It was shocking and heart-breaking news. Within four days, we have lost two college friends, both with ailments and gone too soon. Their untimely demise was mourned in the whatsapp group created for the 1985 – 90 batch of Assam Engineering College (AEC, Jalukbari, under Gauhati University). First it was Sandeep Goel, who breathed his last on 1 February 2023. I was his classmate in AEC with the same branch (Mechanical Engineering) and used to attend the classes where many acclaimed professors including our principal sir (AK Padmapati) guided us to solve mechanical problems from the textbooks. Sandeep was sober and intelligent. Unlike me, he spoke when only it was necessary. He was otherwise a serious student who later developed himself as a successful professional and eventually an adorable family man.
The second depressing news hit us with the demise of Gunagovinda Buragohain on 4 February. Guna was a student of Chemical Engineering and a boarder of Hostel 7, where we faced the usual trouble days together in the initial college days. A jolly man, Guna was so simple, well behaved and friendly in nature. We experienced all the fond moments while rushing to the college in the morning hours, going to take an evening tea in nearby Sundarbari market and occasionally visiting the growing city of Guwahati with different missions. Very often we failed in our adventures, but Guna was very optimistic. I tried to support him in many cases with all my energy, space and commitments.
Soon after leaving the college, I opted to work in a newspaper (all my gratitude to AEC professor Surendra Nath Medhi and Natun Dainik’s editor Chandra Prasad Saikia). I was often called on by classmate Pradip Medhi, who was looking for a job at that time. He was critical to me for selecting a job with no financial security and he himself imagined a fine future as an engineer. But a heart attack cut short his dream journey, which I came to know very late. Studious Aecian friends like Prabal Choudhury (a hardliner debater), Uttam Kumar Roy (fantastic actor and a creative theatre director), Manju Borah (a simple lady), Swapan Kr Das (gentleman in real sense), Bipul Sarma (humble and friendly in nature), Kamal Krishna Gupta (stout and stable), Monilal Brahma (a sweet person), Parag J Baruah (sober personality with a poetic mind), Ranjit Kr Saraha (smilling lad with a guiter) lost their hard battles in life. Pranabjyoti Bordoloi, an energetic leader of our batch, died in a fatal road accident in college days.
During my high school days at Makhibaha, we encountered the untimely demise of classmate Shiva Prasad Thakuria with visibly thick & black hairs, who was suffering from serious illness for some time. He was followed by a number of classmates from our locality in later part of life, who left for the heavenly abode too young. Srimati Barman (married an early age to a distant village), Gopal Seal (who worked for national armed forces), Bhupen Bhattacharya (an agri-engineer), Phatik Thakuria (another engineer), Mahesh Sarma (a popular footballer), Ranjit Pathak (a strongman among us) and Dilip Deka (who was our first boy in class and went missing nearly two decades back during the troubled days in western Assam) joined the list of departed souls.
I remember the day, when we received horrible news of losing a friend during my school days at Bhojkuchi, a typically isolated village of Nalbari district in central Assam. One of our soft-spoken childhood friends, who had an excellent handwriting, was suffering from some ailments. Just before the seventh standard examination (at that time, it was the last exam in our school), Prahlad Barman died in a Guwahati hospital. Some of our friends were playing at the school playground when a white ambassador car arrived. We followed the vehicle without knowing that our beloved classmate Prahlad was lying inside it.
For the last time we saw him, sleeping peacefully at the courtyard amidst heartbroken cries out in sorrow by his aged mother and other relatives in grief. Next day we had a condolence meeting at our school. Everyone wept while remembering him as a bright student with an amiable nature. Until then no photograph of Prahlad was available with his family. Later a close-up snap was arranged from a group photograph, where we all were present on the school campus, and was taken by Tihu-based award-winning photographer Mahendra Barua just before Prahlad went for treatment in the city. Even today, whenever I visit my village, I can hear his soft and crispy voice while feeling his warm presence.