'Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted.'
Saturday 12 September 2015
A daughter remembers
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.