Dr Monprativ Barooah

The AMCH, in its earlier days, had a heritage and glory about it – not only in its edifices but also in its layout. That such an unscientific methodology was employed in restructuring and revamping its design/buildings and structures is quite disheartening.

On an early wintry morning of February 1998, the writer of this piece set foot for the first time in his alma mater, the Assam Medical College & Hospital, located at Borbari, Dibrugarh. Back then, the AMCH with its old colonial style structures, surrounded by a lush green tea garden, with the mighty Brahmaputra flowing by its side, had a charm of its own. A wide expansive boulevard lined by tall gulmohar and mahogany trees, led from the entrance to the main administrative building. A garden with blossoms of roses and dahlias stood right behind those trees which greeted the patients thronging the high-roofed Assam type OPD complex. The tall John Berry White auditorium in itself was an enchanting one, the walls of which proudly flaunted huge life-size portraits of the doyens of medical science and where young students took the first step of getting formally inducted into the course of modern medicine. The basic science complex (where students got the first taste of the curriculum) was a heritage structure in itself, housing the anatomy museum and a huge dissection hall. All the three departments were interconnected by open corridors interspersed with lecture halls and laboratories where eager first-year pupils carried out their biochemistry and physiology experiments. The anatomy museum was one of a kind as well, and in it curious students gazed and gaped at the specimens with rapt attention. The dissection room had its own charm, with the hall being as large as one could imagine, the walls of which carried rows of wide glass windows which opened into the adjacent theatre-like class halls. In the dissection hall, mini batches of first year students huddled around iron tables on top of which lay dead desiccated lifeless bodies –ready to get dissected and teach the novice the tricks of the trade. While some deftly manoeuvred their scalpel over the lifeless body, dissecting muscles and separating nerves from arteries, others kept busy indulging in small candid talks and fumbling whispers. On rainy days a few would just sit and gape through the large windows amidst the strong smell of formaldehyde which emanated from the dead bodies. A separate set of students meanwhile would perform physiology and biochemical experiments elsewhere in the same basic block. During breaks, groups of students would emerge for a gossip, in the verandah while others would slip out to the nearby cafeteria for some samosa and tea. Young students clad in white aprons, hustling through winding corridors with books tucked under their arms made for an interesting sight to the naive passer-by. Adjacent to the pathology department was the post mortem room from where one could easily slip into the massive Old Boys Hostels – all four of them – a square Assam type structure lined by long corridors and supported by wooden beams on the outside. Many of the wards and units where patients got hospitalized and treated were interconnected and few of the units had small, almost hidden semi -dark rooms which served as the chambers and clinics for the faculty. Intriguing in its layout and charm, the AMCH back then was neat and devoid of litter or garbage. The New Boys Hostel and ladies hostel 7 lay adjacent to each other, in front of which there was a garden of gooseberry and a few gulmohar trees. The garden was a bird’s paradise where a host of feathered friends used to flock and frolic together. The whole campus offered a unique undulating charm, with the professors’ quarters built out of mud, concrete and flaunting a lawn each, adding to its natural beauty.

All these, till the inevitable happened. Sometime around 2010-2012 ‘a few’ thought that the oldest medical college and hospital laden with a rich coat of history needed a brushstroke and an urgent refurbishment. Plans were drawn and contracts awarded to give the AMCH a face-lift. In a whiff and with much ‘precision’, the basic science building was brought down, the vintage anatomy museum demolished, and the theatre-like lecture halls as well as the half-a-century-old dissection hall levelled. In its place came up the utmost mundane block of concrete which now functions as the basic science building. The garden in front of the New Boys Hostel was cleared too and a dab-looking block of concrete erected in the cleared space, blocking much of its archaic view. The feathered friends must have deserted the place for good – for a block of concrete in place of lush green foliage has little to offer for them.

If one takes a tour inside the AMCH now, one would find it as a place with haphazard constructions – a block here, a building there – all unplanned and chaotic. Just near the busiest intersection of the college, by the side of the present cafeteria and the paediatrics department lay a concrete dustbin which holds the entire garbage of the previous day. Just imagine, a dustbin at the busiest of intersections of the oldest medical college in Assam, to greet and welcome you! The drains leading to the Old Boys Hostels are clogged and uncovered while ramshackle tea stalls and roadside vendors dangling packets of potato chips and pan masala greet you as you proceed to the Officers’ Mess. Even the age-old professors’ quarters are now being slowly demolished, whereas with a little effort they could have been preserved and converted to vintage guest houses. The AMCH, once a beautiful and orderly campus, happens to be nothing more than an eyesore now. No doubt, some ‘artists’ have meddled with a vintage old painting and in an attempt to modernize it, spoiled it completely. Except the forlorn OPD complex, nothing of the old and yesteryears remains now.

Assam has a dearth of vintage structures and establishments. Except a few heritage structures in and around Guwahati, a couple of bungalows in remote tea gardens and one or two government establishments, there is not much to boast of. The AMCH, in its earlier days, had a heritage and glory about it – not only in its edifices but also in its layout. That such an unscientific methodology was employed in restructuring and revamping its design/buildings and structures is quite disheartening. The AMCH is surrounded by a vast tea garden and as such space was never a problem. Construction could have been carried out in the rim or the periphery of the existing college and attempts to conserve the heritage structures should have been made. But, sadly, it was never done and all is over now. The damage cannot be undone.

The AMCH’s loss is the loss for the people of Assam. Through this write-up, the writer wishes to make an appeal that all heritage buildings/structures ought to be preserved – be it a small Assam type house or a plush ‘Chang Bungalow’ in a forlorn tea garden. The vigilant eye is perhaps witnessing the reality of small Assam type houses with big lawns being taken over by builders and construction companies to erect multi-storeyed complexes. This happens to be a stark as well as sad reality. It is time to save and safeguard whatever we are left with. Otherwise our children will have nothing to savour, nothing to identify with rich heritage and history.