Interviews

back to issue

Nalini Mitra, age 93 years, lived in Dhaka before Partition. She witnessed how the atmosphere of communal amity in Dhaka changed drastically in the second half of the ’20s. However, a college lecturer herself and a dedicated social worker, she did not cross over to West Bengal till 1950. After her migration she worked as the Principal of an industrial home at Chunar in UP where displaced women of East Pakistan were given vocational training. Thereafter, she became the Director of the Refugee Rehabilitation Department of the West Bengal Government. She recalls her days in Dhaka and describes the situation which had compelled her to leave her beloved city. (Interviewed by the Research Team, SWS.)

 

Mashimaa, (Auntie) let us start with your life in Dhaka. As we know, prior to 1926, Dhaka experienced communal amity. The atmosphere was friendly and cordial. Would you narrate your experiences of those days...

We were happily settled in Dhaka. Our lifestyle, during those days, was simple yet peaceful – no tension, no ill-feelings. The area where we used to stay was called Armanitala. Everybody knew everybody else out there. On the whole, the ambience was tranquil and friendly, marked by deep fraternal feelings.

 

How did this change 1926 onwards?

Before going onto that topic, let me tell you a few things. A huge procession led by the Nawab of Dhaka was taken out every year during the Janamashtami celebration. Muslims, spontaneously participated in it.

Dhaka University, a prestigious educational institution of undivided Bengal, was the centre of cordial and amicable relationship between Hindu and Muslim students. As you might know, the cardinal principle behind the foundation of Dhaka University was the divide and rule policy of the imperial rulers. The Muslim students enjoyed a privileged position – they were blessed with facilities like stipends, free studentship etc... But not a single trace of animosity or jealousy tainted the relations between the students of the two religious communities.

However, around 1926, a particular incident in the university indicated that things were not the same any longer, that the situation was gradually beginning to change. During the annual functions the Hindu students used to decorate the dais with earthen pots. Suddenly, around the middle of the ’20s, Muslims started objecting to such decorative pieces. They said that such a display was indicative of Hindu hegemonic domination.

 

Can you recall the period from 1926 to 1947? How rapid was the deterioration?

Riots broke out for the first time in 1926. But these were not severe. The mobs were armed not with knives and choppers, but only (harmless when compared to later days) lathis. Nobody dared to venture out alone. The Hindus could not pass through the Muslim majority areas. Any untoward incident there was bound to have its repercussion on the other side. Interaction with the Muslim families with whom we were very close, diminished. We lived in a Muslim majority area. Whenever riots erupted, many right-thinking Muslim gentlemen of our locality tried to mediate. But alas, to no avail. Increasingly their pleas fell on deaf ears because there were others instigating the mobs. In fact, the schism between the two groups gradually widened.

The situation deteriorated rapidly between 1926 and 1930. Yet even then, we never thought of leaving everything and crossing over to this side. Nor did we ever dream that such a day would eventually come. By this time we had shifted to our own house near the university, where my husband was a professor. But the good old days did not last long. Amidst the rapidly deteriorating situation, especially during the Muslim League regime, we were left with no other option but to abandon everything and cross over. Even many of the right-thinking, secular minded Muslims, under fundamentalist pressure, were forced to hoist the star and moon flag on their homes.

 

The exodus began in 1946, but your family stayed back in Dhaka till 1950. What was the single most important factor that ultimately prompted your decision to leave?

Prior to Partition, we had tried our level best to stay on. Why should the general masses not be taken into account, we argued. Under the leadership of Leela Roy, we organised a signature campaign against the dissection of the country. However, after Partition became a reality, our efforts were redirected towards preventing the exodus of Hindus from East Bengal. Leela Roy set up a women’s organisation named Purba Pakistan Mahila Samiti (East Pakistan Women’s Organisation). She became the president while I was chosen vice president. We organised processions and marches in different localities raising the slogan: Hindu Muslim bhaai bhaai.

 

You were engaged in relief operations during your stay in Dhaka...

During those tumultuous years, we were forced to sell our house near the university. We moved to a rented house in Wari with our infant daughter. Trouble started on 8 February. From a Muslim gentleman, who had very kindly escorted my little daughter home after her night school, I came to know that riots had broken out and that irate mobs, armed with weapons, were heading towards our locality. Many in our neighbourhood, in search of a safe haven, gathered in our home. Everyone waited with bated breath. Any moment the rioters could come in and massacre all of us. Two young Muslim magistrates in our locality showed exemplary courage in saving us from the jaws of death. Armed with rifles, they fired some blank rounds and diverted the rioters. All of February 1950 continued like this. In March, we were forced to take the painful decision of leaving our motherland.

