On a damp October evening in 1984, Ghanasham Rajbongshi, on a routine boat patrol with his colleagues Sadananda Konwar and Bipul Rabha in Kaziranga National Park, took on a charging rhino and its calf with a broken branch of a tree.
Newly posted at Kaziranga, a service rifle was yet to be issued to Rajbongshi, and the branch was his only weapon. While his colleagues tried to scare the pachyderm with blank fire, Rajbongshi, in a desperate bid to save themselves, struck the animal with all his might. It worked. The rhino and its calf fled.
A blow-by-blow account of this incident makes an entire chapter called Hator Lathidal (The Hand’s Stick) in Rajbongshi’s first book, written in Assamese. Called Aranyar Bhitorsora (2017) (which translates to “Inside the forest”), the forest guard’s book is a treasure trove of engrossing anecdotes he experienced in his three-and-half-decade-long career across the wilds of Assam.
In 2018, he published another book, Aranyar Moh (In Awe of the Forest). Both, apart from chronicling his experiences in the forests, also double up as a ready reckoner for youngsters to learn about the rich flora and fauna of Assam.
FROM ORANG TO AMCHANG
Though he was born in Kochtola village near Hajo, Rajbongshi spent his childhood in the periphery of the Orang National Park (which falls under Assam’s Darrang and Sonitpur districts). As a child, he remembers accompanying his carpenter father on many sojourns into the deep, dark woods. That kindled the nature-lover inside him, and in 1982, Rajbongshi joined Orang as a forest guard. Two years later, in 1984, he was transferred to Kaziranga, where he spent the next decade of his life.
Since then, he has worked in Nameri Wildlife Sanctuary, Sonai Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary and is currently posted at the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected forest located on the periphery of Guwahati.
DIARIST TO BLOGGER TO AUTHOR
Ever since he started working in the forest, Rajbongshi had a habit of recording his experiences in the hardbound registers his employers had handed to him. Later, the diary entries were preserved in small notebooks he bought at stationery stores.
“But the idea of writing a book never crossed my mind,” he says. But then, persuaded by his daughter, Ankita, the 56-year-old started blogging.
The blog, which he promoted through his personal Facebook account, aroused interest leading many people to contact him. Soon local Assamese dailies like Doinik Asom were asking him to write columns.
This ignited Rajbongshi’s literary ambitions. Friends and readers helped him gather funds and Aranyar Bhitorsora was published in February 2017 by the Asom Book Trust, a leading publishing house in the state. The next year Aranyar Moh hit the stands, and two more are slated for a 2019 release: Aranyar Prante Prante (Corners of the Forest) and Aranyachari (Forest Dweller).
The latter is devoted exclusively to tigers, an animal Rajbongshi has had first-hand experience with, courtesy his stints at Kaziranga and Orang, two areas with very high densities of big cats.
Civil servant and naturalist Anwaruddin Choudhury says that Rajbongshi has a keen eye for detail which is reflected in his books. “He is the first person to actually trace the presence of the Bengal Fox (known as Ram Xial in Assamese) in Orang National Park and also click its photograph,” he says.
Rajbongshi’s books also touches upon the lives of the forests guards deputed in the remotest areas of the wild. “Often, we spend days in camps located in inaccessible areas. Being away from the civilisation really strengthens the bond among us guards,” he says. In Aranyar Bhitorsora, he writes about following India’s 1992 World Cup victory against Pakistan at Sydney courtesy a battery run radio, in a camp deep inside Kaziranga.
Rajbongshi does not shy away from including gory details in his books either. There are mentions of brave officials in the line of duty: from Officer Rikh Duara, whose face got permanently disfigured from a bear attack in Kaziranga to Ranger Narayan Sarma who was trampled to death by a rogue tusker in Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.
Then there are those memories he will always cherish: like when he accompanied Bharat Ratna Bhupen Hazarika and his son Tej on a jungle safari in 1987. Or, the time he was assisting wildlife expert Ziaur Rahman to cage a man-eating tiger that was troubling people in Bhomoraguri near Tezpur. Once, in Burapahar in Kaziranga, Rajbongshi recalls, they caught a gang of poachers trying to flee under the guise of a marriage party.
Noted environmentalist and President of the NGO, Early Birds, Moloy Baruah says that frontline staff writing books is a positive trend. Though Rajbongshi is not the first to do so. “Earlier Phatik Chandra Gogoi, who was a Conservator of Forest, wrote Bharator Bonoria Jontu. Jibon Das, who was a ranger in Manas National Park, and ACF Karuna Duttachoudhury also penned books about their experiences. These books create awareness about frontline staff and may help improve their working condition,” he says.
Hiranya Kumar Sarma, Field Director, Manas National Park, adds that these books help researchers too. “Recently I have seen Mahesh Nath, Beat Officer in Nagaon, writing about man-elephant conflict on Facebook. While many experts have published papers on the topic, Nath’s posts are unique because it is based on his experiences as a field worker,” he says.
Rajbongshi has not just written books but also featured in one. He was one of the characters in renowned novelist Anuradha Sarma Pujari’s novel Eyat Ekhon Aranya Asil. She says, “My novel was based in the backdrop of eviction in Amchang. Rajbongshi helped me with my research and showed me around the forest. He became one of my main characters.”
Meanwhile Rajbongshi is happy to be a source of inspiration — for others’ work as well as to do his own. In 2024, after he retires, he plans on becoming a full-time author.
The writer is a freelance journalist in Assam and tweets at nabarun_guha45.