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Is RG taller than Bardoloi?

Dhruva Saikia
Though 'Assam Tribune' is an integral part of Assam's tradition, owners of this oldest newspaper house do not do anything to uphold the memories of those outside their family but all the same have contributed even more to the growth of the newspaper.

No visitor to the Assam capital of Guwahati can miss the statue of RG Baruah standing at the prime locality of this organically important city. The statue is no artistic marvel but an extravagant ritual to confirm the people's specious and shapeless tendency to pay tribute to the dead and the noble. I fear that, we, the contemporary Assamese, are adept at displaying false humility because it truly pleases our empty and purposeless ego. The Ahoms taught us about historical records and the Aryans gave us religion; yet the half-made, post-colonial society in Assam today lacks a regular, standardised mechanism to decide which of the dead and the noble should be paid homage. Thus public memorial for a departed luminary remains essentially an individual concern. Those personal attempts at glorifying a dead celebrity comfortably assume that public memory is short while many dead social figures survived by inept heirs lurk in oblivion.

So, we are insensible to society, stay aloof from the general feelings and always hanker for a secluded and exorbitant corner for men in position. There is no statue or any other memorial in Guwahati to keep alive the memories of the state's first chief minister, first editor, first novelist, first vice chancellor or even a martyr of the Assam agitation which claimed 885 lives. Still when the descendant is financially sound, he obliges the society and the world to salute his ancestor, the dead hero. The impassive society does not react but the statue stands there valiantly, emitting a message of betrayal to the world. The R.G Baruah (RG) statue in the heart of the city demonstrates our heartlessness and the cruelty of its makers and manipulators.

Memorial trophies given away in competitions, naming a road, building, bridge, flyover or institution are some of the common and convenient practices followed to pay not personal but public homage to the dead and the noble; it never materialises without any initiative on the part of the family of the deceased. Erection of statues in memory of the dead, though striking and more concrete in all senses of the word, definitely calls for expertise, diligence and funds.

Expertise comes from artists and sculptors, diligence from social workers and leaders and funds from the government and some private sources, mostly the family members of the deceased. The society in Assam is gradually losing its way in honouring the dead as the recipient of the honour is chosen whimsically.

RG Baruah was the first mayor of Guwahati city and the founder of the oldest newspaper house in Assam. He was a successful organiser of sports events and the Nehru Stadium in Guwahati owes its birth to this man. But do all these entitle him to a statue posthumously?

RG was accorded the title Singha Purush (the lion-hearted man) soon after his death and an important road in the city was also named after him. Unfortunately, for RG admirers and logically for others, the title and the name of the road never became popular. It is hard to adapt ourselves to a new name (for a road) unless strong emotions inspire us.

The descendants of RG owe an explanation to society for their irresponsibility towards those illustrious sons of Assam who had been associated with the Assam Tribune. They can't take the public for granted. If RG published the first Assam daily then who did the editing? Do they think the first editor Lakhimnath Phukan was less important than the publisher, RG? Are not the Assam Tribune employees, with a strong trade union, responsible for dumping a legendary writer like Nirad Chaudhury, whose widow now sadly pleads with a Tribune scribe to publish a memorial article on his death anniversary?

Nirad Chaudhury, by the way, was RG's biographer and a highly-acclaimed novelist and journalist who dedicated his life to Tribune and RG. Another stalwart of Assam Tribune being forgotten now is Khetra Phukan who shaped the formidable trade union in this oldest newspaper house. The Assam Tribune employees and management may evolve a mechanism to do justice to past glory. The RG statue does not absolve him from shameful manipulation of recognition.   October 2008

Dhruva Sailkia is a journalist based in Guwahati.