This is a real life story and very close to my heart. Here ‘Dida’ (picture above) is my Father’s Aunt.
It has been almost half a decade that anyone has entered the room. Be it the dusty shelves or the rusty ceiling fan, everything still has a touch of care and affection. Dida has left the mundane world long ago, but for us, she is still here. Her bed, her books, her study table all kept in the same way as she had left them. When we sit on her bed, an eerie feeling engulfs us, but strangely it is the same that calms our soul. It is said that there is a distinction between mother-like love and love of a mother, but it is in this room, that they beautifully interweave with each other.
Dida’s room has an old-fashioned wooden cupboard. The sarees in there are still lined in perfect order as if she would just pull out one to get ready for school. This woman never bought for herself a steel almirah, in fact, she never cared for her comfort. Once, when a reputed organization had decided to bestow honours upon her, Dida chose to wear a simple saree for the occasion. My mother had suggested her to wear the “Gorod” or the “Corial benarasee”:
“Pishi, the MLA himself is coming to fetch you! Why don’t you try something better?”
“People should be marked by their deeds Krishna, not by their clothes”, smiled Dida. There was something in that smile, something in that personality; a dazzling brightness that did not need any ornamentation!
Dida had spent her entire life tirelessly working for others. She was a reputed headmistress; not only a teacher but also a devoted social worker. When after partition Dida and Dadu (my father’s uncle and the only grandfather we had) left all their belongings back in Rangpur (now in Bangladesh), they had nothing to hold on to. Life was to be begun all over again. Dadu had joined Indian government services as a petty clerk and Dida went off to join a teacher’s training program. After a few years, Dadu was allotted a refugee-land, since he was a government employee, in a slow-paced developing town of English Bazaar (now Malda Town). Dida soon finished her training and was recruited as a teacher in a school of Malda. It is said, that when she reached the place which was supposed to be the school premises, she found nothing except a huge barren land with a single banyan tree under which a table, chair, and a blackboard was placed. Five to six girls greeted her and took their seat on the ground for class. A reputed and wealthy family had donated the land to set up an all-girls school but could not manage enough students. Education for girls was not a priority yet. She along with one of her colleagues went door to door convincing families to send their girls to school. She had experienced the horrors of partition and how lack of education give rise to ignorance. After a lot of struggle ample students were gathered and the school finally started its journey. We later heard from her contemporaries that the school had reached its zenith during her time and even had been ranked among the best schools of West Bengal. Dida, as was her nature, neither disclosed her struggle nor her achievements, she simply continued to dismiss her duties.
Not only an educator, she was a social activist as well. She was closely associated with an NGO that worked for women issues. She held the helm of our family with firm hands and no one ever dared to argue with her. But once there was a feud in the family. The issue was that Dida had brought home Binoy Dadu. It was not the first time that Binoy Dadu came to our home. He was a frequent visitor. How did he get associated with Dida is unknown to me but I remember that he was affectionate with us and made us wonderful electrical gadgets. Anyway, the issue was that Binoy Dadu was suffering from tuberculosis and only had a handful days to live and since he had no body to be taken care by, Dida brought him home. This gesture of Dida made our parents angry and frustrated. Tuberculosis is contagious and their concern for us children made them anxious. But Dida was adamant. Not only had Binoy Dadu spent his last days in our house under the strict supervision of Dida, but his cremation and funeral ceremony was completed from here as well.
Not only Binoy Dadu, our family has sheltered many unwanted guests. Dida’s room had two single bed: one for her and another for any one who would like to spend some time with us. She never had a private life. She even didn’t get married. When I was young I always wondered why a pretty and educated lady like her didn’t get any suitor? It was later that I realised that it was not that she didn’t get a suitor but perhaps no suitor would have suited her. She was like a huge canopy, who stood the test of time to spread her shade to numerous human beings! As my parents recall, Dida’s eldest brother i.e my grandfather led a vagabond life. He never cared for his wife or children, changed numerous jobs and left his family financially and emotionally dependent on his younger sister and brother. He died quite early in life and was soon followed by his wife. Since Dadu’s meagre salary was not enough to sustain my father and his four siblings, Dida poured all her effort into bringing them up. She made each of them qualified and well settled in life.
Dida had touched numerous lives. Her students are successful and settled all over the country. But, she was a human being and thus was not devoid of human vices. She had numerous things to complain about, numerous things to grieve on. But what made her apart was that she never tried to enforce her greatness on others. She believed that if you want to help someone, do it only to achieve solace and satisfaction not expecting anything in return, otherwise, your deed loses its purpose as well as its purity. Our house used to flock with journalists and ministers, and Dida was even offered a ticket for election, but she politely avoided all these. She was not hungry for popularity but always yearning to help people.
Dida is no longer among us, but she departed with pride. The MLA himself had arranged for a hearse and all the educational institutions closed for the day as a tribute to her contribution to the society.
My mother always says, “When ever you face difficulty in life, feel that you are sacrificing too much or life isn’t fair, always look up to her. Think about her life: how she led it and how she could have led it.”
So, Dida, if you are listening, on behalf of all your grandchildren, I would like to say that you were our inspiration and will always be so. The medals, sheilds, certificates of accriditation hanging in your room will always motivate us. Whenever we will come across the term “woman warrior”, it would always be your name that would cross our mind first. Bless us, so that we can carry your legacy forward.
This post is my entry to the “worrior woman” Blogathon.
- When a Greek pirate ship sails in to loot the wealth of the Cholas, it is brutally defeated by the navy and forced to pay a compensation. A payment that includes a twelve-year-old girl, Artemis. Check out this new historical novel Empire (http://bit.ly/DeviEmpire) with a warrior woman, Aremis at the heart of the novel.