 

The next phase started with your decision to migrate to Kolkata; what were the problems that you faced on the eve of departure?

Well, we were reluctant to cross over at the initial stage. My husband used to say, ‘We have so many dependants here. If we abandon them and cross over for our own safety, their mental strength and confidence will be shattered.’ But the situation deteriorated at a rapid pace. It became increasingly difficult for me to pass through a locality infested by Bihari Muslims on my way to college. My daughter was only four years old. For reasons of safety, I could not entrust her to the care of an ayah and leave for work.

My unusually prolonged absence prompted the principal of the college to drop in at my place. I explained the situation to him. He offered a solution which astounded me. He asked me not to put the customary vermilion mark in the parting in my hair. This so-called simple solution, he felt, would save me from harassment. I put my foot down. If necessary, I was willing to resign from my work, but how could I stop putting sindoor – it is our tradition, an auspicious symbol, so many sentiments are associated with it. Ultimately I decided to carry my daughter to college.

Our college was more or less untouched by the unsavoury incidents happening outside. Gradually, however, the trouble began to seep in and vitiated its atmosphere. One day, as I was sitting in the common room, some obscene remarks were directed towards me. At that instant I realised that it would no longer be possible to stay in my beloved motherland. How could one live in such a filthy environment? Even the murder of Mahatma Gandhi was given a ghastly communal overtone. Unfortunately, I too had to sometimes speak in their favour. What else could I have done? Since we had to stay among them and they were the majority, how could we opt to be different?

My younger brother was very close to many of the ministers. He assured us that he would make arrangements for our safe passage to Kolkata. Those who migrated at that time carried a lot of cash and other valuables since there was no upper ceiling. Our only resource was the money that we got after selling our house (the one near the university). We transferred the money to our bank account in Kolkata. This house in Alipur, that you now see, was constructed with that money. Thus, in a sense, it carries the legacy of our days in Dhaka.

Obtaining air tickets was the greatest hurdle that a migrant had to face at the time. Families camped at the airport for days with all their belongings in the hope of getting tickets. I told my brother that if he could arrange air tickets, I would leave. My husband refused to leave immediately since he had to finish some urgent work, but promised to join us later. This just left the three of us – I, my young daughter and the maid. But, unfortunately, only two air tickets could be arranged – for my daughter and me. We arrived safely. A few days later my husband joined us. He had also left hurriedly.

 

What reason did he cite for his hurried departure? Why could he not stay there for a few more days?

On his arrival, he said that one of his students (I cannot disclose the name) had informed him that in a secret meeting in New Delhi (where Nehru, Patel and other front-ranking Indian leaders were present), it was decided that just like Hyderabad, East Bengal too would be ‘taken over’ and merged with the Indian Union. My husband was informed that the process of taking over had already been initiated and it would no longer be safe for him to stay back, as more violence was expected in the future. However, that plan was ultimately abandoned.

 

Well, Mashimaa, when you now look back to those days in Dhaka after so many years – fraternal feelings followed by communal carnage – what are the thoughts that cross your mind?

For us, the decision to leave was taken quite suddenly. We could only pack a few books in the hold-all. The rapidly deteriorating situation made us realise that it would no longer be possible to stay back in East Bengal. In fact, we were anxious to cross over to this side of the border. But even then, after so many years, my heart still weeps for Dhaka. How can I ever forget my motherland? I still crave to go back there.

 

* * *

 

Sukumari Chaudhuri, about 75 years old, lives alone in her house at Santoshpur in Jadavpur (Kolkata). She has experienced it all – she lost her first husband in the Noakhali carnage in 1946. She crossed over to West Bengal from Debipur in Hajigunj in 1950 following another outbreak of communal violence in East Pakistan. Thereafter she lived in Sahidnagar, a jabardakhal or forcibly occupied colony, for five years. She received vocational training at Nari Seva Sangha, worked at Bengal Lamp, was in the forefront of the workers’ movement and married again. Her second husband was a political activist. A portrait of Lenin adorns her verandah while she herself loves to hear Ramkatha. (Interviewed by the Research Team, SWS.)

 

The locality where you stay (Santoshpur), although it is in Kolkata, somehow seems to be outside the metropolis, with so much greenery around... when did you shift here?

