PRINCIPALSí ADDRESS

May 27, 1901. The dak bungalow in Guwahati, situated on the southern side of the Church Field facing the Brahmaputra was teeming with European planters. At about 11am a horse-draw carriage arrived at the portico from which a tall European gentleman alighted. In the register of the bungalow he entered his name as Frederick William Sudmerson, Barielly College.

The planters in the lobby welcomed him when Sudmerson told them that he had been appointed principal of the college that was to be inaugurated the same day. But then the planters pointed out to him a long line of mud huts behind the bungalow that were to be the hostels of the new college. To add to his discomfiture, they also expressed doubts about his wisdom in having accepted an assignment in the kala azar-infected town.

So, in the afternoon, when Sir Henry John Stedman Cotton was inaugurating the first college of northeastern India, its principal-designate F W Sudmerson was locked in his room, absorbed in melancholy thoughts. For the next three days he closeted himself in the dak bungalow. ďI was seriously contemplating to return to Bareilly. Two or three days passed in depression and uncertainty,Ē Sudmerson was to write 50 years later in his reminiscences.

Fortunately, however, Sudmerson emerged from his dark thoughts and decided to stay back and assume charge. On June 1, after 1, after a meeting with the teachers of the college, he took over as principal of Cotton College. His one-room accommodation in the dak bungalow was however not befitting his position and an alternative was arranged in a small bungalow vacated by the Assam Bengal Railway in the nearby railway station premises. The ambience of the new bungalow was however not to his liking and very soon Sudmerson appealed to the government to arrange his accommodation ďwithin or in close proximity of the college premisesĒ.

It was then decided to convert the dak bungalow situated adjacent to the college and two hostels into the principalís residence. Built in 1883-84, the bungalow was at that point in time being used as transit camp by planters en route from the gardens to Shillong. Since the year 1874, tea planters in Assam were the chief body of non-officials in local committees set up by the government for the purpose of development of the local communities, and so were regular visitors to Guwahati and Shillong.

The sprawling dak bungalow that could provide accommodation to a dozen people at a time was their favorite stopover. It had a lobby, dining hall and a library. In the adjacent plot there was also a stable where pony carts were kept and horses along with their coachmen took rest. In the earthquake of 1897 it had been party destroyed, but  had been renovated thoroughly within a couple of months. Consequent to the decision to convert the bungalow again - this time in accordance with Sudmersonís suggestions. Apart from other internal adjustments, one room was converted into the principalís office room while another was made a study room.

For the next 25 years the bungalow was Sudmersonís permanent address. Thereafter, from 1926, successive principal of the college - D Thomson, A E Brown, D E Roberts, S C Roy and B C Sengupta - also stayed here. Trouble started in 1942, just after H N Sen occupied the bungalow. The World War II was at mightiest fury and the bungalow along with the hostels and some other buildings were occupied by the armed forces. Sen had to move out. Finally, when the force vacated the bungalow in 1946, it was found partially damaged. The war Claims Commission estimated the total loss of the college buildings at Rs 48,956, and that included the principalís damaged bungalow.

In 1948 when the Gauhati University was established it was made the official residence of the first Vice-Chancellor KK Handique, a scholar of Sanskrit and Indology. Handique kept one room for his personal use and one for guests, while the rest of the house was converted into his office. During the time he occupied the bungalow two of the most distinguished personalities of India had occasion to stay in it. One was great linguist Dr Suniti Kumar Chatterjee and the other was Dr S Radhakrishnan stayed at this bungalow once in 1949 and then again in 1951 when he came to deliver an address at the first convocation of Guwahati University. During the nine-year period that Handique served as Vice-Chancellor of Gauhati University the bungalow remained his home. Thereafter it was again converted to the Cotton College principalís residence.