By Monalisa Changkija
I never met Tarun-Da but he was larger-than-life in my life ~ well, at least his name. This happened because after my Grandfather late Imnamathong Changkija was exiled, along with five others including late Rev Longri, from the village by the British way back in the early 1930s, he settled down at the Christian Mission Compound, Jorhat, Assam. My Grandfather’s village ~ and mine, of course ~ is Changki village in Mokokchung district, Nagaland. The American Baptist Missionaries, who founded the Christian Mission Compound, Jorhat, provided shelter and livelihood to the six exiles of Changki village. Later on, my Father late Imnakharibong Changkija married a beautiful Assamese girl ~ a great, great grand-daughter of renowned Assamese Evangelist/Missionary Godhula Brown (actually Godhula Boruah) but the American Missionaries turned him Brown.
So, where does Tarun Gogoi come into this picture? Well, I really don’t know but I grew up hearing about Tarun-Da every other minute in the neighbourhood. Every things seemed to be about Tarun-Da this and Tarun-Da that. Okay, my Dad also graduated from Jorhat’s famous JB College, so Tarun-Da and Dad may have been college mates, possibly even class-mates. But surely the entire neighbourhood couldn’t possibly be Tarun-Da’s college or class mate? What I vaguely remember hearing is that Tarun-Da was a frequent visitor to the Mission Compound and had many close friends there and that he would also often go there to play football ~ on the same football grounds Dr. T Ao played. In any case, Titabor isn’t too far away from Jorhat. I wish I had paid more attention to Tarun-Da this and Tarun-Da that but I was a little girl and Tarun-Da did not grab my imagination as he did my parents and their peers’. But he became my Tarun-Da too.
As I think about Tarun-Da, he must have been quite a leader even in his young days for him to have such a following in the small ~ and quite isolated ~ Mission Compound of Jorhat. Besides a General Hospital, the Mission Compound also has a Tuberculosis Hospital and a Leprosy Hospital, which was quite out-of-bounds for the general denizens of Jorhat. Also, the Mission Compound still has what is known as a “Leprosy Colony” that was home to recovered Leprosy patients. So, stigma being what it continues to be, Mission Compound was isolated from the larger Jorhat community. But clearly Tarun-Da had no problems making friends, playing, and generally mixing up with people of Mission Compound ~ although, most people in this neighbourhood were not Leprosy-afflicted or recovered Leprosy patients. Tarun-Da must have also been quite into politics early in his life because during elections the air would be rent with his name ~ and Indira Gandhi. So, I surmise that he must have already been a Congress man at that time and may have persuaded voters of this neighbourhood to vote for the Congress because as far as I remember every voter there uttered only two names during elections ~ Tarun-Da and Indira Gandhi.
Tarun-Da’s detractors may now surmise that he frequented the Mission Compound simply for political purposes but I suspect that wasn’t the case. Looking back, I remember everybody used to talk of him in such endearing terms and with so much respect. This must surely mean that he was dearly loved by people of Mission Compound ~ at least in that era. And, he earned their love and respect because this was one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Jorhat at that time ~ probably still is ~ but he had no issues frequenting it as often as he could. Maybe Tarun-Da’s motives were political but that is what differentiates political personalities of that era from today’s ~ they believed in and actually made individual contacts and connections with those whose support they sought. It wasn’t so much the huge rallies politicians today believe in to indulge in long winding monologues and seek support. I believe politicians and public leaders of Tarun-Da’s era believed in one-to-one and face-to-face discourses to explain issues, debate, persuade, convince, answer criticisms, create confidence and the like. This also suggests their ability to mix up with the humblest on a regular basis ~ not just as a once-in-a-blue moon photo-op or a PR exercise.
Oh yes, irrespective of political affiliations, public and political leaders of those days were very different. To be sure, they were not perfect human beings, much less perfect politicians. But they had certain qualities, calibre, personality and courage of conviction (whether right or wrong) sorely missing in today’s crop of public and political leaders. They were educated and erudite too, especially in History and Law. They also had a certain class that inspired confidence and exuded a strong sense of security whether they were in or out of power. But then, men (I specifically use the word ‘men’ because public leadership and politics was and is male-dominated) of that era were different. How, you may well ask. Well, they were DIFFERENT. Over a couple of Beers, a Guwahtian Assamese friend and brother of mine and I would often talk about men of that era in various fields ~ most of them departed now ~ and he would describe them as “Limited Edition”. Tarun-Da belonged to that category of “Limited Edition”.
So we had PA Sangma, Capt Williamson and a few others who were more Statesman than mere politicians and dominated the public domain not only in their states but in the whole of the Northeast and even after retirement or poll debacles they continued to be the shelter people took refuge in ~ in so many ways. And then there were only Tarun Gogoi and SC Jamir. And today SC Jamir remains the only tall leader and Statesman no politician in power can compare in calibre and stature ~ just like Tarun-Da was until a few days ago.
When I heard media persons of Assam recalling how approachable and amiable Tarun-Da was towards them, SC Jamir comes to my mind. They were, after all, moulded from the same clay. When SC Jamir was Chief Minister here and he would call for a press conference, all my Reporters would beg to attend it. Finally I would be holding the fort all alone in office because I know how much it meant for them to attend Jamir’s press conference. All my Reporters would return with huge smiles on their faces as if they went to visit Grandfather and had a merry time ~ which they actually did. They wouldn’t stop regaling all that he said and did. Jamir has this ability to make everyone feel so at home. He remembers everyone’s names including their parents. I have no doubt the scene must have been exactly the same when former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi called for a press conference at Guwahati. Such are the attributes and charisma of men like Tarun Gogoi and SC Jamir.
With the passing away of Tarun Gogoi, an era is passing away ~ with the last Sentinel (SC Jamir) bridging that era with another. While I grieve and mourn at his passing away, I also celebrate Tarun-Da’s life especially because he has left a rich legacy of possibilities to dream, to hope and to aspire. When my Mother heard the tragic news, her sorrow was palpable ~ for one by one, the friends of her youth are departing and she stands almost alone now with dried leaves gathered around her aged feet. Indeed, they don’t make men like them anymore. Men like Tarun-Da, who I have never met but remain so alive in my psyche and so deeply etched in the contours of my mind.
Adieu Tarun-Da, I hope to meet you in another time, another life and another place ~ and interview you about your days with your friends at Mission Compound, Jorhat ~ most of who you are with now.
(Courtesy: Assam Tribune, December 1, 2020)