I Love Clock From My Childhood 

Chaitanyamoi Chetia

© Copyright 2023 by 
Chaitanyamoi Chetia

Image courtesy of Mun Bora on Facebook
Image courtesy of Mun Bora on Facebook

In the year 2014, a clock tower was installed at Dibrugarh: with the installation, the city gave a vintage look to the onlookers, and it became the first city in the state of Assam to get a clock tower. It was a 45 feet tower erected at Chowkidingee traffic point facing four sides of the road at the intersection. The clock was elegantly curved having graceful dials of 6 feet diameter each, facing the four sides of the road.

Dibrugarh is a 175 year old historic city of Assam; it is an industrial as well as an educated city of northeast India having many noble things to look at; and Dibrugarh is also known as the tea city of India (Dibrugarh has more than 177 tea estates, and thus becoming the district with highest number of tea estates in Assam).

Pinky Karmakar of Barbarooah Tea Estate of Dibrugarh district went to Nottinghamshire in 2012 to represent India in the torch bearer run at London Olympics. The 4940 metres long Bogibeel bridge of Dibrugarh is currently the longest rail-road bridge in India. It was built in the mighty Brahmaputra river, and it was 17 kilometres away from Dibrugarh town. The construction of this combined rail-road bridge took place in the year 2002, and it was inaugurated in the year 2019 by our respected Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi. And the Bogibeel bridge also became the second longest rail-road bridge in Asia. With the opening of the Bogibeel bridge, patients, merchants, medical and college and university students, and patients from the adjoining state, viz., Arunachal Pradesh could easily reach Dibrugarh and stepped at their respective destinations. Before the opening of the bridge, people and serious patients had to board a steamer boat to arrive at Dibrugarh which used to be a tired some and fatigued journey.

My love for clocks developed in me from my childhood days. In DC comics, when I saw the superhero Batman stepping into a house located at a hilltop with a wall clock hung on the house, I rejoiced reading the pages of those comics again and again; I became jubilant when I saw Batman with great strength touching the hour hand and the minute hand of the wall clock and other delightful incidents that took place between the wall clock and Batman. When I became exhausted reading books, I used to cease my reading for a little while, and looked at the pictures of wall clocks and grandfather clocks of books and magazines, and looking at such pictures gave me enchantment. In my bookshelf there lay an entertaining book HRC ( Arrow books, First Published in Great Britain in 2014 by Hutchinson. Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London). The book had some beautiful colourful pictures, in one picture was seen an elegant grandfather clock behind three notable people of the world. The bottom of the grandfather clock was partially seen, and the upper chamber of the clock gave a noble look. During my relaxed hours in the reading table, I would occasionally bring out the HRC book from the bookshelf and made my mind cheerful by again giving a glance at Present Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton and the exquisite looking grandfather clock.

I was born in the 21st century, and I was writing about 21st century. Now I would go to the past; I would write about the 19th century Dibrugarh town, and about the 20th century Dibrugarh town, and how this town looked at that time; and what important thins were established in Dibrugarh and what had disappeared in the earthquake. For this, I would take the assistance of some souvenirs, and some newspaper cuts that were preserved in the bookshelf. When India was under the British rule, the British selected Dibrugarh town for their administrative purposes, and also for carrying out businesses. In 1881, Dibrugarh Railway Station was established by Assam Railways and Trading Company (AR&TC), and a railway track was made which was 65 km long metre gauge that ran from Dibrugarh to Margherita. In the same year in 1881, Dibrugarh Railway Mechanical Workshop was established; and Dibrugarh Railway Station was the first railway station of the northeast of India. The 65 km long metre gauge was constructed from Dibrugarh to Margherita for carrying coal and tea ( a few years later, oil was discovered at Digboi becoming the first refinery in India and also the first refinery in Asia).

Many goods that were not available in Assam ( Assam at that time was abounded with jungles and wild animals like tigers and elephants and venomous snakes, and education was very low, and those who were ambitious in their studies had to arrive in Kolkata for higher education) came in steamer ships from Kolkata along the river Brahmaputra enroute Dhubri, Goalpara, Guwahati, Tezpur and finally at Dibrugarh. Some precious things like different types of golf clubs, pellets of air gun pistols, and such other things that were not available in Assam were shipped from Kolkata to Dibrugarh at that time. The tea estate (TE) managers used to navigate the tea gardens carrying with them air guns in their hands or such other things and explored the jungles to plant tea saplings. The bungalows of the tea estates that were spread everywhere were beautiful to look at; the bathrooms had bathtubs made of ceramics, and these bathtubs used to be brought from Kolkata along the Brahmaputra river in steamer cargoes to Dibrugarh town. Now in the 21st century, people have been giving importance to bathroom fittings and fixtures - I was overjoyed to see with my own eyes that such luxuries had been added in the bathrooms in the tea estate bungalows way back in the 19th century.

The Assam Company was the oldest tea company of the world. This company was founded by the Scottish gentleman Robert Bruce, and the Assam Company was awarded the Royal Charter by her majesty Queen Victoria, the Queen of England and Empress of India at that time. There were some beautiful tea estates of the Assam Company that were spread in Dibrugarh district: the Barbarooah TE, the Maijan TE, the Nadwa TE are some of the tea estates of this oldest tea company: besides, there were a great many tea estates of Andrew Yule; Sessa TE which had been producing premium teas having exquisite aroma for years belonging to Goodricke Group lay in Dibrugarh.

