The heart yearns for days of yore

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By View from the top - Rita Chowdhury
  • Published 17.01.09

This professor and writer misses the green shield and humane touch that were the hallmarks of life in Guwahati

Rita Chowdhury, winner of this year’s Sahitya Akademi Award for her highly acclaimed novel Deu Langkhui (Divine Sword) and professor of political science at Cotton College, is a prominent citizen of Guwahati. She has carved out a niche for herself not only in the literary arena but also in the social-political field.

Chowdhury was born in 1960 at Nampong in Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh. Her father, Biraja Nanda Chowdhury, was working in Arunachal Pradesh then. She did her primary and secondary education at Upper Haflong LP School and Margherita Public Higher Secondary School respectively.

Her family came down to Guwahati in 1980, when the Assam movement was in full swing. She participated in the movement and even went to jail in Guwahati several times. Since then Chowdhury has been a close observer of evolution of Guwahati.

“When we came to the city there were dense forests at several areas in the city. There were no streetlights on GS Road and glow worms used to welcome those who passed by. Every night we used to hear the roar of tigers and snarls of leopards and fox howling. The only mode of public transport were the blue buses of Assam State Transport Corporation.

“Now all that has changed. Shopping malls, multiplexes, flyovers and big streetlights characterise GS Road. There was a time when trains used to run through Ambari and once I was about to be run over by a train. There was no television till 1982 and small local clubs used to show the latest movies on video. I saw the award-winning movie Gandhi at such a club in the city. Guwahati now is just like a dream for me,” Chowdhury says.

According to her, the winds of change swept through Guwahati since 1982 when television came just before the Delhi Asian Games. “People now get connected to the outside world more easily. Television has started making a sharp impact on our lifestyles.”

But Chowdhury is not too happy with several of these changes. She is very concerned about the fast erosion of human values. “Consumerism and materialism have become a priority for the people. We have become very selfish and the concept of the joint family has almost become obsolete. At present, there is a new apartment-centric culture, which is not very healthy. The people of Assam, who are basically agrarian and loved to keep in touch with nature, have suddenly moved to apartments,” she adds.

Being born in Arunachal Pradesh, Chowdhury is fascinated by the hills. She feels suffocated in Guwahati. “I am deeply sad about the loss of greenery and appeal to the government to take steps for regeneration of forests. My family has chosen a home at Kharghuli only to enjoy the mighty Brahmaputra and live amid nature. Man cannot survive by shunning nature.”

Chowdhury is the wife of Chandra Mohan Patowary, AGP president and leader of the Opposition in Assam. But she does not want to blame the present government for every ill of Guwahati.

Being a teacher of political science, she says, “Rights and duties are two sides of the same coin. When citizens talk of their rights they must do their duty. Citizens must also contribute towards making Guwahati a better city. The tendency of keeping our home clean by throwing garbage on roads and public places must be done away with. I am an optimist and hope that things will change for the better in the coming days,” she said.