At critical periods of history some people are born, who, in the midst of adverse circumstances, rescue the society from decay and degeneration, either through art and culture or through literary creations. They give the right direction to the society and awaken the people. History is eloquent about a band of such people who saved the Assamese language and identity from extinction. A well-known person, originally hailing from North Guwahati, Lakhyadhar Choudhury too played his role creditably in society.
Lakhyadhar Choudhury was not only an actor of repute, but also a humanist, a prose-writer, a film director, a minister, a state legislator, a dedicated teacher, a freedom fighter, president of the Asam Sahitya Sabha and the Asom Natya Sanmelan — all rolled into one. He was adept at depicting the life of the common people in his literary creations and plays. He said a man’s life should be measured with smiles and laughter and he translated this belief in his own life. As he spoke, he kept the audience spell-bound with the brilliance of his wit and humour.
It was because of all these qualities that Lakhyadhar Choudhury, born at Rang Mahal (which literally means a palace of colours) in North Guwahati, was a man of colourful personality. Being born in 1914 on the Diwali night amidst lights and festivity — though the horrors of the first World War loomed large everywhere — Lakhyadhar Choudhury was, as it were, able to spread illuminating thoughts and ideals everywhere. As if a bright star was born to the father, Bhudhar Choudhury and mother, Uma Choudhury.
Completing his primary education at Rang Mahal, Lakhyadhar was admitted to Cotton Collegiate High School in 1925. He passed his BSc examination from Cotton College, Guwahati in 1933. During his student life Lakhyadhar lodged with his uncle Sasha Choudhury of Uzan Bazar, Guwahati who was a peskar in the DC Court.
He started his career as a teacher of the North Guwahati Auniati Kamaldev High School in 1939 but quit his job in 1942 to join the freedom movement launched under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi that encompassed the length and breadth of India. Its influence was widespread in Assam also. He plunged into the Quit India movement, working as a volunteer and linkman between the leaders, carrying their secret messages from village to village. He also went underground to avoid arrest by the police. During the movement, he came into contact with leaders like Loknayak Jai Prakash Narayan, Aruna Asaf Ali, Achyut Patwardhan, Ram Manohar Lohia, etc and was attracted to the socialism preached by these leaders.
After India’s independence, there was widespread ideological conflict between the Congress Party and the socialists. Choudhury was attracted to the ideals of socialism and engaged himself in political activities through the Socialist Party. He contested the first elections of free India in 1952 as a Socialist Party candidate, but was defeated by the Congress candidate, Rohini Kumar Choudhury. In the 1957 elections to the Assam Legislative Assembly also, he contested from Kamalpur constituency without success. However, he won the Guwahati Municipal Corporation election in 1964-65. In 1967, he was elected as a member of the Assam Legislative Assembly. Others who won in the same election were Dr Bhupen Hazarika and Bishnu Prasad Rabha. These three cult figures of Assamese culture together played a distinctive role in the Assembly and created a new cultural atmosphere in the State. Always steadfast in his political beliefs, unmindful of defeat or victory in the elections, Choudhury again won in the 1972 election. After this election there was great commotion and a mass movement in the country. The then Prime Minister Late Indira Gandhi declared Emergency in the country. Opposition to the imposition of Emergency gave rise to widespread agitation in the country. The people of India awoke under the leadership of Jai Prakash Narayan. A new party, styled as the Janata Party, came into existence. All the opposition parties offered their cooperation to the Janata Party. In the 1978 Assam Legislative Assembly elections, the Janata Party government was formed in Assam under the leadership of Golap Borbora. Elected to the Assembly from the Jalukbari constituency, Lakhyadhar Choudhury was included in the ministry as the Minister of Cultural Affairs and Education. Despite being a responsible minister, Choudhury did not give up acting, and he came to be known as the actor-minister.
Lakhyadhar Choudhury proved his ability as the Mayor of the Guwahati Municipal Corporation in 1975. He was the second Mayor of the Corporation after Radha Govinda Baruah, the first Mayor.
