Former footballer Jatindra Kumar Bora’s love for old Guwahati is evident not just in his words but also in his house, where antiques like a 60-year-old stool and chairs made of cane are lovingly displayed.
“The stool and the chairs were crafted by Paraxuram, an inmate of the District Jail in Fancy Bazar. That was when my father, Mohim Chandra Bora, was the jailer at the prison,” Bora, 71, recalled.
Vocational training on carpentry, weaving and handicrafts was imparted at the jail back in the 1950s and 60s. “Most of these inmates were so skilful that the items prepared by them were even purchased by visitors to the jail. Not just the designs, the quality of the items was very good too. The cane items in my house date back to 1962 and they are still in good condition,” he said.
Bora still remembers the strolls with his friends and even “outsiders” on the jail campus. “That was around 50 years ago. My friends apart, I would take outsiders who had never been inside the four walls of the jail, for a stroll there. It used to be a regular thing, something that I enjoyed doing,” he said.
After his father’s retirement in 1964, Bora’s family shifted from their residence on the jail premises to Lamb Road.
Recalling his experiences and stories heard from his father, Bora said the 1950 earthquake and the Sino-Indian War of 1962 were difficult times for the people of the state.
“The prisoners panicked more during the war than during the earthquake, especially when reports came in that the Chinese army had reached Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh, which is not very far from Tezpur,” he said.
Fear-stricken people rushed to Guwahati from Tezpur, flooding the then deserted streets of the city, he recalled. “People came in hundreds from Tezpur, including prisoners from the District Jail of Tezpur who were set free by jailers as fear of Chinese army proceeding further engulfed them,” he said.
“At the district jail in Guwahati, trenches in the shape of letters Z and I were dug in the prison’s courtyard so that the prisoners could feel safe during the war,” he recalled.
Bora, who retired as the chairman of Assam State Electricity Board in 1998, is currently the vice-president of Assam Football Association. A former president of Guwahati Sports Association, he had played football for Amateur Club, Machkhowa, in 1955 and 1958. He played A-division soccer and inter-district cricket.
Change is inevitable but as Guwahati transformed over the decades and concrete structures replaced much of the greenery, Bora, like most sportsmen and sports-loving people, became concerned about lack of adequate open spaces in the city. “When we do not have basic amenities such as playgrounds, can we blame the athletes for their poor performance at any level? Earlier, there used to be a playground in almost every locality in the city,” he said.
He also recalled the popularity of music and the beauty of the city in those days. Xonaru trees, of which he has vivid memories, were found in abundance in almost every locality five decades back. “The natural beauty apart, living in this city was so peaceful then. Given a chance, I would turn time to go back to my old life,” the nostalgic Guwahatian said.