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A legendary general

Book title: Lachit Baphukan: The National Hero

Author: Birendra Kumar Gohain

Publisher: Publication Board, Assam

Pages: 158

Price: Rs 130

The National Defence Academy at Pune, where the present-day generals of Indian armed forces are groomed, has been ordaining its best cadets every year with the title Lachit, and the first bridge over the mighty Brahmaputra, dedicated to the nation in 1964, was named Saraighat. This, more or less, explains everything Birendra Kumar Gohain’s book is about.

“How dare you row the boat upstream? The Heavenly King has given me the command of the people of the place here. Should I go back to my wife and family without fighting the enemy? How dare these serfs of boatmen venture to row the boats without my permission?” So saying, he hit four oarsmen with the blunt edge of his sword and threw them into river. He beat up his bodyguards and threw them into the river too. The effect was electrifying. Barphukan said loudly, “Let the Mughals capture me alive and let my people go home in peace!” This gallant and extraordinary act of the Ahom general at once restored the morale of his army and the navy — this is how Gohain portrays Lachit in the moments before the great battle of Saraighat.

Lachit’s valour and fighting skill is often compared to Lord Nelson, the legendary British general who stopped the juggernaut of the French fleet commanded by Napoleon at Trafalgar.

Lachit had the guts as well as the inherent quality to plan and prepare an army to decimate the motley force of huge Mughal army sent by Aurangzeb led by no less than Ram Singha aided by about a dozen experienced generals. He could also convince his king and his aides of the fighting power of his own people and the Assamese warriors about their untapped ability.

For those not acquainted with the history of Assam, especially the Ahom era, it had been only the valiant Assamese fighters under the Ahom kings called swargadeos (as their ancestor Sui-Ka-Pha declared himself to be a direct descendant from swarga — heaven) who could thwart the mighty Mughals 17 times.

The Mughal army was literally invincible then — its power reflected by the English word “Mogul” that literally means “an extremely powerful individual”.

Several books have been written on this extraordinary Assamese general and Lachit Barphukan is definitely a welcome addition.

Publication Board, Assam, deserves praise for having taken the initiative to encourage an eminent and dedicated person to add another intense research-based book to the kitty. But the language falls short of expectation at times. One even stumbles on a couple of lines in the foreword highlighting the need for sensible editing of books dealing with such topics.

The use of the phrase “heavenly king” to express the common word, swargadeo, also makes no sense. Everyone knows a Tsar was a Russian monarch.

It is, however, evident that Gohain had put in a lot of painstaking research into the book; the elaborate bibliography provides an excellent list of study material for anyone interested in that period of history. Definitely a good read.