The plot of land was purchased in 1974, we shifted in ’78. Prior to that we lived in a rented house. My mother-in-law, who was very finicky and fastidious about cleanliness, faced a lot of problems there. Well, you do understand how these rented houses actually are. Thus, left with no other option, we had to move into a half-finished house. Construction was completed only after we had shifted. Since then I have lived here.

 

You stay all by yourself; your daughter and grandson visit you only twice a year. So, how do you spend your time? What are the thoughts that cross your mind? Do you spend time reading or jotting down your thoughts?

No, I don’t. The only books that I read, when I feel like it, are those about gods and goddesses. Previously I used to visit the holy shrines nearby. But now I no longer go there. Regular sessions of Ramkatha reading are held in the house across the street. I go there in the afternoon.

 

Do these Ramkatha readings help you to find peace and solace?

Well, I do not know. I like to listen to the recital, that’s all. Once I start doing so, I gradually become oblivious to the surrounding material world. But after the session ends, it is back to the household chores as usual.

 

Did your husband, too, migrate from the other side?

Yes. He came over after the Partition. I have heard a lot about the violence of those days from him. Those cries of Allahu Akbar. The search for jobs began only after he crossed over to this side. With the Partition, government servants were given the option of taking up jobs on either side of the border, according to their choice. His father (my father-in-law) got a posting in Assam with the Railways. He (my husband) stayed with him for a while. His father arranged a job for him also. After some time, my husband left Assam. Coming over to Kolkata, he took up a job in a grocery store. In those days, an earning of four or five rupees a day was more than enough. Gradually, through his network of friends and acquaintances, he began job-hunting earnestly. His meshomoshaai (maternal aunt’s husband) perhaps had a share in Bengal Lamp. It was he who persuaded the proprietor of Bengal Lamp to induct my husband.

 

On the topic of Bengal Lamp, Can you recall the agitation? How did you get involved?

My husband had begun working with Bengal Lamp one and half years before I joined. This was around 1953-54. With the festive season drawing near, agitation began for the payment of puja bonus. Female workers at that point numbered around 150 to 200. The picture had been quite different in the initial years; we were hardly ten at the beginning. Gradually, refugee women trained and helped by Nari Seva Sangha and other government organisations were inducted. We used to fix filaments. The male co-workers used to work on the machines. Later, girls also shifted to machine work. The bulk of these workers hailed from East Bengal.

Our salary was very low. In 1955, the agitation for payment of bonus sharpened. Marching shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts, refugee women participated wholeheartedly in the agitation. This was a great morale booster for their male colleagues. The agitation was spearheaded by the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) which was active and helpful in our colonies also.

 

We have heard a lot about your radical image, heard that you once thrashed a policeman...

Well, I leave it to the judgement of others to assess whether I was radical or not. The fact is that the strike was a prolonged one – about six months. My husband had gone to Sunderbans to collect rice and paddy for the workers and their families. That strike was finally resolved through the mediation of some kind and learned persons. The workers immediately resumed their duties.

 

What about that particular incident when you defiantly opposed the police?

During the agitation and strike, the proprietors used touts to spy on us. Refugee women from Bijoygarh and Nihsha Colony joined us in our collection drive. I informed them about these touts. The girls always responded positively to my calls. Once the police hauled me up in a van and started off towards the thana. I threatened the police officer and told him that I would drag him to the pond – there was a pond nearby, perhaps it still exists. The police officer replied, ‘You are like my daughter.’ These police officers were known faces as in the days of gherao and strikes they came to collect reports. I tugged at the officer’s belt and threatened to throw him into the pond. Ultimately, the police van was steered through the entrance of the thana into the compound. I was there, so were our leaders. In those days I used to jump out of the van and block the path of the police.

 

This resistance that you put up – with the majority of the womenfolk hailing from East Bengal – where did you get the mental strength to put up such a determined defence?

The bulk of those who participated in the agitation belonged to East Bengal, they were refugees. But what is perhaps most important is that they lived in abject poverty. For them, it was a struggle for existence – a fight for sheer survival. The girls from different refugee colonies came to work. Only a few of us were recruited from Nari Seva Sangha. The number of women refugee workers was increasing every day. Once we started a strike in protest against the chargesheeting of a male factory worker engaged in the manufacture of lamps. The factory remained closed for three and a half years. I was already married at that time. This was my second marriage. My second husband and I worked together at Bengal Lamp and fought together to uphold the rights of the workers.

