Saturday, 12 September 2015

A daughter remembers

People in our grandparents' generation didn't share our obsession with recording the time of events. Probably they were more concerned with using it well, apart from the logistical difficulties of documentation or challenges like illiteracy. Approximations were good enough for them, as it was for Bela Rani Haldar who had told her daughter, Kavita, now forty, that she had got married to Abhiram Haldar around the age of seven. Kavita works in the city as house help but her mother's 'job' was in the village. Bela's spouse had a government job but the childhood playmates enjoyed working on the fields together, after he would come back from work in the evening, or around 3 or 4 in the morning, before he left for office.
Bela's job wasn't restricted to working in the house and the fields. Today women in villages manage the house, the fields and the cattle but the decision-making power usually remains with the man. Bela was the business manager who assigned duties to all the other members of the household and they, in turn, had to report to her. For as long as Abhiram lived, they took the decisions together and after his death it was Bela alone. Her daughter-in-law had the primary responsibility of cooking but as there was a lot of work to do Bela did help with milking the cows, giving them fodder and sweeping the courtyard. After the work in the fields was done, she would weigh and give vegetables to her son to sell. In the village, word got around if someone wanted to sell or buy something and you just went to the person's house and completed the transaction. Or they would come to you if they got to know you were looking to sell something.
Apart from the produce of the fields, she would sell milk, cows and also bamboo, selling this last item every year around Dussehra, so new clothes could be bought for the family. People would buy them to do collective fishing, by putting all the poles in water and then cast nets to catch the fish. There was also a big boat in the Haldar house which was let out all the year round. Bela would keep the money earned from it for the Mansa Devi pooja. It would be a big occasion and a feast would be thrown by the Haldars for the entire village. Bela Rani was in charge of all the money earned by the household.
When she got time from work, she would invite neighbours home and have tea with them. If she got to know of someone doing a pooja in their house, she would go and attend. If there was news of a death in the neighbourhood, she would spend a few hours there. She would also spend part of her time at home doing pooja.
After her daughter got married, her sons continued to live with her. But when her spouse died and as Bela entered old age, things changed. She could no longer work in the fields for too long. Still she was the one managing them. For what she could not do alone she would hire labourers and supervise them. Then she came back late at night and cooked for everyone. No amount of scolding from her would induce the sons to take charge. At times she would get so frustrated that she would leave without informing them and reach her daughter Kavita's house in Delhi. Kavita was allowed to tell her sister about this but not her brothers. In about ten days, the brothers would come looking for her. With much reluctance, Bela would return because she did not want her sons to create a scene or abuse the son-in-law who had always treated her well.
Kavita's daughter and Bela's nineteen-year-old granddaughter Deepika, adds, "Not because they had been missing her but because they were afraid that if Dida [maternal grandmother] stayed here we would get all her property." Deepika spent her childhood with her grandmother and was her pet. "My grandparents had toiled hard and left so much behind. If my uncles had any sense, they could have made much of it."
Two years ago, on the twelfth death anniversary of her spouse, Bela said that she was not feeling well. She had fasted for two days before that to perform some rites for her decesaed partner. In a while she passed away quietly, when she was a little over seventy.
As it happened, her sons' concerns over the property going to their sister had been in vain because Bela did not leave it to anyone. Kavita remembers that Bela, who never discriminated against her daughters, used to say it would have been better if instead of five sons and two daughters, she had had seven daughters, for with them you can have peace.
 
In Obitopedia, 12 Sep 2015.



1 comment:

manju said...

Very inspiring story of a strong woman. Bela represents all those women who are the centre of the family but their contribution is ignored in this patriarchal society.Salute to Bela and her tribe.

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