Remembering Bob Barua

ASHA KUTHARI CHAUDHURI

After exactly three months of struggling for his life, Bob (Souvik) Barua is no more. And no words are enough to convey the sense of loss that his friends and family are engulfed in. For that matter, I am at a loss even as I attempt to write this, because I had never, ever, imagined that I would be asked to write an obituary for this friend who was more like a younger brother, and a rock, for me.

The younger son of the late Pankaj Dhar Barua and Ruby Barua of Zoo Road, Guwahati, Bob was born into one of the pioneering business houses of Assam – Frontier Engineering Pvt. Ltd. First schooled at Guwahati Public School; then at Bishop Cotton at Bangalore, and thereon to college at Baldwin’s, he made friends (and kept them) everywhere. He started off with working at three specific sites for his company – at Digboi, at the Numaligarh township, and at The Assam Valley School, Balipara, which was completed at the time that he was supervising the work. The last, till today, is one of the finest planned school structures in India today.

A very active member of The Gauhati Club, it was there that I first met him, around 14 years ago. And over the years, the rapport we built up grew such that I would speak to him at least once every day – until the day he fell ill, on 25th December 2016. In that close knit group of friends – which was also an ever-expanding one – Bob was known to be generous to a fault. Always dressed impeccably, and with meticulous attention to detail, he cut a fine figure; helping out at every social event with a personal involvement that endeared him to so many; playing his game of billiards with enthusiasm; pushing us all to do this or that activity for the club; sponsoring a few events where we would run short of funds – these are memories of Bob that will forever remain indelible at GC. When he got married to Chumki about 12 years ago, when we did little plays and other shows at the club or when we’d meet up at his place or at ours – the memories are just too many. But let me mention one of my favourites – the Car Rally that we won as a foursome and how all four of us had to pitch in equally to contribute – from cross-dressing to jigsaw puzzles to feeding elephants to collecting clue after clue to  complete the rally first.

Then there was the travel. The world indeed, was his oyster, as they say. The Barua family must have been among the most travelled people of those decades, and Bob would tell me umpteen numbers of stories about this place or that. We also made some trips together.  To Kolkata, to Kaziranga, to Shillong, to Tezpur and to Nameri; the ones that we planned to Vegas in December 2015, and to Bangkok in December 2016 of course, never materialized. Bob would always be hovering around in each of these places, looking after little things and big ones, taking Manav, my then 10 year old son to see the Teer at Shillong, and then, because the number Manav suggested struck gold, buying him the plaything of his choice. Or even until last year, when he was visiting Bangalore, calling up Manav to take him and Karan out to lunch. Pattaya was his last trip abroad, in September 2016, and he would call and talk about how real estate prices at the sea front condos were comparable to those at Kolkata, and his plans to buy one. Then asking repeatedly about what I might want him to pick up for me – and me racking my brains to answer – because he simply would not take ‘nothing’ for an answer.

In the past few years, Bob had developed a full-blown passion for angling, and the Nameri Eco Camp became the place where he would spend a large part of the year, escaping every once in a while to the serenity of the jungles and to the Jia Bhorali river. Here too, the social being that he was, Bob developed deep bonds with the local fishermen and boatmen with whom he would spend time, have endless conversations and share meals. I have seen the wizened faces of these river folk break into broad smiles as they would sight Bob’s vehicle approach, and they would rush to help with the unpacking and set about planning the schedules for the fishing and the camping. Binod, one of these boatmen told me how Bob had helped them buy a few bighas of land in the village nearby, and was planning to build himself a house near theirs. For Binod, it has still not sunk in that Bob would not be coming to Nameri, ever.

As it is slowly sinking in, it seems unreal, somehow. 2016 was a year of personal turmoil for me and Bob stood, unwavering in his support. Almost like clockwork, calling up every morning, to be scolded (by a very drowsy me) for waking me up – Bob along with his wife Chumki were people who were there for friends, always – especially in times of difficulties. And now Chumki is left alone, and Pop (Kaushik) Barua, his elder brother has lost his only sibling, and a multitude of friends and relatives are bereft. Bob Barua, thank you for being who you were; and for the great times, and for being the proverbial rock in the bad. Rest now, and be at peace.

Asha Kuthari Chaudhuri is Professor in English, Gauhati University.