Remembering an icon

It’s been three days since the country lost one of its music legends — Fatteman Rajbhandari. But when I tuned into a tribute program on Kantipur Television tonight, he was singing with the same panache, striking every musical note that I have been hearing since childhood.

We lived in a conjoined house; he was my grandfather’s younger brother, my father’s uncle. And since he lived in the house next door, I called him “uta baa” meaning the grandfather next door. And for all of my siblings and cousins, for family members of my generation, he became “uta baa.”

Music has been in the family. While my grandfather chose the tabala, his younger brother, Fatteman, ventured into singing, both of the brothers defying what their father did: business. While my grandfather made his way to the army, his younger brother pursued music.

As a child, I remember sitting on uta baa’s lap and playing the harmonium — that’s the only vivid memory I have of those days. Maybe because the harmonium was such a fascinating musical instrument. I remember playing with the keys and more than that putting my fingers on the small circular holes in the front of that instrument, enjoying the puffed air that came out of it. While growing up, for the rest of the time, until last year when I was home for the holidays, I heard him practising his vocals early in the morning. To be honest, it did get annoying at times — listening to him sing at the crack of dawn when all I wanted was some sleep after a late night out. But I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start my day.

For all of us in the family, if I may say so, he was more than a singer — I think personal relationships always weighed in more than his profession. Growing up, I heard stories not about the legendary singer but of a strict father, a mischievous brother, and an adventurous uncle who went on an excursion to Bombay with my father and uncle. He never imposed the grandeur of his professional success and status in the family. As I heard many of his contemporaries and colleagues describe him as modest and devoid of an aura of a celebrity during his funeral, I can’t agree more. In the family, around the neighborhood, he was just yet another man doing his everyday stuff, singing included.

Having achieved so much, he never acted like this man who is undoubtedly in the list of Nepal’s finest. He certainly didn’t act like the modern-day celebrities who crave for publicity and thrive on their stardom. He didn’t need to because he was more than a celebrity — he was an icon.

At his funeral on Tuesday morning, the sensational singer was resting peacefully. It had been a painful week — his upper body had swollen to the extent that he couldn’t breath; his face was puffed making him almost unrecognizable.

But the last morning that we would ever see him, it seemed he had re-emerged to his true form — the swelling had subdued and it was the same face that we were used to seeing. And as we kept staring at his body, one of his songs played in the background: “Marna Baru Garho Hunna/ Timro Maya Marnai Sakinna (It would be easy to die than to let go of your love).”

This timeless classic that made him a national icon was the soundtrack to his funeral. Though emotions ran high and tears trickled down, we all knew that though he’s not with us physically, he will always be alive in his songs — his voice would keep echoing through those eternal songs about love, life and heartaches.

That moment, amid all the grief and sorrow, seemed like an immaculate ending.

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One thought on “Remembering an icon

  1. This is beautiful. I didn’t grow up in Nepal and I missed out on having your ‘uta baa’ as a soundtrack to my childhood years, but seeing the way he’s been honored and hearing his music now, it’s clear to see why he’s such an icon. Even better is getting your personal take on thing, he was clearly more than just a legendary musician, he was your uta baa.

    thank you for this piece.

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