Amid the plumes of dark and heavy smoke that curled up and engulfed a desolate wintry evening in Guwahati that was plagued by unrest and the scent of a rebellion after the passing of the Citizenship Bill, a pall of gloom had descended on the Hatigaon residence of 17-year-old Sam Stafford.
Sam AKA Samson AKA 'Sam Percussion' was a student of Phaguna Rabha High School. He was passionate about music. He loved listening to music. He loved playing leather instruments like drums. He learned classical music from his uncle. He learned tabla by watching videos on YouTube.
However, the life of this budding musician would soon be nipped in the bud.
Sam's penchant for music was inborn, it is said. His sister Mousumi, still pining over the loss of her beloved brother, tells Inside Northeast that Sam, who was a self-taught musician, developed an ear for music at an early age. "He was all of 5 when he picked up a passion and understanding of music. He devoted his soul to music", Mousumi says.
Samson, who soon became a highlight in local Bihu functions and gradually developed a repute as a virtuoso musician, had music in his blood. His father and his uncles, all were into music. And, not one to be left behind, Sam soon lived upto his family's reputation after he played in front of large audiences.
However, apart from his musical talents, Samson also had a unique personality that set him apart from his fellow teenagers. "Those who knew him knew him to be optimistic and honest; he was the beloved of his teachers", reminisces his sister, adding, "Despite his youth, Sam was a crusader for justice...to him, whatever was right was right, and whatever was wrong, was wrong."
However, life was not all roses for this young musician. His mother, Mamoni, recalls the time when the family ran into financial trouble and Sam had to work as a Swiggy delivery boy to make ends meet. Once, he even saved up Rs 24,000 (a significant sum for a 17-year-old) to buy musical instruments, informs his family.
"Sam's life was characterized by his independent spirit. He was self-reliant and if he truly wanted something, he would try to earn it with his hardwork and determination", adds Mousumi. The teen martyr's sister also reveals that there were two things that he took the most pride in: the traditional Assamese gamusa he was conferred in the functions he performed in, and whenever he was introduced as “the drummer”.
He even had plans of releasing a music album at the turn of the year and hoped that it would pave the way towards musical stardom, however this dream remained just that: a dream.
Sam's sister reveals that Sam idolized Girish Vishwa; a prominent dholak player and was also a huge fan of the Assamese music icon Zubeen Garg, and several other prominent musicians whom he had dreamed to meet and perform with. "Once, he had wished to attend a concert of Jubeen Nautiyal, however we was unable to go; this wish of his also remained unfulfilled...", laments Mousumi.
Recalling the day he breathed his last, Samson's sister reveals that he would call her every night before going to sleep, but on that fateful night, he did not call her. "I got anxious when I found out that firing was taking pace in the Hatigaon area. When I called him, a stranger picked up the phone and informed that he had been shot in the head. I could not understand anything, I was trembling all over...I ran to GMCH with my husband, where my worst fears were confirmed.”
"Out of all the people, why him? Samson was a little boy, who was not even violent. Why was he shot in the head? Why were there no warnings or rubber bullets?", Mamoni questions.
Sam would have turned 17 on July 3, 2020. His sister reveals that she had been saving up to buy a scooty as a present, but now, that shall never be. "His dreams and aims were all shattered, he wanted to pursue music as a career. His struggles and hard work of becoming a renowned musician will now remain unfulfilled", sighs Sam's sister.
Now, all that remains of Sam is his memory -- his parents have put up a picture of the martyr along with his musical instruments, where people come by to pay their tribute to this life that was snapped down the middle. The protests over the CAB, that has now turned into the C(A)A, continue to rage across the country, yet Samson will never play his instruments again. And sadder still, his voice will never rise with the slogan of "Joi Aai Axom" ever again.
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