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EVOLUTION OF GUWAHATI : THE GATEWAY TO NORTHEAST

Throughout the course of the history of the undiluted landmass known as Pragjyotishpur in the ancient and medieval times, being the capital city of Pragjyotish-Kamrup and called Guwahati today, there seems to be from time to time an outburst of unusual activities, a display of excessive and strange energy that results in manifestations associated with and stimulated by the advent of new techniques, new ways of trade and business. Guwahati is in the grip of new men and women. Now no sign of Pragjyotishpur can be seen except in few ruined relics, said and believed to be erected in the days of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

It would be easy to present so startling a contrast between the Pragjyotishpur-Guwahati of yesteryears and the Guwahati of today that would seem to have nothing in common, save human nature. Guwahati is the grave of a civilized world and the cradle of another. As is the life of leaves, so is that of men. The wind scatters the leaves to the ground; the vigorous forest puts forth others, and they grow in the spring season. Soon one generation of men comes, and another leaves.

As for man, his days are grass. As a flower of the field, so he flourished. For the wind, passeth over it and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more. The note here is one of resignation. Man is no more than grass in comparison with God. Yet, man is unique — he can do things which other creatures cannot. Man has made the towns and cities. The city of Guwahati is also developed by men. Let it be developed.

Construction of multistorey buildings, over-bridges, streets, sub-streets with side-drains, bridges across rivers, rivulets and drains have destroyed the natural environment of the place surrounded by hills and hillocks. Till the early part of the 20th century, it was the house of particular type of houses known as Assam-type house. This type of houses can still be seen in the villages of Assam. Once pony cart in Guwahati was the only vehicle for the elite. But now it is out of sight. The old market places have assumed new look. Shopping malls and hubs have come up. The history of this landmass is yet to come up; even an authentic map of this historic place with geographical names of its hills and hillocks, rivers and rivulets has yet to be prepared. It should have been a subject of study today when our administrators are grappling with problems and complexities of developing it into an administrative headquarters of one of the most important States of a vast country. We must try to research for information about the past customs and practices of the inhabitants of Guwahati. Historians must work hard to unearth the past to contribute to our understanding of our forefathers who lived thousands and thousands of years ago.
It is no longer possible to revert to a state of nature — to the Pragjyotishpur of the prehistoric days — and its praises are merely meant as a critique of the present society. Like the encyclopedist, we may want to preserve and extend what was best in those days of civilization, but we may see more pitfalls on the road to progress.

The roots of emergence of present-day Guwahati go back a long way beyond the Ahom rule in Assam. For several centuries, it was unknown to the world; great historic changes went on in the interstices of the old society, and the inhabitants of this land fought for the attention of the world community. No empty lands remained in cultivable areas, ploughs improved, mills built, metals came into use and innovations were made in the methods of house-building, trade and business. This sort of development was the product of a new type of men, as the new type of men is the product of this type of development. Peasants are no more in Guwahati. Paddy fields have disappeared. Land preserved for particular tribes has disappeared. The peasants who worked under the feudal lords have left their holdings. These men possessed ‘‘capitalist spirit’’, the ‘‘spirit of enterprise and desire for gain’’ filled a new social order, and it is among them that we have to look for the mainspring of the mental process behind the development of Guwahati. These were the men who had learnt in their own lives and in the business of gaining their daily bread that it was but the result of effort to gain goods and services which brought success. As the chiefs of different tribes spread into Assam, some members of the tribes living in this patch of land migrated to other places.

It was during the British regime (that began with Yandaboo Treaty of 1826) that Guwahati was made a municipal town under a municipal board in 1865, then its area being 7.68 sq km and population a few thousands (8,394 according to the 1891 census). The foreign rulers wanted it develop this place not only in their interest. They wanted to preserve the old relics found in Guwahati. Now, we are self-governed. We have our own government. We should be capable of making Guwahati an abode peaceful and prosperous, abode of all, regardless of caste, creed and sex. The limit of Guwahati municipal area has increased to 261.77 sq km, and a master plan has been prepared to expand it.

It is to be noted that the size of Guwahati has not been matched by its development. It is really difficult to see why the government has not taken concerted efforts for its proper development. Is it the result of ignorance and prejudice of the populace? Are we devoid of knowledge and reason? Are we incapable of looking into the amenities of our children? It is very important to make heart-searching investigation of the causes of backwardness of Guwahati. It is a fact that Guwahati is still an undeveloped city — an underdeveloped or developing city. It is difficult, indeed, to say when it will become a full-grown, developed city extending all sorts of civic amenities to the residents as well as to the regular and casual visitors to the city.

Guwahati proper lying by the southern bank of the mighty Brahmaputra is the house of social, political and religious activities, but there is little scope of its expansion. The ranges of the Khasi-Jayantia hills blur scope of expansion of the city in the south, the Kolong-Kapilty-Digaru rivers in the southeastern and the ever-flowing mighty Brahmaputra in the north. There is this scope in the western, northwestern and in the northeastern side of the city. Keeping this in mind, the Assam Government has adopted a master plan for the well-planned and well-developed growth of the city by creating three new satellite towns — towns around the big town that may be controlled by the Guwahati Municipal Corporation or by independent civic bodies. Under the special scheme area, the satellite towns are (1) Northeast of Guwahati metropolitan area that includes Sila-Matiya-Nazirakhat-Fulung area on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra, (2) Northwest of Guwahati metropolitan area that includes Charmajulipam-Gandhmau-Ambari-Bamun Soalkuchi area, and (3) Southwest of Guwahati metropolitan area that includes Panchniyapara-Sajjanpara-Gaiyapara-Alibari-Tarapatipara area.

Let Guwahati not be a mere territorial expression. Let it remain a solid landmass possessing all sorts of civic amenities for all. Let the people suffer not for want of sources of drinking water, power supply, transportation and communication. Let Guwahati grow into an organic whole leaving no scope of isolation — geographical or mental isolation of places and their residents. Let it be the cultural, political, religious and commercial social capital of Assam.

The growth of Guwahati from its rural position to its urban avatar is a significant one. It has lost its natural environment. In the sphere of State and national politics, there has been, since the 19th century, some hectic activities, and in spite of the interruption of the world wars in the first half of the 20th century and the foreigners deportation movement in the later half of the century, political activities in this part of Assam have been continuous. It is unfortunate that we do not bother to take down it in earnest. The work of politics no longer lies with the few political activities and in the pockets of the few political parties. The populace is very much involved in it, but the division in it has weakened its strength. Though Guwahati’s importance has been acknowledged by one and all, no scheme has been taken up to make it an abode of civilized people in the true sense of the term.

But it would be foolish to come to the conclusion that Guwahati is inhospitable. Those who take it to be a place of cheats, rogues and knaves, they should note that ‘‘call no man happy until he is dead’’.
Let Guwahati be a city of living beings.




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