 

Let us now turn to the past. We want to know more about that tranquil village in Noakhali, where your in-law’s house was located, or your memories about the riots.

During the riots in Noakhali, although Muslims were on a killing spree, many of them helped us in a number of ways also. In many cases, the grown up Hindu girls along with their kids found refuge with their Muslim neighbours. Not only did they valiantly protect us, sheltered and fed us, they were at the same time very polite, courteous and amicable. In fact, they enjoyed a cordial relationship with many of their Hindu neighbours. Along with my mother, my jethima (father’s elder brother’s wife) and other girls of the family, I spent a night with a Muslim family. We were able to return only when the situation was limping back to normal.

One of my elder sisters lived in Chandpur town. My brother-in-law worked in the railways. We were sent there. The rest also took refuge, according to their convenience. Many turned towards the direction of Kolkata. I also came over to my elder brother’s place in Kolkata. My kaka (father’s younger brother) was based in this city, he lived on Baithak Khana Road. We arrived at Sealdah railway station via Goalando and on arrival were registered as refugees. From there my elder brother escorted us to his house. All this happened during the Noakhali carnage. That was around 1946-47.

We stayed back in Kolkata for close to one and a half months, but returned to East Bengal since my mother was still based there. On my return, I received the dreadful news that my husband (first husband) was no more. I started crying inconsolably. From Kolkata, I had returned to my parents in Hajigunge and not my in-law’s place. The name of the village was Debipur. I stayed in Debipur for nearly three years after that. In between I only went twice to my in-law’s place; once to perform the last rites of my husband. Both my husband and my father-in-law were mercilessly hacked to death. My father brought me back from my in-law’s house. The second time I went there was to collect the money being distributed at Gandhiji’s camp and stayed there for nearly a week.

 

What prompted you to cross over to West Bengal?

Rioting in Barisal started in 1950. The situation turned grim once again. My boudi (brother’s wife) was still in Debipur, while my elder brother was in Kolkata. He sent my younger brother to escort my boudi to Kolkata. My parents, too, were bitter and realised that it was no longer safe for me to stay in East Bengal. Moreover, in Kolkata I could get myself a job as a nursing assistant or something similar. The elders of the family – kaka, jethaa (paternal uncles) and my father – after much deliberation, decided to send me over to Kolkata. We followed the same route to Sealdah station via Goalando. There was no question of any relief this time. We reached my elder brother’s place of residence. Since then, I have been staying here permanently.

The jabardakhal colonies or the squatters’ colonies forcibly occupied by the refugees had already been established when we arrived in Kolkata. I myself have seen how the nefarious agents of the landlords resorted to forcible eviction of refugees from the empty plots and how the heroic land-grabbers resisted them with all their might. Using ordinary kitchen utensils like ladle and chopper as weapons, the womenfolk staged defiant battles. Our leader was one Sandhya Banerjee. She used to lead the women out of their homes and organise protest marches. Under her instructions, we organised many agitations and withstood teargas and brutal lathi-charge of the police. For five long years I stayed in one such jabardakhal colony, Sahidnagar.

Then, I joined a government sponsored course offered by the Nari Seva Sangha. In fact, this organisation helped me get a job at Bengal Lamp. Nari Seva Sangha and many other such organisations were engaged in the rehabilitation of the refugee women from East Bengal; to help them stand on their feet and become self-sufficient. Even Muslim girls came to Nari Seva Sangha for vocational training. But I never felt any hatred and animosity towards them. Our teachers, like Bina Dasgupta, were made of a different stuff altogether. They taught us to be secular and tolerant.

 

Do you harbour any ill-feeling towards Muslims?

[With conviction] No, never. Maybe, if I had lived in a conventional Bengali middle class family, some traces of ill-feeling might have been there. But I am very fortunate that I never really led such a life. Education, politics, Communist Party meetings, Left movement, trade union work – all these tremendously helped me to lead a disciplined and organised life. Then there was my factory life. Our leaders – the way they explained things to us – saw to it that all ill-feelings were nipped in the bud. Even today Muslim guests from Bangladesh come regularly and stay at my place in Kolkata.

 

Those who come from Bangladesh are probably aware that you had to leave everything and cross over to safety on this side of the border. Do they question you about this?

No, they have not till date. Because, in my sincere treatment, my down-to-earth behaviour, they have not found even a single trace of enmity or animosity. Hence, they never felt like raising the issue.

 

Well, Maashima, do you yearn to return to East Bengal? What are the specific memories, if any, you fondly associate with East Bengal?

