By Anjan Barua
Hem Barua had demonstrated that politics and literature can co-exist and flourish if what underlies is the undying will to serve the people. His politics was for the people of the country and his literary contribution was also for the people.
Hem Barua amongst all things said about him was a good soul. He did not bear ill-will to anyone and always tried to help the people around him. He did not have any secrets and his life was an open book. Honesty and willingness to fight for a right cause was his philosophy of life. To my mind these four poems of Hem Barua define him. Momotar Chithi defines the sensitivity of his character. Aita defines his lost youth which was spent in unemployment and in jail. Pohorot koi Andhaar bhaal defines his outlook on life and Jaror Dir Swapon his dreams.
Today when I look back to my years with him, I am surprised how he could do so many things in such a short span of life. From leading the movements for the oil refinery, Brahmaputra Bridge, establishment of Railway Headquarters at Guwahati to leading the Satyagraha at the Indo-Pak border in Gujarat, he did it all. In between all, this he continued to write both in Assamese and English and published a large number of books and articles.
Hem Barua, when he was a Member of Parliament, spent about 7 months in Assam and about 5 months in New Delhi when Parliament would be in session. In Delhi, his day would start at around 7.30 am with a cup of tea and the morning newspapers. As he read the newspapers, he would mark important news items as ‘Home’, ‘Foreign Affairs’, ‘Education’, ‘Chemicals and Fertilizers’ etc., and give the newspapers to mother. Then he would prepare questions to be raised in Parliament that day. In the early stages, he would write them in his own hand and later when he bought a typewriter he typed the questions himself. Then a quick bath, yoga , breakfast and off to Parliament by 10 am. Sometimes he used to take a bus but on other days he used to walk to Parliament. On his way, he would be joined by PurndaChetia ,BiswarayanShastri and they would walk together.
The proceedings in Parliament would always be a battle of wits with the Treasury Benches and the debates would be lively and fruitful. There was no adjournment nor unruly behaviour . The debates would be dignified and of substance. As a child I used to go to the Parliament to see the proceedings. Jawaharlal Nehru, M C Chagla, VKRV Rao, HumayunKabir from the Treasury Benches and th Pai, Hari Vishnu Kamath, Hiren Mukherjee, MinooMasani and Atal Behari Vajpayee were the other stalwarts in the opposition benches.
After the morning session, Hem Barua would rush to the Parliament Library and spend the lunch time there reading books. Most of the important debates were in the afternoon and he would go back to the House for the debates. On most days, he would be home by 5 pm and immediately he would start replying to the letters received during the day. By 6.30pm, he and Ma would go for a walk and come back by 8 pm. We all had dinner at 9 pm while listening to the radio news.
After dinner, it will be our responsibility to play some records. He had a habit of listening to a song 3 to 4 times and we used to find it tedious. One such song was Moi Eti Jajabor. One day we told him that that it took you 4 books on your travels to describe what Bhupen Hazarika did in 3 minutes. He just smiled. Today I realise that music and literature are the outpourings of the inner rhythm of a human being. To create good music or to write a good book, one has to be foremost a good human being.
Hem Barua excelled as a Parliamentarian . He made his mark in Lok Sabha between 1957 to 1970 and was counted as one of the top ten Parliamentarians by The Times of India and The Hindustan Times along with stalwarts like Jawaharlal Nehru, GobindaVallabh Pant and Hiren Mukherjee. During this period he gave more than 850 speeches in Parliament on a wide canvas of subjects ranging from the Vietm War to the damming of the river Brahmaputra. His questions in Parliament were so incisive and detailed that once Jawaharlal Nehru complained to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha that he is able to remember only the ‘tail of it’.
Hem Barua came down heavily on corruption in politics. His ‘ masterly exposure of the workings of the Oil Ministry led to the resigtion of the then Minister, Shri K D Malaviya.
Hem Barua started his career as a lecturer at JB College in Jorhat where he taught Assamese and English. The job lasted for just more than a year . He was arrested in the Quit India Movement and incarcerated in Jorhat jail for 3 years. Thereafter he came to Guwahati and started working at B Borooah College which was then a night college located in the Kamrup Academy School. He took over as Principal of the College from Late Gopith Bordoloi and continued at the helm till 1967.
There is an interesting incident that one would like to rrate here. It is said that the Government of Assam had offered land to the freedom fighters at that time. Everyone accepted and were allotted land. Hem Barua on the other hand refused the offer but asked the Government to allot land to the College which was a private College at that time. Today the College is situated on that land.
As mentioned earlier, B Borooah College started as a night college and most of the students came from poor backgrounds. I have heard innumerable statements from students who were helped by Hem Barua with payment of fees.
Education seem to be in his bloodstream. In Delhi, in spite of his busy schedule ,he took time off to teach some staff in Parliament the English language. In fact, a Member of Parliament from Harya felt that to be effective in Parliament, one has to know the English language . He too came to Hem Barua for English classes.
Hem Barua was one of the few authors who wrote in English as well as in Assamese. In fact he brought the outside world to the Assamese reader and likewise introduced Assam to the outside world . His books The Red River and The Blue Hill, Modern Assamese Poetry, Folk Songs of India, Assamese Literature, Lakshmith Bezbaruah are some of the books he wrote in English. Likewise his four travelogues introduced the Assamese reader to the outside world. His poems broke the shackles of traditiol format and encouraged a whole new generation of budding poets.
How do we remember such a person ? We need to inculcate the core values and work towards improvement of our society. A great and vibrant society shall nurture many such leaders in times to come.
(This article is published on the occasion of eminent Assamese litterateur and parliamentarian Hem Barua’s birth centery on April 22 this year.)