplant fritters and mustard fish. “He also loved cooking Bengali dishes, especially shorshe chingri bhape (steamed prawns in mustard),” she says, licking the spicy mustard paste off her fingers. “He was a Bengali — both artistically and intrinsically. In fact, he was hyperactive like most Bengalis,” she laughs.

He was a passionate lover too, says Lajmi, who fondly called him Bhupso — a name she coined to rhyme with their pet dog Lapso in their Calcutta home. Reading, watching television and creating songs — this is how the two spent their evenings together.

Hazarika, she adds, loved wine and women. “I knew he had his flings. But those women were romancing a celebrity. I knew he was committed to me,” she says.

And she was so committed to him that his career came well before hers. “I made only six feature films in these many years because for me his work was the priority,” says the director whose acclaimed women-centric films include Rudaali, Daman and Darmiyaan.

In 1996, they moved to Lajmi’s apartment in Lokhandwala in Mumbai. Mumbai was as much a home for Hazarika as the other cities. He composed several songs for Bollywood — including Dil hum hum kare for Rudaali. Recently, Hazarika sang M.K. Gandhi’s favourite bhajan Vaishnava jana to in the film Gandhi To Hitler.

“After 2006, I found no time for my own work because of his prolonged illness,” she says.

But despite being his committed companion, Lajmi has often been under attack. Two years ago, she was mired in a controversy after images of the ailing singer being carried in a chair to the banks of the river Brahmaputra for a commercial shoot were splashed by the media. She was accused of pushing him to work despite his frail health. “Strangely, these are the same people who are now coming to express their condolences. I suppose this is an act of penance for them,” she says.

Lajmi was also accused of pushing him towards the Bharatiya Janata Party when Hazarika fought and lost an election as a BJP candidate in the 2004 Lok Sabha election from Guwahati. “Actually, I tried to dissuade him — but he was determined as he wanted to do something fruitful in politics,” she now replies. “But the people of Assam did not like it and they thought he betrayed the Left since he had long been associated with the IPTA,” she says.

Hazarika, who had been an independent legislator in Assam from 1967 to 1972, felt he had been rejected by the people when he lost heavily in 2004. At the same time, she says, some family members sued him, accusing him of usurping family property. “He suffered his first heart attack in 2006. Three years later, he underwent a bypass surgery. Slowly, he went into depression,” she says as her voice trails off.

The fear of death started to stalk him. “He often asked me if he would be remembered after his death. Ay bedona loye Bhupen da ghusi gol (Bhupen da left with a lot of pain),” she says in her accented Assamese.

But Lajmi stresses that his music and memories will be with her forever — even though he has moved on. “He was not someone who could be held back at one place, she says, recalling his song Moi eti jajabor (I am a nomad). He is still here, there and everywhere.

‘He was horrified by the idea of marriage’: Kalpana Lajmi on Bhupen Hazarika