Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.
– Hamlet, William Shakespeare
Even after two months of Dipali’s passing away, the octogenarian artist wakes up in the middle of the night asking for his inamorata’s wellbeing and whereabouts. Neel was browsing through magazines when this correspondent visited him on February 13th, 2019. Jonali Kalita, the caretaker of the house, advises, “Don’t ask anything about baideu. Sir goes into flashback…his health deteriorates. His brother asked me to keep him out of any conversation related to baideu. He was hospitalised last month…so please be careful.”
Neel had returned to Guwahati after graduating from Shantiniketan when he spotted Dipali at her sister’s house. He admitted that he instantly fell in love with Dipali and his father never opposed his decision. In the year 1968, twenty-seven-year-old Dipali was diagnosed with the rare motor neuron disease which slowly degenerated not only her nerve functioning but also took away her beautiful voice.
Born on January 30th, 1941, Dipali is also known as the ‘Nightingle of Assam’. She received the fourth-highest civilian award of India, the Padma Shri, in the year 1998. Known for her popular songs like Sonor Kharu Nalage Muk, Senai Moi Jau Dei, Jundhone Junalite, Konmana Boroxire Sip, she sang her last song Luito nejabi boi in 1969.
Neel was sitting on his bed wearing a grey coloured pant and a brown-coloured half sweater over a white T-shirt when this correspondent entered his room. He stays alone with the caretaker at Sourav Nagar, Beltola in Guwahati. An old photograph of the couple adorns one of the walls in the house. An unkempt bookshelf and an ashtray kept by the side of his bed. The house is the witness to an epic love story that withstood the travails of time.
Advised not to ask about baideu, after nondescript talks, this correspondent picked up the topic love to start a conversation with the artist. “I cannot describe what love is. I have no words…I cannot explain it,” promptly replies Neel as he looks away towards the open window on his left. He looks around the room…sighs and then smiles as the wrinkles on his face become distinct.
“I thought I would have to live a lonely life being a burden on the family. But marriage definitely changed my life. I looked towards the future with new hope,” Dipali said about her beloved in a documentary made on the couple.
The documentary directed by Upakul Bordoloi and produced by Ranjit Gogoi and Hrishikesh Borthakur shows how the couple started a tea stall in the Dighalipukhuri area in the city, rent out rickshaws to earn their livelihood before they received the xilpi (artiste) pension from the Assam government.
Tomorrow is February 14th, 2019 – a special day for every lover. The day is popularly called Valentine’s Day. Candy, flowers and gifts will once again be exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine.
In an age where love is the most popular hashtag in the Instagram and divorces rates are shooting up, in an age of Tinder dates and casual hook-ups, the love story of Neel-Dipali proves that ordinary couple weaves the most epic love stories. After all, life may lose, love will always win.