Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

A STUDY OF LIFE

KALYANI BHATTACHARJEE

Translated from the original Bengali JEEBON ADHYAYAN, by Dhira Dhar. Reproduced with permission of Jay Bhattacharjee (son of Kalyani Bhattacharjee)

Few months in internment

On reaching Gidni our first task was to visit the police station and inform them about my presence. The police was at a distance of five miles, and we had to travel by a bullock cart. We were not permitted any rest after the train journey for the police officer who accompanied us wanted to hand over charge and leave. I was tired both physically and mentally for I was on liquid diet , and the thought of Shanti and others on hunger strike was a weight on my mind. We returned from the police station in the evening and came to a little cottage on the outskirts of the village. There were many rules and regulations about staying in the cottage. The officer from the police station gave me all the instructions. The path on the right side was out of bounds; on the left , I could only go up to a little stream that ran by. I must never call on neighbours or speak to people on the way . But there was no high wall around , nor was anyone guarding me all the time. Only I had to return home by six in the evening. There was a forest of 'sal; trees all around, with a narrow path running through it. In the midst of nature's soothing balm , and with my parents taking care of me , I soon regained my health.

Only at times I felt sad when I thought of my friends still behind prison bars... All the little boys and girls of the village gathered round my cottage. No one stopped them from coming. I spent my days talking with them , teaching them to read and write , and also to sew. With them I would go along the village path to the little spring that ran nearby. A young mother who lived in hut on the other side of the path , would often leave her eight month old baby with me. I spent a lot of time playing with her. The mothers could not come but they always sent their children. I would often take my mother and all the children in a bullock cart and go to the heart of the forest. We had grand feasts over there. Whenever anyone called on father, I would speak with them only from behind the door, so father would laugh and say "the police have turned you into a purdah- lady".

On Bijoya-dasami, all my neighbours would leave on my verandah many kinds of delicacies and savouries prepared by them for the festival. I would bring the food inside after they departed. All the villagers wished to send their tokens of love and affection for their imprisoned daughter. There was silence all around in the evenings with twinkling lights in distant homes. Night had its own special beauty.

This was the first time I was staying in a village. Only once I had been to Amiya's village for a day or two when we lived in dread of snakes all the time. We were greatly relieved when we came back from there. But the village appeared beautiful in Gidni. A few days after our arrival a three year old boy came one day and sat on my lap. He had nothing on his rough and unkempt body. I learnt that his mother had gone away leaving him behind and that his father was dead. Finding a little love he stayed on in my house. He had survived so long on the charity of the village folk, who out of pity gave him some food. Now he would go nowhere else. At night he slept with his brother at neighbor's home. One afternoon he came home with bleeding scratches all over his body and his brother told us how he had rushed in to collect some food scattered by a funeral procession of some wealthy villager. In the scuffle he got injured. I cleaned his wounds and put some iodine on the cuts.

Another morning he did not come. After some time when I tried to find out what was wrong with I learned that he was very ill and foaming in the mouth. Who would send for a doctor for him? I sent my young brother in search off one. A kind-hearted doctor was found who tried his best to help him. In the darkness of the night, I broke my curfew and went into the village to see him. I caught a glimpse of him from afar. He seemed to be unconscious. In the morning I heard that he died at night and soon after his body was buried under a tree in a distant field. A very sad ending to his young life. He left us all in tears after his short stay.

Near our cottage there lived a young married girl in her father's home. She was married to a man who already had five wives. She had never visited her in-laws' home. The man came every month and took away her ornaments after beating her up. She had only two glass bangles on her wrists. The man came once during my stay and I had an opportunity to see him. He had the obnoxious looks of a man with an evil character. Before leaving Gidni I visited her home. She was cleaning the dishes at the water tap. She did not join the other women who came to bid me good-bye. Maybe being depressed by her hard lot she did not wish to come forward.

Another incident in the neighbourhood also left a bitter impression on my mind. In a house nearby lived a gentleman with his wife and daughters. The girls loved me and stayed with me for the better part of the day. One day I heard someone crying in their house. Later I learned that one of the little ones had tumbled on a bowl of milk while running about. The father accused his wife of carelessness, and started beating her with a stick. The mother silently bore her punishment, but the daughters cried out and finally the servant of the house snatched away the stick.

From my room I could always see her busy at her household duties. I was shocked at her unseemly humiliation. She was the mistress of her husband's home, mother of his children. Was this her position in her home ? She had no way of escape from this position of disrespect. She could do nothing but follow her daily routine without a word of protest.

Another young Hindusthani girl used to sit all the time in front of an empty house. She was most shabby in her looks with uncared-for hair and nails. No one knew her whereabouts, and she spoke to no one. Everyone thought she was deaf and dumb. One day I took her by the well and gave her a good bath, and pared her nails with a pair of scissors. She followed all my biddings , so I concluded that she was not deaf. Everyday at lunchtime she started coming to our house with a dish in her hand ,and would walk away with some food. After some days I complained ,"Why do you come to our house only? You can go to other houses too"

Next day she came and offered me some rice grains, most probably begged from other houses. I was embarrassed and told her that I could not take the rice from her. She walked away with a sad face , and the next day she did not come. I had to go and call her.

The inspector from the police station often came to our place to make enquiries. He was quite friendly. One day I asked him about this girl, if he knew where she came from. I was worried that her family might be anxious about her. A few days later I found two policemen trying to take her away. The police had found out about her home from where she had run away , because her husband and mother-in-law used to beat her. I asked the police to leave her.

Next day I was sitting with my mother in the kitchen , when our maid-servant came and told us , "Didimoni, you did so much for her , gave her food everyday; now listen to what she has done! This morning she was found on the railway track , and the Bombay Mail had gone over her body. She was wearing the sari you had given her " Greatly perturbed I rushed out and found her dish and tumbler lying on the verandah. I had given her a small bottle of oil , that was also kept there neatly. There were some grains of rice on her dish. She was trying to repay her debt. I shed bitter tears for her. Even today whenever I think of her I cannot control my tears. Later when I related this incident to my father he remarked, "People of our world are heartless , so she never shared her sorrow with them. She has taken her burden of woes to her Creator in heaven." She was not dumb but she never answered any of my queries. I was hurt and wondered why she never shared her sorrow with me.

Eight months elapsed very quickly. My sister came from Jaipur with her husband and children to spend a few happy days with me. All internees were being sent home. Liladi was sent to Dacca. We worried about father staying in the village with all his ailments. But he refused to go back to Kolkata leaving me behind. Our worries soon ended when we read about Gandhiji's talks with the Bengal Government. Nearly eleven hundred political prisoners would be released.

My release order also arrived , and I was allowed to return to my home in Ballygunge. My sister-in-law came to take us back to Kolkata. On the last day of my stay all the little children of the village came to our home and we had a feast. Nothing could stop me now from visiting all my neighbours. I asked for their blessings, and thanked them for all the kindness they had extended to me to brighten my life in the village. I promised to cherish these memories all life long.

I bid farewell to Medinipur ,where I spent the most valuable years of my life. Paying my homage to all the martyrs and brave men who had enriched Medinipur with their sacrifice, I boarded the train for Kolkata.
 

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