Assam’s top singer Zubeen Garg late Friday night quit a bihu stage after the organisers stopped him from singing a Hindi number, but not before hurling an abuse and stating through the microphone that an artist had the right to sing according to his choice. The organisers however claimed that the singer had agreed beforehand not to sing Hindi songs.
“His event manager had assured us even before he went up to the stage that Zubeen Garg would not sing any Hindi song on the bihu stage. It was a gentleman’s agreement that he flouted, prompting us to stop him. We are not opposed to any language, but bihu is not for singing Hindi songs,” said Madhu Ranjan Nath, president of the Noonmati Bihu Sanmilan.
Zubeen Garg, Assam’s highest-paid singer had just started singing a Hindi song – one of his own Hindi songs – after having presented a few Assamese and bihu songs, when Nath and a few other organisers walked up to the stage and asked him to stop. This led to exchange of words between the singer and the organisers for a few minutes, both sides pulling the microphone, until Zubeen Garg announced his quitting, but not before hurling an abusive word that was heard clearly over the sound system as also on local TV channels live.
“I am an artist and I have the freedom to sing. I have sung over 16,000 songs in 25 years. Moreover, while Hindi is our national language, bihu is a festival of music,” the singer later said. “Assamese, Hindi, Bengali and most other languages have originated from Sanskrit, and I don’t understand why I was stopped,” he said.
Nath, speaking on behalf of the organisers said pioneers of modern-day bihu, like RG Baruah and Ambikagiri Ray-Choudhury had definitely brought the bihu festival to the urban stage to preserve, promote and propagate it. “Great men like RG Baruah and Ambikagiri Ray-Choudhury had designed the modern-day bihu to popularise it among the urban and younger generation. Moreover, no singer had ever sung a Hindi song in the Noonmati Bihu Sanmilan in the past 53 years,” Nath said.
Zubeen Garg, who left the pandal leaving “Dil tu hi bata” (from Krrish-3) incomplete after telling the audience that he had no ill-feeling against them, later sang a number of Hindi songs in another bihu pandal in Bharalumukh in the city. “Nobody can dictate me or any other artist. I don’t care. Everybody knows what happens when I get angry,” he said.
The issue meanwhile has generated a debate with a section of people condemning it as an attempt to curb the right to freedom of expression. Veteran Assamese actor Biju Phukan said, “Every artist has the right to express freely.” But senior journalist Haidar Hussain said, “Bihu is not the occasion to sing Hindi songs.”