R K Padmapati
It was innate desire to go to Sambalpur to find out any information available about Sahityarathi late Laxmi Nath Bezbaruah after joining NALCO. But I could not make the trip till recently due to the busy industrial life and also because of non-availability of good communication. Meanwhile, many years had passed by and communication had improved considerably. One fine morning, my eyes caught a news item published in The Time of India a few days before and I came to know that there still stands a house at Sambalpur where Laxmi Nath Bezbaruah lived in the later part of his life. My heart was filled with joy and my mind got ignited for a trip to Sambalpur. I contacted two local scribes, Arjit Nayak and Deepak Panda of Sambalpur and collected all the relevant information to locate the house.
It was a pleasant morning with a moderate temperature on February 18, 2010. I took a city bus service to Talcher Road, the nearest railway station and took a train to Sambalpur. At the station, Panda received me as planned and we drove down to the old house of Bezbaruah where he lived once. It was noon by then.
The house is located at the Kachary Chowk, now renamed as Nelson Mandela Chowk just on the bank of the Mahanadi river. Tears rolled down my cheeks at the first sight of the dilapidated house with broken brick walls and cement plasters from where the doyen of Assamese literature reached a great height in the field of literature. He stayed in the cottage in the later part of his life till 1936. Laxmi Nath had come to Sambalpur in 1917.
Of late, the Sambalpur chapter of INTACH, a socio-cultural organisation of Orissa engaged in preserving old heritage and monuments, has taken the initiative for a cause with the State convener, DK Mishra, IAS (retired), as a leader to preserve the house. A few articles have been published in the local dailies to develop the cottage into a writers’ museum and restore the heritage house.
The Sambalpur chapter of INTACH has submitted a memorandum to minister Debi Prasad Mishra with a request to convert the house into a heritage building and construct a writers’ building in the rest of the land adjacent to the house. The minister has already given instructions to examine the merit of the proposal. A copy of this letter has been collected by this writer.
The house is a full brick-walled one with five rooms and has a complete boundary of brick walls. The property is in the possession of the Government of Orissa and the office of the Revenue Inspector (Sadar), Sambalpur is functioning from one of the rooms and the other rooms could not be seen as these had been locked. A few photographs of the house were taken to preserve the memories.
We went to the office of the municipal board, Sambalpur where he was once a nominated representative of the SC & ST community for ten years. A portrait drawn by noted artist Gouri Barman finds a place inthe conference hall along with other worthy sons of Sambalpur. On enquiry, it was told that the portrait was installed during the birth centenary celebration year, 1968 at a function presided over by eminent scholar and ex-MP, late Dr Shradhakar Supakar at the instance of a delegation of Asam Sahitya Sabha to Sambalpur. At the moment, no other information is available with the municipal board. Deepak Panda, vice-president of IFWS, a local journalist, is busy analysing the past.
Another important information in connection with the house is that a legal battle is going on over the ownership of the house between the Government of Orissa and the family members of one late Omkarmal Poddar, a local businessman and the matter is subjudice. The Government of Assam and the Assam Sahitya Sabha may approach late Poddar’s family members for a compromise to abandon the claim on the property for a mutual agreeable settlement.
At present, the house is in a very bad shape because of lack of maintenance and inadequate care for a considerably long period. It is crumbling and crying for attention. It may collapse at any moment and may be reduced to rubble if something is not done urgently. The symbol of old glory in the form of the heritage building will vanish forever to remind us of Laxmi Nath Bezbaruah at Sambalpur.
Under such a situation, the Government of Asam, more particularly, the Department of Cultural Affairs, Assam Sahitya Sabha and intellectuals need to come together and cooperate with the Government of Orissa and INTACH for a great cause. The general public of Assam in particular should mobilise public opinion for an urgent need to revamp the heritage house. The Government of Assam and the Asam Sahitya Sabha may request the Sambalpur municipal board to rename the Chowk or Kachari (Court) Road leading to the court premises after Bezbaruah. A statue of Bezbaruah may also be installed on the premises of the house.
On the return journey, many questions trouble me of which I could not find any satisfactory answer. History will not forgive us if something is not done urgently and will term us as a community of ungrateful people. The direct descendants of Lakshminath Bezbaruah and their relatives living in Assam or elsewhere in the country should come forward for a close look into the matter.