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Demand to revive century-old Assam's historic public library-cum-hall in the name of top freedom fighter Bardoloi

By Nava Thakuria*
Persistent voices are being raised to revive a at the heart of Guwahati city and popular demands are floated for using the space for occasional and selected public gatherings. The library, surrounded by Cotton University, Handique Girls’ College, Gauhati High Court, State Museum, Ravindra Bhawan etc., carries the memory of many great personalities of yesteryears.
Named after a great Assamese patriot, socio-political leader and writer, the library-cum-hall is a century old structure. Erected on the western bank of pre-historic picturesque tank (Dighalipukhuri) in 1910, the library was initially known as Lord Curzon Hall. Later it was dedicated to the memory of Karmavir Nabin Chandra Bardoloi in 1953 with the goodwill of the then Assam chief minister Bishnu Ram Medhi.
Initially a big Assam type house was built at Panbazar locality in 1900 to welcome the then India’s Viceroy Lord Curzon, who visited Assam in 1903. By now the momentous Cotton College emerged in the same locality. Great personalities like Manik Chandra Barooah, Rai Bahadur Bhuban Ram Das, Jagannath Baruah (BA Jagannath), Satyanath Bora with few others established the Curzon Hall with generous public donations.
The then chief commissioner Henry Cotton and commissioner Lt Col Gordon also supported the initiative and the hall-cum-library was constructed within a year. By 1912, the Curzon Hall was shifted to the present location and the old building was allowed to house the Cotton College library, which is still being used by the students of the prestigious institution.
The Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) took the responsibility to restore the hall in 1969. But the corporation started using the hall as one of their branch offices in 1975, and like many government buildings across the country, the significant structure ended up facing the carelessness and apathy of the authority. Today the voluminous campus has virtually turned into a GMC dumping ground.
Lately the GMC as well as Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA), Assam Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC) and Cotton College (now a University) authorities had separately proposed the government to shift the library from its present location and hand over the plot to them, as everyone has plans to develop the space according to their growing needs.
However, various civil society groups including Assam Association of Architects, State unit of Indian Institute of Architects, Assam Library Association etc. vehemently opposed the move to dismantle the building. They are unanimous in their views that the building witnessed many historic events in the last century and it was graced by most of the Assamese stalwarts, including many national heroes in that period, paving the way for raising demands to declare it as a heritage building.
“As a witness of many historic events, the hall now stands as a symbol of pride and tradition of Guwahati. Most important meetings of the town used to be held here till the Sixties,” said Dipankar Banerjee, a prominent history scholar, adding that Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Acharya PC Roy, educationist Ashutosh Mukherjee, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Loknayak Jayprakash Narayan with many others delivered lectures at the hall on different occasions.
The first public library of northeast India also housed Assam State Library in 1953, which was later shifted to the southern bank of Dighalipukhuri in 1960. The hall also played an important role in India’s freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi, where Karmavir Bardoloi appealed to the students of Cotton College to join the movement. His call was received overwhelm response from the student community.
By then Karmavir (1875–1936) emerged as a prominent Congress leader from Assam, involved in Gandhiji’s non-cooperation movement (1920-22). He was honoured with a commemorative postage stamp by the Union government during his birth centenary year. An arts graduate from Presidency College and law graduate from Ripon College under Calcutta University, Bardoloi was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1934 and even put the responsibility as a spokesperson for the opposition. A visionary leader, Bardoloi was also instrumental in establishing two important institutions, namely Earle Law College and Cotton College in Guwahati.
A recent meeting of All-India Patriotic Forum resolved to demand an immediate revival of the library-cum-study hall for common people in general and booklovers in particular. Organized on the occasion of Karmavir’s 82nd death anniversary on February 15, 2018 at Guwahati Press Club, the meeting also insisted on installing a life size statue of the great patriot at an appropriate location.
While senior journalist DN Chakravarty described Bardoloi as one of the most outstanding national leaders of the pre-Independence era, Padmashri Ajay Dutta paid homage to the great soul. AIPF Assam unit president Rupam Barua, academician Dr Jagadindra Raychoudhury, social worker Jaharal Saha, singers Kishor Giri, Anindita Choudhry and Ruma Barua with many others also remembered Bardoloi’s patriotic zeal all along his life.
The Patriotic Peoples’ Front Assam, while supporting the growing public responses, came out with a statement to denounce any move to shift the public library from its present location. Endorsed by Jahnabi Goswami, Ujjal Saikia, Rubee Das, Dhiraj Goswami, Kumud Das, Indranil Kalita, Suryaman Chetri, Alok Das, Kumarjit Sarma, Arup Koch, Protim Sarma, Sanjeeb Kalita, Bikash Halder etc., the statement concluded with the argument that the revived library should be always open for common readers.
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*Guwahati-based journalist and political commenter

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