Ardhendu Chaudhuri – As I Saw Him  

By Uma Purkayastha

September 22, 2004, Wednesday was a black day in the history of Shillong. On that day many valuable lives were snatched away from their near and dear ones as the Pawan Hans helicopter of the Meghalaya Transport Corporation crashed at 1:25 pm in the Kyrdem Kulai area of Ri-Bhoi district, about 40 kms from here. The helicopter was returning to Shillong from Tura in West Garo Hills district via Guwahati, All ten persons, including a Meghalaya cabinet minister, two legislators and a former deputy speaker, were killed when the chopper crashed minutes before landing in Shillong, due to inclement weather. When the mortifying news reached Shillong, it sent shock waves followed by a mournful evening! The homes of the victims plunged into sudden darkness and grief, even as they tried to come to terms with the incident. A ghostly eerie look covered the city of Shillong. Everywhere there were deep sighs and sobbing and gloom. It was the most unexpected shock; a major trauma!

            Ardhendu Chaudhuri, one of the vicitims of the day, was very closely connected to the people of Shillong. When he passed away he was the sitting MLA of 22 Mawprem Constituency. I, being a resident of Bishnupur area, was also a voter of that constituency. We suffered for years  from water scarcity, and absence of street lighting etc. Often we would approach the local MLA with our problems. One morning some of my neighbours proposed that we should go to Mr Chaudhuri with the complaint of water scarcity. To confirm his presence at his residence, I rang him and said that we were going to meet him. Then and there he replied, ‘You need not come, I am reaching you just now’.

To our utter surprise, within ten minutes, he reached the spot on a two wheeler, listened to our problems, talked over phone to some persons, and assured us of getting water at the earliest. He was offered a cup of tea, but with a smile he refused to take tea till the water problem had been resolved. Within an hour we got water in our locality. While taking leave he said, ‘I am your elected MLA; you have every right to call me whenever you need me. I am always at your service. I should run after you, not you after me’. That was (L) Ardhendu Chaudhuri! A very simple man but with an extra-ordinary capacity!

Ardhendu Chaudhuri was a smart, vocal and innovative MLA who used to raise points in the Assembly for all round development of the state. He had a magnetic personality to unite people of the multi-lingual, multi-racial society of Shillong, and mingle in the same platform, through socio cultural activities. He started the Food Carnival in Rilbong and invited people of all communities to share their cuisine at the Food Carnival so that people get to taste one another’s food. This event was a grand success and was much looked forward to. It was a get together for the people of Shillong ! Such occasions are rare in Shillong where people of all communities come together in a single platform. They enjoyed the Carnival and the idea of meeting and touching base with one another.

Those who knew Ardhendu personally including the intelligentsia of Meghalaya say that he would consult them before every Assembly session and pick their brains on what questions they considered were of prime importance to the state and needed to be raised in the Assembly. He was not just a constituency MLA but a state leader whose vision went far beyond Mawprem. He understood the true meaning of what it is to be a peoples’ representative. It was he who moved the motion in the Assembly for recognition of the Khasi language in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.

Ardhendu was perhaps the first MLA to voluntarily give an account of how the MLA scheme was used down to the last rupee. He published this in a booklet and distributed it to all the constituents. Such transparency is hardly seen in Meghalaya.

Unfortunately, his tenure as MLA was very short; it lasted only one year and a few months. Cruel destiny snatched him away very suddenly, leaving his works half-done! He had a very big heart for the poor and distressed. He was a living example of the adage ‘Man lives in deed not in age’. The fatal end came on September 22, 2004, but he has left behind a legacy which is unforgettable.

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