GUWAHATI, June 25 – Noted writer Surendra Nath Medhi, better known as Saurabh Kumar Chaliha, who caught the imagination of the readers with his unique style of writing, is no more. The writer, who always hid behind his pen name, breathed his last in the International Hospital here this morning due to old age ailments. He was 78 and leaves behind his wife and a daughter.
The mortal remains of the author were cremated at the Bhutnath cremation ground this afternoon in presence of a large number of his well wishers. Health and Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma paid tributes to the departed soul on behalf of the State Government, while prominent personalities of the State, including Dr Hiren Gohain, Justice DN Choudhury, Debabrata Das, Kula Saikia and host of other personalities, visited the cremation ground to pay their last respects to the departed soul.
All throughout his life, Chaliha stayed away from the media glare and even when he received prestigious awards like the Sahitya Akademi Award, he did not go to receive the award himself. Interestingly, he always maintained his job, that is Professor of Physics in the Assam Engineering College and his identity as a writer as two separate identities and he liked to term himself as a student of science all throughout his life.
His father Kaliram Medhi was also a prominent litterateur and presided over the 1919 session of the Asam Sahitya Sabha.
Born in Guwahati in 1933, Surendra Nath Medhi started his education in St Mary’s school and later shifted to Cotton Collegiate School, from where he passed the Matriculation Examination. During his school days, he wrote a few travelogues for the school magazine and his first short story Punjab Simantat Sahayatri was published in Assamese magazine Parijat in 1944, and on that occasion, he used the pen name Saurabh Kumar Chaliha for the first time.
He stood fifth in the ISc examination from Cotton College in 1948 and enrolled himself in the same college for the B Sc course. However, he was jailed in 1950 for his involvement in the activities of the RCPI and he had to appear in his B Sc final examination from jail. But that did not deter him from obtaining his B Sc degree with honours in Physics.
His short story Ashanta Electron won him the first prize in a competition organized by Assamese magazine Ramdhenu in 1952. But because of the trouble that he had with the government earlier, his family members decided to send him abroad for further studies and he obtained his M Sc degree from London University. He worked in several educational institutions in Germany before returning to India in 1960 to join the Assam Engineering College as a lecturer in the Department of Physics. He retired as the head of the same department and was honoured as life time associate of the college in 1990.
Saurabh Kumar Chaliha’s first collection of short stories—Ashanta Electron, was published in 1962 and with his first book, he emerged as one of the most powerful writers in Assamese. His short story collection Golam won him the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award in 1974. But Chaliha, who did not like the limelight, did not go to receive the award himself and that was later sent to him by the Akademi.
Chaliha was honoured with the Assam Valley Literary Award for the year 1995. On this occasion too, he did not go to the stage to receive the award and one of his relatives received the award and the acceptance speech was read out by Pradyut Bordoloi.
Most applauded of Chaliha’s books include Ashanta Electron, Duporia Aru Annanya Galpa, Ehat Daba, Golam, Galpa Nohoy, Aji Sukrabar, Abaruddha Sahar, Bhal Khabar, Kabi, Janmadin Aru Annanya Galpa, Druna Aru Goethe, Nabajanma etc. He also translated world classics like Round the World in Eighty Days, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde etc.
Today’s edition of The Assam Tribune, in its Saturday magazine section Horizon carried a write-up of Chaliha in his own name – SN Medhi—on the city’s traffic scenario.