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Assam tea baron's biography reveals encounters with ULFA

Guwahati, July 15 (IANS) Noted Assamese tea industrialist Hemendra Prasad Barooah has revealed in a new book some gripping insights into his life that include being tracked by ULFA militants while holidaying in Philadelphia and searching for Bhupen Hazarika's lost Rolex watch on a street.

Sunday, July 15, 2007 | 12:49:21 PM IST (+05:30 GMT)
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Guwahati, July 15 (IANS) Noted Assamese tea industrialist Hemendra Prasad Barooah has revealed in a new book some gripping insights into his life that include being tracked by ULFA militants while holidaying in Philadelphia and searching for Bhupen Hazarika's lost Rolex watch on a street.

The legendary planter, who has remained away from media glare, shares many intimate details of his life with journalist Wasbir Hussain in 'Life and Times: Story of an Assamese Tea Baron', an authorised biography.

The book, published by Spectrum Publications, was released by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi at a function Saturday in the presence of celebrated filmmaker Jahnu Barua.

The book is not just about Barooah, it is also about the times in which he lived and the fascinating people he had encountered from across the world - thieves and conmen, painters and politicians, lovers and musicians, business tycoons and lunatics, god men and frauds, and many more.

Barooah says in the book how on June 11 1990 he along with 13 other tea planters met leaders of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) at the tea garden bungalow of a leading business family in Assam after the outfit summoned them to 'discuss the active participation of the tea industry in the economic development' of the state.

Then chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta had advised Barooah not to meet the ULFA leaders.

'Who advised you to go for the meeting? I suggest, you don't go,' Hemen remembered Mahanta as having told them. But the tea captains were prepared to take the risk and face the rebels.

Barooah recounts how they went in three cars to meet the ULFA leaders - the meeting ended just before the crack of dawn with the rebels talking to the planters individually. Each one of them was asked to pay hefty amounts.

Barooah candidly reveals how he asked the companies not to make any payments.

'An ULFA caller one day threatened to kidnap me from Calcutta. That was the first time I got scared. I could not sleep that night,' Barooah says.

Such was the pressure from the ULFA that Barooah was even traced in the US where he was on a holiday with his daughter.

The telephone buzzed in Philadelphia. 'Dada (elder brother), are you all right? How's your daughter,' an ULFA militant said over the phone at a time when there were reports in the media in Assam that Barroah had 'fled' India.

On the lighter side, Barooah recounts the night when he and noted singer and composer Bhupen Hazarika searched for the music icon's lost Rolex watch on a desolate road near Sivasagar in eastern Assam, besides his encounter with the man behind the Great Train Robbery in Britain.

The book also covers Barooah's 'secret' meeting with Indira Gandhi in Assam and her bus ride to the sleepy town of Golaghat.

Copyright : Indo-Asian News Service
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