The Earle Holiday Home and Ashley Hall

By Uma Purkayastha

Some people of modern generation Shillong, cherish the idea that the Earle Holiday Home and erstwhile‘Ashley Hall’, where Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was lodged during 1938, is in the same complex of the Earle Holiday Home; but it is not correct. Both the houses are in two different complexes as will be explored with proper reference.

          The Earle Holiday Home Shillong was founded by Late Bhola Nath Borooah in 1920,with a view to shelter the visitors in Shillong, particulary ailing persons who wouldvisit Shillong to regain their strength and mend their health.

          A native of Assam, Bhola Nath Borooah was a very reputed merchant, who was called ‘Bhola Sawdagar’, by the people of Assam. The man had an all India business of foreign salt supply during British India. He was a generous man of keen farsightness. While in Shillong, he could feel the genuine problem of those visiting Shillong especially for their recuperation.

          In the 1920s, there wereno big hotels or guest houses in Shillong as today. In fact, the only name of ‘Snow View’ hotel in Police Bazar area is found in  some old historical findings of Shillong. So with a view to accommodate visitors, B.N.Borooah purchased a big plot of land measuring 6.72 acres in 1920, and constructed two Bungalows thereon, one of which was named as ‘Borooah Cottage’ and the other as ‘B.Borooah Hall’. Subsequently, two more Bungalows were also constructed on the same plot of land – one of which was named after Rani Avoishree, who had also made significant contributions towards the construction of the subsequenttwo Bungalows; while the otherwas named ‘Dalia Cottage’.

         As the years passed by, B. Borooah Hall and the other adjacent bunglows were ultimately converted intoa guest house or Holiday Home with a new name of ‘The Earle India Sanatorium’ after Mr. ArchdaleEarle,the thenChief Commissioner of Assamprovince.

          Later, on December 28, 1953 the EarleIndia Sanatorium was re-named as Earle Holiday Home by the newly formed Trustee under the Government of Assam. Since then, the name Earle Holiday Homeis being carried on as visible in the photograph; along with a bust statue of the founder (L) B.N.Borooah infront of the Hall. (Ref. Shri K.K. Borooah vs The State of Meghalaya and Ors 18th March 2011, Gauhati High Court) Collected from Google.

          As far as‘Ashley Hall’ is concerned, the place that grew famous as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was lodged during his second visit to Shillong in September1938 was locatedin opposite direction of Earle Holiday Home.

          The original ‘Ashley Hall’ was a Assam type Bungalow with a number of rooms and a big portico (veranda) in the front, as well as an entrance gate with two pillars on both sides, one of which had ‘Ashley Hall’inscribed on it.

It was surmised by the then senior citizen (L) Hironmoy Dhar of Jail Road, Shillong that the house was originally builtby some British Officer bearing the name Ashley; after whom the entirearea was proverbially known as ‘Ashley Hill’.Interestingly, (L) Hironmoy Dhar has used references of the house as ‘Ashley Hill’ in his published book, ‘Kichu Smriti Kichu Kotha’(Pg. 63) where he mentions that during Netaji’s second visit to Shillong dated on 18th September 1938, he was a student in the Jail Road Boys’ High School and had volunteered to partake in the reception committeefor the All India Congress President,Subhas Chandra Bose. It was during this momentousvisit that he was lodged at ‘Ashley Hill’ and stayed there for a number of days. Young Dhar, further indicates that he cherished a sweet memory of Netaji who was photographed with them(the volunteers) in the front Verandah of the Ashley Hall, which he preserved with utmost care and I was graced to have acopy of the photograph, which is presented here. Through these documents and findings, it stands confirmed that Subhas Chandra Bose was lodged in the Assam type Bungalow, ‘AshelyHouse’ where (L) Hironmoy Dhar, himself and many others of that period were present.

         In the politically tumultuous years of the 1930s, and specifically 1938 was a very critical time for Assam. At this time, many important meetings were held in that house with the Congress leaders of Assam under the leadership and guidance of Subhas Chandra Bose. He had spent many sleepless nights counselling the leaders on the eve of formation of Coalition Congress Ministry in Assam; which was an eventual success.Subhas Chandra stayed in the Ashley House and had attended many public gatherings to inspiring the youth to fight for the country’s Independence, unitedly.

          Asenior citizen (L) Pratima Purkayastha of Thana Road, Shillong popularly known as ‘Henadi’ shared with the author (1986) that she was a teenager during 1938, and would often peek intoAshley Hall with her friends, to steal one glance of the great patriot, Subhas Chandra Bose. Her small adventures had finally led up to meeting and even exchanging a few words with the great National leader.

          Another neno-generian Jagadish Sen Gupta (99+ years old) a retired officer from Survey of India, at present staying in Kolkata, was a student of the tenth standard of the Mawkhar Govt. Boys’ High School, had joined the procession to welcome Subhas Chandra Bose from Mawlai point to Ashley Hall. He vividly recollects the direction of Ashley Hall till date (Interviewed on 4th April 2021, his 99th Birthday).

          In the recent past, Padmashree Manas Chaudhurialso said that he himself went to ‘Ashley Hall’ while it was an Assam type Bunglow, situated on the opposite direction of the Earle Holiday Home.

          Reputed merchant of Shillong (L) J.N. Bawri, was also a volunteer in that reception committee of 1938. He was 18 years old and could recall sweet memoriesof Ashley Hall, and had the honour of to have driven his own private vehicle escorting Netaji,on a tour of Shillong city. Fortunately, Bawri was my neighbour in Oxford Road and I could meet him to hear the story of Netaji.

          In course of time,with Ashley Hall was disposed off, and was laterused for renting to the public. In the last significant event, Ashley Hall was rented out to All India Radio Station Shillong in the later years of 1970s(approx).The then owner of the Ashley Hall was M.P. Borooah and Brothers from Assam (MadhuryaPrasad Borooah) from whom the house was purchased by the owners of the Uncle’s Shop Police Bazar during 1989, and ultimately the old construction of the historical Ashley Hall, bearing memory of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was demolished!Today it is a big multistoried building.

          The spelling of ‘Ashley Hall’is collected from Shri Dibakar Sen,Retd. Station Director All India Radio Shillong. Today, Ashley Hall remains a memory bearing many eye witnesses, who are still alive in Shillong who can vividly remember the old Bunglow ‘Ashley Hall’.


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