Well, I am left with no such specific memories. Everything that we possessed on our father’s side had to be sold off. There is practically nothing left that may be called ‘ours’. My husband often longed to return. I have never nursed such false hopes. Moreover, I have become aged and infirm. To tell you frankly, my only wish nowadays is to immerse myself in religious activities. Everybody should agree that there is one supreme controller of our fate and destiny.

Only once, years ago, I had gone to Comilla with my late father. It was then in East Pakistan. We had to go through a thousand and one bureaucratic hurdles to get a passport. Moreover, the journey itself was fraught with high risk and grave danger. The way they ogled at us É we trembled with fear. Once in Comilla, we had to report to the district court with our passports. My cousin was always on his toes; what if I were kidnapped? Things were that much worse then! Many areas even now are like that, believe me. This was way back in the ’60s.

I have virtually no memories left of erstwhile East Bengal. My only wish is to spend the rest of my life in religious pursuits.

 

* * *

 

WHEN Bengal was torn apart as a price for India’s Independence, millions in East Bengal turned homeless. Waves of migrants began pouring in through various entry points in Assam, Tripura, West Bengal. Refugee camps became overcrowded in no time. Some had relatives with whom they could temporarily stay, but for how long? Later they had to plunge into a grim struggle for survival. Bithi Roy (now Chakravarti) was barely 14 years old when she had to leave her ancestral home at the time of Partition. She was born on 19 March 1933 in a nationalist zamindar family in Dhanata village of Sarishabari in Jamalpur sub- division of Mymensingh district (now in Bangladesh). She recalls how as a young girl she was suddenly uprooted from her secure, solvent and comfortable childhood and thrown into harsh reality. Moreover, as the eldest child, she had to bear the entire responsibility for the survival of her family – parents, three brothers and three sisters. (Interviewed by Gargi Chakravarti.)

 

Do you remember your childhood days in East Bengal, particularly at the time of Independence?

I can recall everything. I was not too young when we left our village. In fact, the communal tension started much before with the great Calcutta killing of 1946. Earlier there had been no such tension or conflict between the Hindus and Muslims in our locality. But when the news of riots and killings reached the village through radio and newspapers, a sense of distrust and fear grew between the two communities.

I can recall how our elders were panic-stricken. They could feel the approaching storm. My personal domain was affected. I was a student of Sarishabari Girls School, but, at that point, I was suddenly barred from going to school. I was not even allowed to step out of the confines of our main house (khasbari). I was a young girl and so the elders became all the more careful and worried about me. The pressing fear was that Hindu girls would be abducted.

 

Was there any specific incident which created such panic? Any assault, abduction, plunder?

Rumours began to float that we would be attacked. Soon we found our house surrounded by the Ansaris. They were supposed to protect us, but actually played a very destructive role. It is true that a number of girls of Hindu families in nearby areas could not be found. Some of the abducted girls were sent back after three or four days. [A moment of silence. With a little pause and hesitation, she continued in a hushed voice.] I still remember a specific case. The girl belonged to a well-off family, and studied in my school. Yes, her name was Jyotsna. Her house was attacked, most of the family members were killed and she herself was kidnapped and gangraped. Later she became a complete lunatic.

 

Was this just before the Partition?

Yes, in 1946. Let me recall another incident, Ghetu, my neighbour, used to work with my jethamashay (elder, paternal uncle). His wife was travelling along with their son to Calcutta in Surma Mail. The son was butchered and the wife stabbed to death. The particular train shuttled back with the stabbed body of Ghetu’s wife. There were several such cases. Violence and bloodshed began well before Partition and the more we heard about it, the more we felt nervous.

 

When did you come to this side, to Calcutta and how?

It was in December 1946. My mamu (eldest maternal uncle) worked in the military. A Muslim clerk, Panna, secretly managed to send a telegram to mamu with news of our departure. So, accordingly, mamu arrived at Sealdah station with a military truck. My youngest aunt was dressed up in a burkha and I was clad in a bride’s dress. When we came out of the train, we found that 37 of our family members were the only ones to get off. A dreadful silence engulfed the entire station. Calcutta seemed to be deadly quiet at that time. Slogans like ‘Allah ho Akbar’ from one side and ‘Vande Mataram’ from the other side could be heard at a distance.

 

Was that your final return from East Bengal or did you go back again?

