Notebook Comment

At Duryodhana’s pond

All kinds of people converge on Guwahati’s protest venue

Dighalipukhuri is to Guwahati what Jantar Mantar is to New Delhi — a place to launch an agitation from. Historically, or rather mythically, it is older than the Delhi landmark. But unlike Jantar Mantar, Dighalipukhuri is where Assam’s past, present and future meet.

At least 30 pukhuris (meaning pond or tank) in Guwahati vanished with time and sprouted concrete structures or playfields. The ones that remain includes Jorpukhuri (twin tanks), home to an army of swans that inspired Assamese litterateur Atul Chandra Hazarika to weave a popular poem around the tale of the duck that lays golden eggs. To the west of Jorpukhuri, separated by a block of hostels, residential and office buildings on either side of a Muslim graveyard, is the rectangular Dighalipukhuri that means ‘elongated pond’.

Dighalipukhuri also has a Mahabharata connection. Belief has it that the canal, originally half a mile long, was dug from Brahmaputra, flowing past less than a kilometre to the north, by ancient local king Bhagadatta for his son-in-law and Kaurava prince Duryodhana to swim in. Some accounts say the canal was used as an inland port for warships during the reign of the medieval Ahom kings.

The British had the northern end of the canal filled up for the present-day Circuit House and Gauhati High Court to be built. Right opposite the court is the Assam State Museum. This has ensured that Dighalipukhuri – the city’s green lungs – would always be nestled between history and the law. Traffic on the segment of GNB Road adjoining the pond is one-way because half the road is for protesters despite the court disallowing dharnas at the site in 2017.

Much before Guwahati had proper swimming pools, Dighalipukhuri was the training tank for a few city swimmers who made a mark at the national level. Poor water quality ended the pond’s swimming pool status, but it continues to be a convergence spot for romantic souls, children, and morning walkers, and of course the protesters who ensure reporters a story, particularly on rainy days. One of those protests was against a war memorial that the Assam Sainik Welfare Board built on the tank’s northern end. The court intervened, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 9:32:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/at-duryodhanas-pond/article24505360.ece

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