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Lounge Heroes | Gautam Bardoloi: The 'Roadman of Assam' forges a new path

An entrepreneur from Dibrugarh, Bardoloi is self-funding an effort to repair and renovate roads, a school—and now, historical buildings—in the tea town

Entrepreneur Gautam Bardoloi, 48.
Entrepreneur Gautam Bardoloi, 48.

Every year, Dibrugarh, located on the banks of the Brahmaputra, is subject to the river’s fury as floods leave its roads in a state of complete disrepair. The administration finds it hard to cope. So, for the past seven years, Gautam Bardoloi has been taking it upon himself to renovate some of the streets in this important tea town in upper Assam.

He started off with Heramba Bordoloi Path, a street named after his father—a teacher, social worker and journalist. Since then, he has helped reconstruct several streets in the neighbourhood of Boiragimoth—one of the oldest residential areas—such as Zubeen Garg Path, Bhupen Hazarika Avenue and Lakhi Gogoi Path.

Bardoloi hopes to make the town’s roads resilient to this annual disaster. Streets and roads have been elevated, proper drainage systems have been put in place, and maintenance is done regularly.

“The Heramba Bordoloi Path was almost 2ft lower than what it is now, ridden with potholes and drains overflowing with garbage. During rains, one had to wade through the dirty water or drop bricks to move forward," says Bardoloi, a 48-year-old entrepreneur. He had always wanted to reconstruct the road as a tribute to his father. “My parents used to be teachers, with meagre income. Even then, my father would bring soil or some material to repair this Path off and on. When he passed away in 2008, I wanted to take this up," he says.

He couldn’t do so immediately since his work in the refractory industries involved travel, from Jamshedpur to China. In 2012, he set up his own business in China, shuttling between cities like Hong Kong and his home, Dibrugarh. “Whenever I would come back from China, which has great infrastructure, I would wonder why streets in my home town can’t be fashioned that way. Over time, as my business grew and my earnings became better, I had the financial freedom to finally devote resources to my pet project," he says.

He tried his best to get the authorities to construct the road. To no avail. So he decided to seize the initiative. “Some people tried to discourage me, others thought I would ask them for money. But I tapped into my own resources and kick-started the project by elevating the road," says Bardoloi. He followed this up by creating a proper drainage system and landscaping gardens. He also installed solar streetlights, CCTV cameras, PVC speed breakers and road reflectors.

In 2018, after spending more than 13 lakh, he requested the district commissioner (DC) to inaugurate the street. “She was surprised as usually people call in with complaints or request for funds, but here was someone who was calling for no other service but to inaugurate a road," he laughs. Gradually, people who happened to be visiting Dibrugarh, from cities such as Bengaluru , Kolkata and Dehradun, began wondering if this “world-class street" could be replicated in their states. According to Bardoloi, one such person, horticulturist and social worker Jagadish K.N. from Bengaluru, rated the Heramba Bordoloi Path a model street, combining aesthetic beauty, cleanliness and sanitation.

Bardoloi, of course, had no intention of stopping at one street. He appointed three people to take charge of the upkeep of streets in the neighbourhood. He then trained his focus on the pathway adjacent to the Heramba Bordoloi Path, which had become an adda for drug addicts and a dumping ground for carcasses. “The street had no name. Within that was a house which once belonged to Dr Keshav Saikia. His son had moved to Mumbai and had started his own recording studio," says Bardoloi. When he used to live there, the house was frequented by the well-known singer Zubeen Garg. Bardoloi came up with the idea of naming the street after the artist, with permission from the DC. “I felt that the youth, who are great fans of Garg, would be inspired to get involved in social work," he says.

Some families and youngsters did come forward to contribute. “A part of the street had been made by the government. I took up the renovation and construction of the rest, which was completed by 2019," he says.

So far, he has worked on seven streets and the Kadarnani Prathamik Vidyalaya, working to plaster classrooms and construct toilets, a boundary wall and a gate at the institution where he started his education. He is now working on the renovation and beautification of historical buildings such as Sahitya Rathi Bezbaruah Bhavan and Dibrugarh Sangeet Vidyalaya. Though he keeps the DC’s office in the loop, it remains a self-funded project, with occasional contributions from some residents.

Renuka Borbora, a 73-year-old resident of Zubeen Garg Path, is amazed at the transformation wrought by Bardoloi. “He is spending his hard-earned savings in social work. I am amazed that the once disorderly street is now so pristine and well-maintained," she says.

Since the beginning of the year, Bardoloi has been working on the beautification of Madhurjya Gohain Path. A local educational institution, Salt Brook Academy, was keen to join the effort and start a wall painting competition to get local artists to create murals on every wall on the street. Today, each wall there features vibrant paintings with messages about sanitation, cleanliness and recycling.

The locals have begun to refer to him as the roadman of Assam.

“I am seeing a change in people in the neighbourhood. They now have a sense of pride in the renovated and reconstructed streets. They don’t litter any more. I want to continue my work and make Dibrugarh the most beautiful urban area in Assam," says Bardoloi.

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