“Maa, this saree is too heavy for me to tie, tie it for me please,” stood ten year old Sarojini, in front of her mother-in-law, Durga. Durga looked at her little daughter in-law and with all the affection of the world in her eyes, tied up the saree for her. She also did up her hair and helped her wear her jewellery. They were going to attend a wedding in the neighbourhood, so everyone was decked up in their frills and finery.
“ And Sarojini, don’t run around there. Behave like a married girl, not a kid,” reminded Durga smilingly.
“Tell your son the same maa!He has all the fun with everyone and you only tell me to keep sitting,” came a serious complain from little Sarojini as she turned with a pout and walked out of the room.
Durga was not too much in favour of getting her son Rudresh get married at such a young age of twenty to Sarojini, all of ten years old. But her in -laws were adamant. Her father-in-law was not keeping too well and he wanted to see his only grand son married. So six months back, chirpy, innocent, ten year old Sarojini came to their house as Rudresh’s bride. Child marriage was rampant then to the extent girls not married before puberty, would be talked about. Durga embraced and welcomed child bride, Sarojini into her house, her heart. Her pure love was heartily reciprocated by Sarojini and she took to Durga, as her own mother.
Now Sarojini became the life of the house. She was called, “Boumaa”, an affectionate term used for the daughter- in- law of the house. She would play around with dolls, climb trees in the garden to pluck fruits, make garlands with flowers for the deities in the prayer room and fill the house with her constant chatter. Every one loved her. Durga pampered her thoroughly. Thus under the loving upbringing of Durga, Sarojini blossomed into a young girl. Just like Durga, she too became quite proficient in the household matters. To everybody’s joy, in due time, she gave birth to a lovely girl child. She named her Juhi. After two years she became the mother of a baby boy, who she named Joy. She was a very happy and loving mother and totally immersed herself in bringing up her children. The children were growing up fast and with their everpresent smile and affectionate behaviour, both became apples of each one’s eye, in and around the household.
Once Sarojini, with Juhi and Joy, had gone to her parent’s house for a month. They lived quite far so whenever she would visit them, she would have a longish stay. It was monsoon and the intense rains brought a huge flood in Sonarpur, that wiped away innumerable lives and property. Durga and the whole family perished in that flood. An inconsolable Sarojini, with her children, returned to Sonarpur. Her parents had tried their best to dissuade her but for Sarojini, Sonarpur was her home. She would live no where else.
She couldn’t believe her eyes that were seeing her home almost razed to the ground. None of the cows were there any more. The family that lived in their house for generations, looking after them and helping them in so any ways, also was no where to be seen. Sarojini just sat down on the ground of the platform that was half remaining and burst out crying. Juhi and Joy had never seen their mother cry like that, before. They got frightened and joined in the crying too. Suddenly Sarojini felt someone touching her feet. She looked up to find Seemantha, the son of the caretaker family standing in front of her. He silently, wiped his eyes and picked up the luggage and took them to the room upstairs. A few rooms upstairs were still livable. Sarojini with her two children, slowly, followed him.
Sarojini had a fiery personality that came to her rescue in this huge calamity. With the help from Seemantha, she managed to repair the palatial house and started living there. The huge land owned by her family, was now the source of earning for her. With her determination, intelligence and perseverance, she regained their foothold and flung herself in bringing up her children to the best of her capability. Now Bouma, as she was called, became the mistress of the mansion.
The British ruled India during that period. A great freedom struggle had gripped the whole country. Many leaders were instrumental in mobilising people to fight against the British, to free their country. West Bengal was a big epicentre for the same. One day Seemantha, at the dead of the night, crept into the house. Sarojini was still up then, writing poetry, that she had taken to, lately. She confronted Seemantha and was shocked to see him bleeding profusely from his left leg. She quickly tended to the deep injury and then heard from Seemantha about the group that he was a part of. It was named “The Burning Youth.” It had youngsters, both boys as well as girls, who had staked everything in life, to get their motherland free from the clutches of slavery. The whole night went by hearing about all that the group was doing. Sarojini was shaken up, getting to know about the hardships and sacrifices that all the members were a part of. They were all working day and night and most of the time were underground to tend to their wounds. Seemantha had been a member of this group for many years now.
All this information from Seemantha, opened up a new vista in Sarojini’s mind. Inheritantly, she was a woman of grit and determination and that helped her decide upon her new purpose in life, easily. She secretly, had a big basement constructed in her house and that became a place from where she would work for “The Burning Youth.” The basement became a hiding place for the injured and “The wanted” of the group. She mobilised women, who joined her in this cause. Secretely they would collect in the basement to do all sorts of jobs, like nursing, spinning cotton and making cloth out of it to make clothes and sheets for the freedom fighters etc.. They would also make dry sweets with jaggery, rice powder, sesame, peanuts etc. etc. that could be carried easily for many days and could satiate hunger. In no time, the basement in Sarojini’s house became a very active hub for all such activities and no one but the workers working there, had any clue of it.
It was the year of 1896. There was a backlash among the Indians in the British army after the big revolt in the year 1857. Discontentment and anger in the soldiers were simmering. Many people were dying every day. There was a huge number of injured in the basement. Round the clock nursing was going on. Workers were falling short in number. In that difficult time, a plague epidemic broke in West Bengal. It seemed to have started in Bombay and got transmitted to Colonial Calcutta and its suburbs. The Bengal government failed to take the curative measures for the same to avoid the wrath of the indigenous people and their leaders and the epidemic took serious proportions. Sonarpur too got affected. Sarojini and her team of workers got ready to fight it, nail and tooth. The deadly epidemic entered the basement through one of the freedom fighters and then there was no stopping it.
One morning Sarojini woke up to the cries of Joy who was wreathing in abdominal pain. He was vomitting and before a distraught Sarojini could do something to help him, he lay still amidst a pool of vomit and blood. Lady luck seemed to have turned her back again on this lovely person, who by afternoon, with Joy in her arms, was found lying lifeless near the basement. The uncrushable spirit, that could not be conquered by human, was seen defeated by mere rodents.
Sonarpur was back on its feet again, in a few months but it still mourned the lovely lady Sarojini, who had made this place her home from the age of ten and breathed her last on this very piece of land.