Author’s note: Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, girlfriends everywhere, I do not believe there needs to be an international women’s day for you. Every day should be a woman’s day. Any one woman, whomever and wherever she may be does more in her life for her spouse and her child than an entire army does for its nation. To you, an entire gender of people fairer in both complexion and in heart, I take my hat off, I salute you. Read on, this story shows the steel in a mother’s heart. I hope you like it.
1820. Bishnupur, Bengal. It was a village-town bustling with activity and rich with its cultural and social relevance. It was known for housing some of the staunch Hindu families in all of Bengal. The people were orthodox and conservative. In one such family, Poornima was born. She was the third daughter of a village store owner, Shantanu. She had two other sisters. Britain had made its presence felt everywhere. Her village hadn’t escaped notice. She used to run along with her friends and her sisters to see the carriages race past their neighbourhood.
Her childhood was colourful. The games they played, the festivals, the ceremonies in the village temples. It was special. Being the youngest of the three sisters, Poornima didn’t have many surprises in her life. She saw her future twice through the lives of her sisters. Her eldest sister one day had gotten new clothes and jewellery and… a man. Yes, her eldest sister, just six years older than she was. Soon, a couple of years later, her second sister left the home. She knew she was next. She was just seven, but she knew. She didn’t resent the idea, but what did she know? She was an infant.
Soon enough, she was nine and she first met her husband. He looked like he was a few years into his teens. She liked him, it wasn’t love, but she couldn’t deny the beat that her heart skipped. He was the Head Sarpanch’s son.
Soon, she was his.
She moved to her new house, which was just eight houses away from her old home; her childhood house, her easier times, which were now so close, yet so far away.
But Poornima was just as bold as she was beautiful. She had known this would happen. She had seen the pattern. She had barely seen her two sisters in the last six years. One after the other, they had perpetually vanished. Her new house was spacious, more so than her old one, but in that space, she still felt suffocated, but such was life.
Her husband and in-laws treated her gently, and she had come to understand that too, was her pure luck. Some of her friends hadn’t fared so well.
Five years into her marriage, she bore her first child. It was a girl. She was as beautiful as her mother; a type of heavenly yet earthly beauty.
This changed everything. Women who didn’t bear a son weren’t worth as much, or so her social interactions had showed her. Her in-laws were colder now, she was weak after the childbirth, but that wouldn’t deter them from making her do the chores.
“They’re not at fault. They’re just disappointed. They’ll come around” She told herself and to her daughter. Her husband supported her, and to her, that was enough. Little did she know, her relief lived short. Her husband was bit by a snake. Fate was the proverbial snake charmer. The village medic tried his best but to no avail. He was no more.
Tears came first, then disbelief, then came denial, quickly followed by fear. She was now as lonely as the singular drop of morning dew on a leaf. She was sixteen. Her husband’s funeral had her in the limelight. All eyes were set on her. She knew what was expected of her, although she had heard the British public announcer declare a ruling about this. She knew what she was expected to do. She had seen her mother do it, her grandmother before her. She didn’t want to do it, but the eyes and their owners wanted her to. She had to become one with her husband, even in his death. Sati.
She looked down, she saw the new life sleeping while clutching the knot in her saree; now white. Yes, white; the colours that once adorned a big part of her life were now drained. White remained. She was so young, but yet so old. She knew what she had to do, what she wanted to do. She gathered up her meagre possessions, bundled her daughter in a warm cloth and took to the town. Godspeed.
1890. A village, North Calcutta. An old woman was sitting under a lamp in her one room house busily knitting away.
“Didimaaaaaa” A boy shouted as he jumped onto her lap.
She gave the boy a hug, her hands were frail now. She had aged; though one would argue she had aged well, like fine wine. She was still beautiful.
She took the sweater she had been knitting and garbed her great grandson with it. Then taking him onto her lap, hugging him the way she had hugged her daughter in those cold nights, blur future ahead of her, she sang
“Khoka ghumalo… Para juralo… Khoka ghumalo, para juralo…
borgi elo deshe..
bulbuli-te dhan kheyeche, khajna debo kishe..
Dhan phuralo, pan phuralo, Khajnar upay ki !
Aar kota din shobur koro, Roshun bunechi.”
When the children fall asleep, silence sets in
The Bargis come to our lands
Bulbulis (birds) have eaten the grains
How shall i pay the tax! .