It was the small things that had made the city special in the fifties and sixties. Present-day Guwahati can’t hold a candle to the one he had come to as a lad of 13, feels Dhanapati Kalita.
“From a residential place, Guwahati has transformed into a commercial city. As I recall, the city had three cinema halls, Rupayan, Kelvin and Rupashree, a few cars, hardly any buildings and seven city buses when I first came here in 1947. It was a city known for the small things and I guess it was these things that made Gauhati special,” says the 79-year-old, who hails from Nalbari and now resides in Silpukhuri, where he also owns a grocery store.
“I was just 13 then and had accompanied my father who had come to the city for some business-related work. Thereafter, the visits (from Nalbari to the city) became frequent. We decided to settle here in 1959,” he says.
Images of the 1950 earthquake are still fresh in his mind — tree trunks, parts of broken houses, dead fish and animals floating on the river after the catastrophe. “One couldn’t go near the river without covering one’s nose. The stench of dead fish and animals floating on it was unbearable. Plying of boats had to be stalled because of the wreckage,” he recalls.
He has seen the three landmarks — Nehru Stadium, Guwahati Refinery and Saraighat Bridge — come up in 1962. “Some of the arterial roads of the city were also developed during the Indo-China War of 1962,” he adds.
Sharing his experience as a witness to the construction of Saraighat Bridge, Kalita says, “To go to the site and gaze at the construction was like acquiring knowledge for most of us. Technology was something new for us at that time and watching the way a bridge was constructed over the Brahmaputra was a thrilling experience.”
Fun was redefined for Kalita and his friends during the Sino-Indian war. “Slipping into a trench dug in the backyard upon hearing the siren during an air raid was a little frantic but good fun as well,” he says.
The rising crime graph in the city worries Kalita. “It’s not that crimes did not take place in the city in the sixties and seventies. There were thefts but the thieves were not as violent as the ones we have now. Unlike today, one didn’t have sleepless nights then,” he says.
But despite the “chinks”, the city remains his favourite. “I have been to many places but I feel there is no city as beautiful as Guwahati. It is still my favourite,” he says.