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Homage to a fellow traveller

I t was some twenty years ago that I caught

    up with Tarun Choudhury. By that time,

    he had travelled many a mile in life, ranging from being a government servant, a businessman and a romantic hero to leading actresses of the time. I wasn’t a witness to any of those events, nor had I heard of them, not being a part of Guwahati social scene. I would gather snippets of information about him as he regaled the audience with outlandish tales of his exploits. We spent many an evening at the eco-park near Tezpur sitting round a campfire, as Tarun spun his stories late into the night. Young and old would hang on to his every word, laughing uproariously such that nobody else would dare crash into the close-knit company we kept. Above all, Tarun loved to travel and for Tarun travel meant being constantly on the move. Tarun loved driving and once behind the wheel, he wouldn’t let anyone else drive the car. None of our group would ever see sixty again but that didn’t stop us from thinking big. On an impulse, we would plan a trip to Tawang driving all the way, never realising that Chella pass could be snow-bound in April. Tourism in Aruchal in those days wasn’t as it is today, and we would often go hungry on the way and need to devise ingenuous ways to find shelter for the night. But that was fun too, so we thought at the time. I had no inkling that Tarun’s sense of direction wasn’t as perfect as he had claimed till one day at Bhalukpung check-gate on our way to Tawang, he had his car pointing back towards Tezpur! It was filly proved right when on a fateful day, we started our journey from Guwahati to Thimphu, packed in two cars. Somewhere, along the way, perhaps near Bongaigaon, we lost Tarun’s car with the three young girls of our party for company. As evening approached, we began getting worried with no means of contacting them, the advent of mobile phones still a few years away. In desperation, we stopped at a police station to seek help where the officer looked at us with a meaningful glance when we reported a missing car with three young girls. It was nearly midnight when we reached Phuntsling, and there in the balcony of Central Hotel was Tarun, clad in fresh kurta and pajama, waiting for his tandoori chicken to be served, although he always claimed that he had turned a vegetarian. When confronted, he reminded us of the adage that when you are lost, always head for the destition which in this case was Phuntsling! He did, of course, have his small idiosyncrasies, one of them being his sudden refusal to go on the trip at the last moment. His excuses would be trivial, something like having to paint his room or repair the pump. We would plead and cajole till he relented, because without Tarun around, travel is a drab affair.

There was a time when we pretended to be travelling to gather information about Sankaradeva’s life although none of us had any idea about what we were looking for. We began routinely at Bardowa, Barpeta, Patbausi, ending up in Madhupur with Majuli sandwiched in between. We were, however, more interested in the fringe benefits of travel, one of them being food. Everywhere we went, we knew where to find the best local food. In Cooch Behar, it was Hotel Yuvaraj where we asked to be served hilsa fish, each weighing not less one-and-half kilo, in Majuli it was Mising food in Haren’s guest house and in Barpeta, we had the largest pieces of fish I have ever seen and curd so thick that you could plough your hand in. We did also meet the learned persons in each place and must have asked some ine questions because one of them pointedly remarked on our ability to do research on Sankaradeva.

Above all, Tarun loved his family, and to him, family meant the entire extended family embracing his two younger brothers and their children to whom he was a father figure. The family in turn doted on him, showered their love and respect upon him. It was fitting that he spent the last few nights of his life in the family nest, surrounded by his near and dear ones.

It is not good-bye, my friend. Fellow travellers we are, a few steps behind perhaps. Wherever you are, I can well imagine that there is a bonfire going, with you telling your outrageous stories, which nobody believes, yet roars with laughter till tears come out of their eyes.  

—Bimal Phukan

About the author

Ankur Kalita