Memoir : Jitendra Bardewa : Jaded and faded too soon!

Saran Kumar Pradhan, Rudra Gurung(original singer of Eh Kancha malai sunko), Jitendra Bardewa, Ambar Gurung, Aruna Lama (FROM RIGHT TO LEFT)

~Peter J Karthak~

The season: The last Dashain day in the 1980s.
The place: Chowk Bazaar of Darjeeling.
The time: Nine pm. The persona: Jitendra Bardewa and Deo Prakash Rai.

The first the chief of the Folk Entertainment Unit of the West Bengal government, and the latter the perennial leader of the Gorkha League of Darjeeling, the most oft-elected MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) of the district. Deo Prakash had a bottle of Beehive Brandy and Jitendra had a robust rooster, both items tucked inside their overcoats in the pre-winter chill. Exchanging their mock-surprised “Arre Hou!” “Hello!” and other drunken pleasantries, they settled on the steps of the old post office building and started drinking. The rooster escaped and disappeared among the tailor shops of the Doranga Bazaar.

In a few years apart, both men were dead.

Politician Deo Prakash Rai is a separate story. This is musician Jitendra Bardewa’s story.

In Amber Gurung’s Art Academy of Music in Darjeeling, Jitendra Bardewa was the last and the briefest member. He was also Amber’s oldest disciple. This latecomer was in the Indian Army; therefore, his late arrival at the Academy was self-explanatory. What impressed me were Jitendra Daju’s mild manners, soft voice, polite behaviour, and respectful obeisance to Amber Gurung, dedication to music and loyalty to the Academy.

Of medium height and handsome face with coarse complexion, he had been a body builder in the army. But his hefty biceps were opposite to his lamb-like etiquette. He did not drink and smoke as most of us did. His only addiction was khaini, a legacy of soldiering. Otherwise, everything about him was impeccable and correct. Once he even made a member apologise to a passing girl for “teasing” her. It was not his muscle power but his moral authority that convinced the fellow to plead, “I’m sorry!” to that girl. The offshoot was that she fell in love with the member, and he had to do much to dissuade her in the coming weeks. No thanks to Jitendra for all those troubles!

The Art Academy was a fleeting experience for Jitendra Bardewa for it broke up soon after his joining it. Amber entered government service, and his able disciples also went their way. One event was the forming of “Sangam Club”, led by Sharan Pradhan, Ranjit Gazmer, Aruna Lama and Jitendra. It was only at Sangam that Jitendra rose to and shone in his true elements as a songwriter and singer. But his musical creativity remained dormant at Sangam; it flowered only when he formed his own “Shravan” group after leaving Sangam.

The very initial period for Sangam was challenging. A solo song for Aruna Lama had to be in place for the forthcoming All-Darjeeling Music Competition in a week’s time. The encounter was all-important because we were pitted against Karma and Gopal Yonzon’s Himalaya Kala Mandir whose Dil Maya Khati was the contender against Aruna Lama, our premier female voice. Sharan had created the tune and Ranjit had done the musical arrangements of the song while Sangam was still operating from my house. Since then, we had shifted to the Bishwakarma Samaj. And we had no lyric for Aruna’s song slated for the competition.

Everybody looked to Jitendra Bardewa.”Wait,” he said. “I’ll go down to the Fulbari for quiet and see what I can do.” He disappeared into the Lloyds Botanical Garden some one hundred steps down from our club. We waited in suspense. Not unsurprisingly, he reappeared with his song that began “Yahan phula nakhilichha, Bahar aunanai bhulechha…”

Sharan fitted the words into his pre-composition, and we started rehearsing as per Ranjit’s arrangement. This song bagged the first prize for Aruna and Sangam in the class of Female Solo in Modern Music. We were apprehensive of the song’s popular but “common” 2/4 beat and its D-E-A-D chord format in Raga Yaman. But the panel of judges with such classical music Gurus as Rai Babu, Gurung Babu and others adjudged our song favourably.

Thus, Jitendra saved our collective ass by providing the lyric of the song at the eleventh hour. Another song, “Herana hera Kanchha”, a duet by Aruna and Jitendra, also won another award. Both hits were recorded by the Sangam Club at the Hindustan Records in Calcutta. The rest is history. The next chapter in the Sangam history was the departure of Sharan and Aruna. They fell in love while travelling to Calcutta for recording the above songs in that city. They got married and formed a partnership under their own banner.

That was the beginning of the Aruna-Sharan history, a separate story in the annals of Nepali music in Darjeeling.

Jitendra Bardewa also left Sangam for an overseer’s job in the lonely and windy hill ranges of Darjeeling. It was during this period of deprivation and long stretches of absence from Darjeeling that he learned to drink that deteriorated into alcoholism in the succeeding years. He returned to Darjeeling to form his own “Shravan” group. This final break-up left Ranjit Gazmer and me as the only creative duo at Sangam. It was during his Shravan period Jitendra composed, wrote and sang his best songs ever. “Ek raat thiyo, bharkharkai thiyo” succeeded “Kopilamai” and “Dhalkija hai joban, Din dhalke jasto” as his quick popular hits.

He came to meet me one afternoon and borrowed five rupees from me. It was a good sum in those days. I saw him going to his neighbourhood where he drank the entire amount and went to sleep in his house nearby where his elder brother had his tailor shop.

Fortunately, he soon succeeded Amber Gurung as the head of the Folk Entertainment Unit when King Mahendra invited Amber to Kathmandu.

I consider Jitendra Bardewa the second best pupil of Amber Gurung. The first was Gopal Yonzon – as a lyricist, singer, composer and arranger besides being an excellent instrumentalist in violin, sarangi and flute. Jitendra was a singer, composer and a lyricist. No other talents came near the two. Sharan composed melody and wrote lyric but did not sing. Ranjit made melodies and was a fine arranger but did not write and sing.

But today Jitendra Bardewa is almost forgotten. This is mainly due to his enforced provincialism in Darjeeling and his government service atrophying his creative output whereas Gopal was exposed in Kathmandu, went places and recorded his various musical genres. This is clear, but Jitendra’s sinking into alcoholism remains a mystery. “He could smell a bhatti five miles away,” said Mani Kamal Chettri, his colleague at the Unit, and that was his early destruction.

This story is just a small bouquet in Jitendra Bardewa’s memory!

(Source : Kathmandupost)

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