Yes, we went back in 1947. Jethamashay was seriously ill with cancer. He wanted to breathe his last in his ancestral home. We were there again when Pakistan’s first Independence Day was celebrated on 14 August 1947. We wanted to stay back in our ancestral home, but the situation deteriorated and terrible riots broke out. Fortunately, a few Muslim students guarded my six brothers and sisters and brought us safely to Mymensingh town. There it was decided that I would be put in a school hostel in Mymensingh, but the day when I was to leave for the hostel, riots started all over again. So the plan had to be changed. Finally, at the beginning of 1950 we returned to Calcutta and initially stayed with my young aunt. That was our final exit, leaving our native land, our final displacement.

 

Did you restart your studies in Calcutta in totally new surroundings?

My studies had gone to the dogs. No school for four years. Finally in 1950 I got admission in Binapani Pardah School. I was in deep waters as it was extremely difficult for me to cope with an advanced syllabus. Thankfully, in those days maths was not a compulsory subject for girls. I passed the school final in second division and later did my Intermediate from Victoria Institution and BA from Vidyasagar College. I had a strong desire to go for higher studies. But in the meantime, the responsibility for my family fell on my shoulders as I was the eldest. Though in course of time, I managed to complete Special Honours and MA in Bengali.

 

Thus began the second chapter of your life: Bithi as the provider and bread-earner of the family, the eldest refugee sister caring for all?

Yes. My father became seriously ill. When I finished my BA, he told me I could join BT provided I got a scholarship. I did get a scholarship of Rs 90 as I stood second in the admission test. As soon as I completed BT, I took up a teaching job. Though I got a bank job, my mother did not allow me to take it. At that time with father ill, I was the only one earning with five brothers and sisters; we could not rent a room in Calcutta city any more. So we shifted to Rahara in North 24 Parganas. My chhotomesho (younger uncle) helped me a lot during those hard days. The room we rented used to be the stable for the landlord’s cows. Small windows, stuffy and sultry. No facility of drinking water – only a shallow well. [At this point – a pause. Bithidi was recollecting the grandeur and spacious rooms in her ancestral home in Dhanata – a house with 121 acres of land.]

My monthly salary was just not enough. So, apart from teaching which fetched me Rs 90 per month, I took up tuition. At night, when I came back from Calcutta to Khardah station the adjoining areas were dark and dreadfully quiet. I felt so frightened that I would rush back home. Years passed in this way.

 

Tell me more about those days, some details about your family members: how did they struggle, the entire uprooted family?

That was a period of terrible hardship. I never discussed my problems with anybody. The day I got the salary I would straightaway visit our landlord to pay the rent. Then I collected rice and salt. Sometimes, I had to borrow money from Sabitri Ghosh, a well-wisher who is still alive, to buy rations. That money, however, I did return to her in due course. But that was not enough.

There were times when our chulli was simply not lit. My sisters Bulu and Mithu drank plain water before going for examinations. All of them stood by my side, took up tuitions to bear their own educational expenses. My immediate younger brother Khokon gave up his studies and took the job of a worker in Durgapur. The second brother Tapan followed him and joined the Central Drug Research Institute as a cleaner. While returning from office he often looked to see whether our kitchen light was on. If it was on, it indicated that rice was boiling, food would be available. There were days when we all went hungry.

My youngest brother Bablu (born after Partition), five or six years old, used to hug and ask me – ‘Didi, have you brought some muri (puffed rice)?’ I did bring muri for him and for my sick father. My school headmistress would often call me on Sundays on the plea that there was some official work. Later I realised that she wanted to give me a proper meal. I will never forget these kind and sensitive gestures.

 

When did you get married? How long did you have to wait?

I knew Dr Chakravarti for a long time. Since 1954 we had developed a deep understanding. He had been supportive throughout those days of struggle. He also had his responsibility, looking after fourteen members of his family. He was a victim of Partition. He, however, did go abroad for further studies on his own merit. At one point, he proposed that I go abroad and settle down with him, assuring me that money would be sent to my family, but I refused. I wanted all my brothers and sisters to get properly settled before I married. I am grateful that he waited for me. We could marry only in 1967 when all my brothers and sisters had got jobs and our family started having a decent income. Henceforth, things moved towards some sort of stability.

[Bithidi has bought a small two-storey house in Rahara. She is still frail but there is a glow in her face. At the twilight of her life she is with her old husband, a son and a daughter-in-law. There are thousands of Bithis in West Bengal who struggled with enviable determination following Partition. Many emerged victorious.]

top