Assam Tribune: A glorious journey of 75 years

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The Assam Tribune, the premier and oldest English daily of the north-eastern India, saw the light of the day in its weekly format on the fourth of August 1939. It was indeed an act of rare courage bordering on a daredevil act on the part of Radha Govinda Baruah to embark upon the publication of English weekly from far way Dibrugarh when Assam’s literacy was not even 10 % and when the number of persons capable of reading an English newspaper was not even one per cent. RG Baruah, a highly accomplished and farsighted man, made a faultless decision in selecting LN Phookan, who later became the doyen in the domain of Assam’s journalism, as its first Editor.

Weekly Assam Tribune did not take long to receive wide appreciation and got a respectable circulation with the paper being subscribed by tea garden managers, Army officers and the high schools besides, lawyers and politicians. Radha Govinda Baruah, who was lovingly called RG drove his car engaging himself in the primary task of promoting circulation and collecting advertisements from various private and government agencies enabling the infant weekly to overcome its teething troubles. RG, who dreamt of converting the weekly into a daily shifted its publication to Guwahati in September, 1946.

While as a High School student I was an irregular reader of the weekly Assam Tribune, it became an indispensable part of my daily life since my early college days. The Assam Tribune virtually became a platform for all the distinguished personalities of the State dominating the fields of law, education, literature and politics. Prof PC Roy, a renowned professor of Cotton College, Justice SK Dutta, Justice Haliram Deka, Dr Birinchi Kumar Barua, Hem Barua, Kedar Nath Goswami, Dr Banikanta Kakati, Gauri Sankar Bhattacahryya, Dr SK Bhuyan, EP Gee, Prof GG Swell, Sri Prakash (Governor), Jairamdas Doulatram and a galaxy of eminent personalities used to contribute regularly to the newspaper enlightening its fast growing readership. While completing my MA in 1955, I joined The Assam Tribune as a Sub-Editor. Phookan was still holding his forte while SC Kakati, who later became the Editor was the Deputy Editor. There was Indu Bhusan Chakraborty, a nice jolly man, who used to contribute one editorial every day and left the press after 10 pm after seeing the final proof of his editorial. There was a galaxy of established and budding journalists led by Rabindra Nath Barua (later he became the Editor) including Chandra Prasad Saikia, PB Borthakur, Tripurendra Dasgupta, Pradip Dasgupta, Debananda Goswami, Rabindra Dhar Barua, Madhu Suden Goswami, Surendra Nath Saikia, Pulin Das, Rudramoni Bora. Naresh Rajkhowa was the paper’s Shillong representative and was the most domineering personality in the entire group. RN Barua was a gem of gentleman while SC Kakati was a loving elder brother. I was entrusted with the task of filling up the pages 2 and 3 devoted entirely to Assam news. These pages – unlike what they are today – had advertisement covering only two or three columns. Sometimes there might be only one column advertisement which resulted in much perspiration as one had to rewrite 70% of the news items from local correspondents besides translating from Assamese materials supplied by Editor Phookan. These were times when Phookan would send his personal letters received from tea gardens and villages which, of course, contained some interesting stories of tiger menace in tea gardens and murder of a paramour by the husband. It was a horrible to be in the night shift when in summer days the teleprinter was down for days and despatches from Shillong and Delhi office were either extremely meagre or even nil while in the day shift I enjoyed very much getting a heavier envelope from correspondents like Golap Borbora from Tinsukia (later Chief Minister of Assam), educationist Pabanath Sarma of Nazira, P Dasupta of Mangaldoi, S Ahmed from Jorhat, Nabin Barodoloi of Dibrugarh and JC Sarma of Nagaon. I served in The Assam Tribune for about two years and left in October 1957 when I was selected by the APSC for the post of the District Information Officer at Dibrugarh. As a DIPRO, I took full advantage of my two-year association with The Assam Tribune and got over 2000 news items from my Dibrugarh office published in the daily during my eight-year service as a publicity officer.

Looking back, I remember reading those illuminating and thought provoking letters in The Assam Tribune from Kedar Nath Goswami of Khowang, the great war of words between Hem Barua and Bhabananda Dutta, interesting letters from Ratneswar Barua of Chenikuthi, Hara Nath Barua, Bipin Pal Das, Prof Ajit Kumar Sarma, Prof Sada Chaliha, Bipin Kumar Buragohain, Nitya Bhattacharyya, Purna Narayan Sinha, among others.

A unique feature of The Assam Tribune during its entire journey of 75 years is its abhorrence towards sensationalism and its steadfast attachment to publication of truth in its proper perspective without any extension, colour or motive. From a humble beginning The Assam Tribune over the years has grown into what may be called a gigantic organisation.

But the basic principles, on the basis of which the great RG had planted this sapling seven and-a-half decades ago still continue to guide, inspire and direct the present management in fulfilling in absolute measure the goal of national advancement and public welfare. The Assam Tribune has earned the distinction of accepting the recommendation of the Journalists’ Wage Board much before most of the major dailies of the country. I have had the rare privilege of serving The Assam Tribune Group of Newspapers both as a Sub-Editor and as the Editor of the Dainik Asam, its sister publication. On this happy occasion I pay my respectful homage to the hallowed memory of the great RG, LN Phookan, SC Kakati, Rabin Barua and my esteemed colleagues in the desk. I also lovingly remember Kunjamohan Thapa, Nirod Chandra Choudhury, Chitrabhiram Barua, Nagen Choudhury, Mr Brown, proof reader Dasgupta and a host of people in the printing section like Banerjee, N Chagkakati and workers like Kapila.

- DN Chakravartty

 

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