A man with a unique personality, Choudhury always insisted on devotion and truthfulness in all works. He hated the politics of changing parties by a group of politicians – he believed that only people with steadfastness achieve success. Choudhury said metaphorically – A passenger who waits at the bus-stop gets in even if the bus arrives late, but a passenger who often goes from one bus stop to the other fails. Inspired by the freedom movement, Choudhury was known to the people as an idealist politician.
He joined the movement as a volunteer. He often said “In the first place I am a teacher, then a volunteer of the freedom movement”. While on errands during the days of movement, he married Usha at Dibrugarh in 1949. Usha served as a teacher in the Panbazar Girl’s High School, Guwahati. She was inspired by the revolutionary ideals of her husband. All the four sons and the daughter of the Choudhury couple are highly educated. A happy family, Choudhury settled down at Ambari in Guwahati city.
Since his student days, Choudhury earned fame as an actor. Later, he became a famous politician and educationist. But his real fame was as a play – wright and a writer of prose. While studying in school he came into contact with dramatist Kamakhyanath Thakur and litterateur Jaltiram Lahkar.
Choudhury’s literary genius was evident through his stories and dramas. As a student of class-IX he wrote a play titled Ekalavya. His other plays are – Raksha Kumar, Ali Baba, Omala Ghar, Nimila Anka etc. He also wrote a handful of poems. But his fame as a litterateur rests on his prose writings. His aesthetic sense and style have given an unique dimension to his stories. His stories are based on the real life of the common people, which is full of tragi-comic events. His stories created a new school of writing in Assamese literature. An ordinary man – Chandikai, moved Choudhury so deeply that his stories depicting the life of Chandikai attracted the minds and hearts of the readers. His stories were serially published in the monthly journal Prakash by its editor Chandra Prasad Saikia. Chandikai was Choudhury’s first story. Readers were thrilled to read the real-life stories of the people written by Choudhury and they praised him profusely.
Choudhury did not rest on his laurels. He wrote from the experiences he got in course of his acting life. Manuh Bichari and Moinamoti are two of his collections of stories concerning the experiences he gained in the course of his life as a political activist and a stage-person. Choudhury’s dramas are full of literary value. His Raksha Kumar, a drama based on mythology, was written in blank verse. In his play Thikana, he stressed the need of traditional values which have universal significance.
It was quite befitting of the Asom Natya Sanmelan and the Asom Sahitya Sabha to select a man of genius like Choudhury to preside over their sessions at Nalbari and Goreswar respectively. He also held eminent positions in several associations such as the Kamrup Natya Samitee. He was president of the Praja Socialist Party, President of the Radha Govinda Smriti Raksha Committee, Latasil Primary school and many others.
Always clad in dhoti and punjabi made of khadi cloth, Choudhury had many noble qualities and his memory will linger on in Assamese society forever.
A man of culture, Lakhyadhar Choudhury was not only a dramatist and a story-teller but also a reputed actor. His histrionic talent was expressed on stage, film, radio and television plays. From the temporary make-shift stage of Rang Mahal to the Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir, he traversed a long way. Choudhury, besides being a stage-actor, was also a cine star, appearing in films like Nimila Anka, Badan Barpukhan etc. He was also a script writer.
Lakhyadhar had no institutional training in acting. In his student days he very often visited Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir to witness dramas. At that period, the Kamrup Natya Samiti regularly staged dramas in this theatre hall. As a student, he often visited the theatre and witnessed rehearsals of the dramas also.
The reputation he earned from his high school days as an actor remained till the last days of his life. The Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir was like a temple for Lakhyadhar Choudhury. As the president of the Kamrup Natya Samaj, he took a leading part in renovating the old theatre hall building. On the occasion of the inauguration of the new building of the theatre hall, Choudhury’s drama Thikana was staged for two nights, where he played the leading role. That was on May 12 and 13, 2000. At that time, Choudhury’s age was 85 years. The theatre hall was full to its capacity with spectators who went to witness Choudhury acting at the age of 85 years.
Soon afterwards, Choudhury fell ill and breathed his last on August 18, 2000. ‘Measure life with smiles and laughter’ – inspired by this motto, Lakhyadhar Choudhury led a full life. A devoted artiste, an icon of Assamese culture, a politician, an educationist-reformer, a humorist, Lakhyadhar Choudhury was loved and respected by the people at large.