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Berry White Medical School building getting new lease of life

 DIBRUGARH, Aug 1 - The renovation and restoration of the 120-year-old Dr John Berry White Medical School building at Dibrugarh – a keenly awaited project – has gained momentum after being slowed down by the disturbances last year and the pandemic this year.

 The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), New Delhi is executing the restoration work with funds provided by Oil India Limited under its CSR scheme. The building, which was lying in a state of disrepair not so long ago, will be converted into Dr John Barry White Medical School Heritage Museum Complex.

Dr Aradhana Kataki, convenor of INTACH Dibrugarh Chapter whose sustained campaign helped in getting the project approved, signed the MoU on behalf of INTACH, New Delhi.

“While INTACH Delhi executes and handles funds, we voluntarily keep a watch on how things are shaping, consult members of the public, particularly those from the medical fraternity, and seek suggestions from them. INTACH Delhi has designed the layout with inputs from the local chapter,” Dr Kataki told The Assam Tribune.

Dr Kataki added that the restoration work was being done by using traditional methods of plastering without using cement and sand. “However, certain materials and techniques could not be found or followed. For instance, the size of the original bricks used in the interior walls were about slightly more than an inch and these bricks were joined together by means of wire mesh. Since this could not be replicated, I have asked the supervising architect to preserve samples of this unique brickwork,” she said.

During restoration, thrust has been put on retaining as much of the original style as possible. The delicate pointing work done by skilled craftsmen brought from outside Assam has brought back the feel of the early 19th century. The colonial flavour is enhanced by the solid sal wood used for the ceiling, doors and windows. “It is immensely encouraging that organisations like Assam Charity Trust, the UK and distinguished doctors and members of civil society have written to us appreciating our efforts,” Dr Kataki said.

An alumnus of the AMC and former Deputy Registrar, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, London who did his pre-med in the Berry White School, Dr Ranjit Barua of the UK said, “INTACH, Dibrugarh Chapter deserves credit for making the restoration of a very important historical landmark a reality. It is wonderful that Dr Kataki sought the help of former British High Commissioner to India Sir Dominic Asquith to connect with the British Library in order to locate and acquire materials like the complete will, pension records and other documents related to Dr Berry White for the proposed museum. What’s most exciting is that, with Dr Kataki’s initiative, it has been possible to trace and contact one of the living descendants of Dr Berry White.”

Dr Taufiq Rahman Borbora, former Principal (AMC), who himself had urged the Government repeatedly to restore the building, termed it as a big gain for the people. “I began my medical career from Berry White hostel. The dilapidated building was in the same condition till 2010 when I retired. In a happy coincidence Dr Kataki, who has been campaigning for the restoration of this building consistently for about 10 years, is the convenor of INTACH Dibrugarh Chapter which is monitoring the project.

Associate Professor of Dermatology and an alumnus of AMC Dr Shyamanta Barua and Dr Nirpen Borkotoky of the UK, former alumnus of AMC and retired GP of NHS, UK also lauded the work, saying that a world class institution would keep alive the legacy of Dr Berry White for posterity.

Built with a sum of Rs 50,000 set aside by Dr Berry White in his will for a charitable hospital in Dibrugarh, the Berry White Medical School was completed in 1900. The building appeared to have been on the verge of collapse when the restoration work was initiated in January 2018 after intense campaigning by individuals and organisations like Assam Science Society and Policy Group for Peoples’ Rights, Dibrugarh.

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