Guwahati: Locals Seek to Re-Establish Latasil Field Management Committee
Historic Guwahati seems to be on the verge of losing its glorious heritage. A growing metropolis, the city is being developed as the gateway to not just the northeast of India but to Southeast Asia. But amidst all these developments will Guwahatians be able to preserve the city’s remaining heritage?
Amid a soaring skyline and high property pricing, many of the old personal as well as public properties that had once contributed towards the collective history of this city are now extinct. And whatever little remains scream to be preserved, else its sublime past may soon be lost in time.
Amongst a few such places is the Latasil playground. Left without any managing committee for the past six years, the historic field may soon turn into a shambles, like most other public places of Guwahati, if immediate measures are not taken for its maintenance and necessary restoration.
Citizens of Uzan Bazar and the neighbouring areas who have been former members of the Latasil Field Committee along with a few well-wishers have submitted a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner of Kamrup (M), Biswajit Pegu on 6th January, 2021 seeking immediate intervention in re-establishing a committee for the development and preservation of the playground that is currently without guardianship.
Speaking to G Plus, Jagannath Das, executive member of the former Latasil Playground Development Committee said, “Our older generations and many prominent personalities of Guwahati have contributed greatly for establishing this historic playground for the people. Over the years, many government authorities and even the Gauhati High Court have tried to take over this land for their own usage. But we, the concerned citizens, have fought and prevented the field being taken over from the people.”
“It was set up as a playground, as Guwahati has always had a scarcity of open public places, and also to be used in times of emergency like earthquake. All around, Uzan Bazar is full of high rise buildings. Where is the place to take refuge in times of disaster? This playground is our last resort and it needs to be preserved at all cost,” he added.
Kalyan Das, a resident of Uzan Bazar and a well-wisher said, “My father Late Pulin Das, a pioneer sports organiser and a sportsman himself, set up the earlier committee along with locals of the area with proper involvement of the district administration in order to retain it for the public from being taken over by government agencies and other private parties. He was also the working president. But after his demise in 2014, the committee liquidated and ever since this historic field has been left without any guardian.”
Although the Guwahati Bihu Sanmilani and the Latasil Durga Puja Committee have been organising their respective cultural and religious activities annually, and the playground also hosts a number of cricket tournaments apart from having a regular cricket coaching centre, the lack of authorised guardianship has led to the gradual degradation of the ground.
“Latasil field is a very good ground for playing any sport, especially cricket. Also there is a good pavilion that was constructed by funds provided by then MP, Manmohan Singh. Now the pavilion remains mostly closed. Since there is no authorised official, there is no one to look over the everyday maintenance and usage,” said Kalyan Das.
Earlier, the field used to be rented to hold various sports tournaments and also activities of the government departments. Although, given its cultural heritage, the annual Bohag Bihu and Durga Puja are organised without any rental. The revenue earned was used for its upkeep and necessary preservation works. However, since 2014, there is no proper record of the field’s usage and the revenue earned. Reportedly, a few locals have even rented the field for personal benefit without having to take any permission from any authority. Even cases of secondary rental have been reported.
“The earlier Latasil Playground Development Committee had the DC as its president and the Circle Officer as the Member Secretary. The field is a public property but with a distinct authority. It has been preserved as such till date. Now we have asked for re-establishment of a functioning committee if this playground is to be preserved from few people’s vested interest,” added Das.
The illustrious history of the Latasil Playground:
Till the end of the 19th century, the now Latasil playground was a pond. The place where the Uzan Bazar Municipal Market is now located was then a cliff. In the early 1900s, soil from having levelled the cliff was used to fill up the pond by Manik Chandra Baruah and the playground was formed.
In 1905, five youths of Uzan Bazar area set up a socio-cultural group called the ‘Ekota Sabha’. The neighbouring schools and educational institutions participated in it actively. Initially the group concentrated on exercises and social activities. Later on, they formed a separate wing dedicated solely for sports, with Nabin Chandra Bordoloi as one of the founding members. It was the famous Union Athletic Club. Cricket, football and volleyball started to be played amongst others. A cultural wing was also formed by the ‘Ekota Sabha’.
Due to lack of personalised space the group conducted its activities in one corner of the Judges’ field. But the Gauhati European Club would not permit them to play regularly. Meanwhile Manik Chandra Baruah converted the Latasil pond into a playground and the Union Athletic Club started using that. For a long time the playground was popularly known as Union Field.
The club and the field have immense contribution towards the sports scenario of Guwahati. Almost all prominent cricketers of Gauhati were members of the Union Athletic Club and played on the Latasil playground.
Sadly, with time, the club lost its past fervour and finally became non-existent. However, the field itself continues its legacy of producing some of the finest cricketers of Guwahati.
The field’s contributions towards socio-cultural life of the Assamese:
Apart from sports, Latasil Field was known for its Saraswati Puja celebration. The Union Club Saraswati Puja was unique and revolutionary in its own right. This was the first puja where the Goddess of Knowledge was dressed entirely in Assamese attire - Mekhela Chador and Riha along with traditional Assamese jewellery, rather than the Sari. The credit goes mainly to poet and craftsman Mahendranath Dekaphukan who brought these changes around 1923-24. For many years artist Nip Baruah use to make the Saraswati idol. Apart from the religious activities, the Club also organised dramas and cultural activities in the evening of the puja day.
Even during the years of struggle for independence, this particular puja didn’t lose its fervour. The well-known prayers for Goddess Saraswati, ‘Aaha Binapani’ was first sung here. It was written by poet Raghunath Choudhary. Prior to that, Bengali rituals were followed. Even elaborate immersion rituals were followed with processions like in Durga puja.
In 1931 ‘Ekota Sabha’ organised the first public Rongali Bihu celebration at Latasil. In the three day long event, mass bathing of cows was held at the river bank on the day of ‘Goru Bihu’, followed by boat race, swimming and other traditional sports for children. The evening saw crowds thronging in for the cultural functions.
In 1952 the Latasil Bihu Sanmilani organised the first ‘Mancha Bihu’ in Assam. The Bihu dance that was earlier performed in the fields started to be performed on stage since then. Ever since, to perform at Latasil is considered matter of pride for every Bihu dancer or troupe.
And not just cultural activities and sports, this field has also served as the venue for annual sessions of regional associations like Assam Association, Asom Chatra Sanmilan and also the annual session of Asam Sahitya Sabha in 1924.
National Days’ celebration at Latasil Field:
For a few years, when construction of the Judge’s field was undertaken, the independence and Republic Day celebrations were held at the Latasil field temporarily. However, the government continued to use the location despite completion of work at the Judge’s field.
On January, 2011, Pulin Das and 13 others of the Latasil area, in a writ petition (224/11), prayed to the High Court to protect the ground, saying that it should be reserved only for sports. In January the next year, the Gauhati HC issued an order in the petitioners’ favour and further celebrations of the Republic Day and Independence Day were prohibited at Latasil.
- Latasil Playground
- Latasil Field Management Committee
- Defunct Committee
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