Some of the oldest girls schools that had been established in the 19th century could be seen here. When I accompanied my parents to this place, I looked at the school gates and about the year of establishment of the few schools there. Dibrugarh Govt. Girls HS School was established in 1885: and Victoria Girls School was established in 1897, and both the schools were located in beautiful surroundings. Looking at the signboards of the schools and about their establishments, I rejoiced that the girls of Dibrugarh got the light of education at a time when schools for boys were also not thought over, or schools for boys were very few and countable in Assam. Dibrugarh town had been developing in such an acceleration both in commerce and in education at that time that this place was once used to be called “second Kolkata”.

Dibrugarh Govt. Boys HS School was established in 1840; this premier school was shifted from the previous location to the present site after the 1950 earthquake which was a little distance from the Deputy Commissioner’s (DC) office, and a little distance from the clock tower. Dibrugarh faced two earthquakes: one in 1897, and the other in 1950. The 1950 earthquake was the most dangerous and devastating of all the earthquakes till date; this earthquake changed the complete demography of the Dibrugarh city. The Brahmaputra river changed its course; the European club, the golf course, the DC office, the Dibrugarh Govt. HS School, and many important buildings were domolished in the earth quake and submerged in the river, and one third of the Dibrugarh town was swallowed by the river that came around 7: 39 pm on 15 August, 1950. The earthquake completely changed the face of the Dibrugarh town, it changed the navigating course of the river Brahmaputra followed by continuous soil erosion. Barring the Judicial Court, which lay by the bank of the river Brahmaputra, the bungalow of the District Megistrate, the bungalow of the Superintendent of Police, the Civil Surgeon bungalow and many other establishments were swallowed by the river Brahmaputra.

My father told me that when he had been a school student, and during vacation when he had been to his native home, his grandfather, Mohan Ch. Chetia told him on many occasions about the great earthquake of 1950. Mohan Ch. Chetia recollected and told my father that knee deep water was filled everywhere during the earthquake, in the paddy fields, in the backyard of the houses, and fishes in large numbers were seen in the backyard and in the paddy fields, and nobody dared to catch those fishes and nobody dared to bring them home; and people in the villages were in tremor at that time.

Most of the people of many departments and organizations settled in Dibrugarh after retirements from their respective jobs. Assam Medical College professors and most of the professors of Dibrugarh University, and officials of Oil companies (ONGC, OIL, AOD), Railways, and Inland water transport officials settled in Dibrugarh after their retirements. Keshab Ch. Gogoi, who was the chief minister of Assam was from Dibrugarh; his son Ranjan Gogoi who was the 46th Chief Justice of India was from Dibrugarh ( Keshab Ch. Gogoi’s original village was from my great- grandfather’s village of Sivasagar, Assam).

There were a few book stalls and book publishers in Dibrugarh, and in those book stalls most of the books could be found. Now I could purchase books online on Amazon; when my father had been a student he used to purchase some rare books from those book stalls. When some inquisitive students would tell the cashier of a book stall to bring a particular book, the latter would acquiesce and bring it. Two such books that my father ordered and purchased were the Feynman Lectures on Physics, Volume 1. (Richard P. Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, Matthew Sands, Narosa Publishing House, Ninth Reprint, 1996); and the other book was Concepts of General Chemistry (C R McLellan, Ph.D. Marion C Day, Jr. Ph.D., Roy W Clark, Ph.D.)

Most of the medical students and college students and school students would come to the book stalls to purchase books and school stationary from those book stalls. My writing about Dibrugarh would be incomplete if I would not mention about the Irish philanthropist Sir John Berry White (1834 – 1896); Sir John Berry White was posted to the rank of a surgeon in 1870, then to Surgeon Major in 1876; he was posted to the 44th Native Infantry in 1877 which was earlier the Sylhet Light Infantry ( Hart, G.H., Army list for 1876. Bengal Medical Department, London, 1839-1915. p. 454).

He was the founding director of the Assam Railways and Trading Company (AR&TC), and a member of the London Committee of the Indian Tea Association. In 1858 he came to Assam to work under the East India Company, and after 24 years of service in Assam, Sir John Berry White retired in 15 July, 1882. Sir John Berry White was devoted to Assam, and in his will left a generous legacy of Rupees Fifty Thousand only ( a mammoth amount at that time) for the establishment of a medical school at Dibrugarh ( Cotton, H.K., India- Speeches and Addresses, SK Lahiri &Co, Calcutta, 1903, pp. 55-56). The Berry White Medical School was established in 1900 AD, four years after his death; and it heralded the beginning of Allopathic Medical Education in Assam. This medical school was later on upgraded to Assam Medical College in 1947 through the process of upgradation; and this Assam Medical College of Dibrugarh was the first medical college of northeast India.

Dibrugarh has again become a fastest growing commercial city after many decades, as the earth quake of 1950 completely paused the progress of business of this glorious city. After the earthquake many head offices of different departments had to be shifted to other places. Now Dibrugarh town was again doing the best to restore the past glory with many new establishments and new schools and new colleges and offices and new roadways. When I come to Dibrugarh with my parents; while leaving Dibrugarh, I again give a glance at the long hour hand and the minute hand of the clock tower and feel delirium at seeing it; though I sit in to the front while journeying in a car, I again crane my neck to see the dial of the clock tower and I murmur in my mouth that I shall again look at it in my next visit.

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