A well maintained A-Model Ford of 1931 make occupies a pride of place in the garage of the owners of Lankashi Tea Estate in Tinsukia district. It is only fitting that the vintage car, which is still in running condition, should be in the possession of one of the oldest families, the Boruahs, of Dibrugarh.
The Boruah family traces back their root in Dibrugarh to the nineteenth century when the town was newly founded. It was a different time. India was still under the rule of the British. The rulers made inroads into the eastern most corner of the state where they discovered coal. The land and climate proved suitable for tea plantation. The British, who came to India as merchants, built a garh or fort on the bank of River Dibru in the 1840s and so was laid the foundation of Dibrugarh. The docking of ships at Mohana Ghat on the bank of River Brahmaputra was a normal sight. These vessels took away tea and coal from Assam.
The town mainly covered the area of present Amolapatty, Panchali and Topapul, the last being the place where Dharadhara Boruah set up home. He hailed from a family with long association with the Ahom Royalty and had left his ancestral home at Roja Hawli in Jorhat to work for the district administration. After moving to North Lakhimpur, which was the sadar of the district, he arrived at Dibrugarh in the 1860s when the offices were shifted here. It was his son, Jadunath Boruah, who went on to establish himself as one of the earliest successful Assamese entrepreneur.
Certain encounters turned out to be propitious in the life of Jadunath Boruah, with the first happening when he was just a schoolboy. The young boy grew up at an age when education had not yet spread in Assam. So the British relied on educated Bengali gentlemen they brought from Bengal to work in various capacities. One of them was ‘Kali Babu,’ who was a land surveyor. His services were in great demand as this was the period when Europeans were on an overdrive to possess land and open tea gardens.
The junior Boruah, who used to go to the ghats to watch the ships, struck up a friendship with Kali Babu and learnt about the latter’s trade during their interactions. A very intelligent boy, he was quick to realize the immense prospects that lay in the profession of land survey. It was not long before Jadunath Boruah set out to Calcutta, which was then the capital of British India, to become a land surveyor. From there, he went to Dhaka, where the office of the Director General of Land Survey was located. Determined to achieve his goal, the Assamese young man took up a course on land survey at Dhaka. It took him five years before getting recognition as a land surveyor. It was a well earned one.
Anecdotes about the struggle of the first Assamese land surveyor are part of the family lore. One of them is how he managed to get a health certificate, as narrated by Dhirendra Nath Boruah, who taught Physics in DHSK College till his retirement almost a decade back and the grandson of Jadunath Boruah.
Laws were stringent and land surveyors keen on being recognized by the government needed to fulfill several parameters. Furnishing a health certificate by the Civil Surgeon was one of the regulations. When the Assamese entrepreneur approached the doctor concerned, he sparked off instant recognition. It had become a daily routine for the Civil Surgeon of Dibrugarh to see the Assamese young man cycle his way to his workplace in the morning and return home in the evening. .It was evidence enough for the British to issue the certificate in which he mentioned that only a person in good health could cycle such long distances everyday.
The red edifice of the present Court of Judicial Magistrate is one of the earliest buildings to be constructed and holds great historical significance. It was Jadunath Boruah, according to an article that appeared in an Assamese newspaper, who won the contract for building of the Old Court. Construction started in 1870 and the work was initially overseen by the Captain of the Infantry Regiment stationed in the district. But in 1974, it was handed over to Boruah, who gave back the completed structure to the government in 1880. Five years later, he established his firm under the name of JN Boruah and Sons and opened his survey office at Khalihamari. The establishment still exists.
The firm undertook land surveys for all the tea gardens that were set up during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Assam and Dooars. Even now, all these estates have land maps signed by Jadunath Boruah. In 1910, he patented well rings used to line wells and supplied them to the government. Business was good and the land surveyor became prosperous.
The 20th century saw Jadunath Boruah turn tea planter. In the first decade of the new century, the British decided to give away land to natives and the Assamese surveyor became one of the beneficiaries. He became the owner of a huge stretch of land, 600 acres, at Makum Junction in present Tinsukia district. The businessman grew chilli on the land for two years before taking up tea plantation. He established the Lankashi Tea Estate in 1911 after the name of a faid of the Moran community.
Boruah’s initiation into the tea trade in the true sense came through a British official of a tea garden in Makum. He used to take the train from Topapul to Makum where he traveled on a bullock cart to the garden. He would return home in the evening. It was also the time when the second encounter took place. During one of this trip, Jadunath Boruah gave a lift in his cart to the Superintendent of Bazaloni Tea Estate after the British found himself stranded at Makum station when the vehicle that normally came to pick him did not turn up. The acquaintance soon turned into friendship and the association proved to be very rewarding for Jadunath Boruah.
The British was instrumental in helping Boruah acquire the know-how of tea plantation. The Assamese also found financial backing through the Superintendent of Bazaloni Tea Estate, who introduced his native friend to his Calcutta agent, Octavius Steel and Company and turned guarantor for him. Soon, Jadunath Boruah was a full fledged tea planter. He laid trolley tracks from Makum to Lankashi to carry the machineries for his tea factory. The tracks existed till a few years ago. When the Assam Tea Planters Association, the precursor to ABITA, was formed in 1936, Jadunath Boruah was one of its members.
In 1935, the family moved to Khalihamari in Dibrugarh after River Brahmaputra eroded away Topapul and its surrounding areas. They later shifted to Chowkidinghee in the 1960s. Jadunath Boruah expired in 1938, leaving behind a rich legacy, metaphorically and literally, for his two sons, Jogendranath Boruah and Birendranath Boruah.
The eldest went to Jadavpur University to do his engineering but returned home without the degree. He took charge of the survey business. Jogendranath Boruah married Barada Debi of Janji and fathered two sons and two daughters, Sailabala Boruah, Jatindranath Boruah, Hemendranath Boruah and Madhuri Sarmah. He died at the age of 88 years.
The younger son of Jadunath Boruah completed his education at the polytechnic in Jadavpur University and later looked after Lankashi Tea Estate. It was he who bought the A Model Ford from Md Omaruddin, who was the Judicial Magistrate then and went on to become a minister, for two thousand rupees. The magistrate was reluctant to part with the vehicle but agreed to sell it off on the condition that it would be put to personal use only.
Birendra Nath Boruah brought home Sushila Debi of Sivasagar as his wife, who bore him three sons, Dhirendra Nath Boruah, Jiten Boruah and Ajoy Boruah. The three brothers run Lankashi Tea Estate, which has many firsts to its credit. The garden was the first to build pucca structures for its workers and the first to carry out complete electrification, providing power supply to their workers.