There was a time when we used to wake up in the morning, hearing Akashbani Radio Channel music; we used to walk through the narrow stroll of North Calcutta to reach the Ghat where we used to take a dip, and chant Gayatri Mantra while exercising Surya Namaskar. Then, after cladding Gamcha, we used to return to our respective Jomidarbari kind of palaces; though torn due to ill maintenance; and sit on the Dawa or the long verandah drinking milk chai and reading Bengali Dailies. We were always very interested to give a sumptuous Adda(Chitchats); followed by Tarka(Arguments).Hence, quite obvious, we Bengalis always take a pride on these two qualities. Previously, we used to hire the Tarkalankars( People who are renowned for their witty intelligence and arguments) for entertainment in any of our occasions. But the time of which I am talking; post independence; the glory of Bengal had dropped drastically and once the rich & famous Tarkalankars had faded in the Bloody Division of Bengal within India & Pakistan.
At about 9 o’clock, we used to bathe in the Choubaccha (Water reservoir) at the centre of our building (uthhan). We had a separate room to offer our Daily Pujas, after which we used to eat our favourite Bhaat & Machher jhol (Rice & Fish curry); carry our huge three-tier tiffin boxes and move towards our respective schools / workplaces.
This was the time I used to meet Kona Boudi, wearing a grey striped off-white dhonekhali saari; standing under the asbestos shade of the bus stand. At that time, a lady going to work was not a very common incident; and it was unbelievable in our North Calcuttan restricted environment. But Kona Boudi was special; exceptional. This is her story; this is not a journal presenting our very Old Calcutta.
Her full name was Pritikona Bose. She was one of the very few women graduates of our time. Specifically, she was double graduate – one in Bengali; another in History. She could have easily made it to the Masters; probably, she was looking forward to it. But as usual, Man proposes, though God is always there to dispose. Her Father died in a fatal accident in the jute mill. He was in charge of the Bally Jute Mill and lost his life saving one of the welding workers. Kona boudi’s mother was illiterate – as was the then norms of our society. Kona boudi was the eldest daughter of all the five siblings; and so evidently, she became the in charge of the house. She got the opportunity to work at the Jute Mill in an Officer position, and she was left with no options. The bright young lady was indeed strong; so no one understood her pain of leaving academics.
Time flies. After five years, Kona boudi started working as the Manager in charge of the mill. She was twenty seven years, and her mother started nagging her to get married. In our the – then society, a girl on the other side of twenties used to face a tough time to get married. Kona boudi’s mother’s concerns were thus very apt. But Kona Boudi was of a different stature. She knew her family’s dependence level upon her; so she was never in a mood to tie the knot. At least, not till the time one of her brothers was getting settled. Her brother Salil was of my age group. He was then in tenth standard with me only. Elders used to shower mixed reactions upon her decision. Some used to praise her for her sacrifices; others used to befriend her. ‘Don’t speak to her. She will bring bad luck’…even our mother used to warn us. The reason was simple. Aiburo (unmarried) men were okay; women were rejected. There was yet another genre, who wished to help Konaboudi. They used to come with an “Eligible” Would be Grooms’ list. Unfortunately, the age of those so-called eligible candidates started from fifty-five! The range even touched seventies!
I have never seen Kona boudi to react immaturely. But, whenever any relative tried to help her getting married in this manner; she used to look at them so sharply; the said relative used to hide his or her tail and flee; not before cursing the young lady of course. The curses never affected her. Konaboudi was busy then with her siblings’ homework. She was never bothered to shut the pinches of the society.
But again, the time rolled and Kona boudi got married, all of a sudden. That was the only time probably, our Para was numb. The numbness meant something Big had happened. All the elders shut their mouth.
But we were teenagers then. Apart from our immense curiosity we have variant sources as well! I don’t remember now, probably my sister intimated me the details.
We had our local goon Pannada; in the true sense of the term, he was Parar Dada! One night, he abducted Konaboudi, raped her; and in the morning; dropped her at her place unconscious. Our society literally cut all the threads with the whole family and made them Akghorey! There was no one to utter a single word against the main accused though. Pannada moved here and there freely. The rape victim was held guilty. That was the norm then. Or, have we really come out of the edge now as well?
Konaboudi again had to sacrifice for the sake of her family. After a couple of weeks, she went directly to Pannada’s mother and offered herself as the bride of the accused. Salil told me later, she even threatened to inform police, if the marriage was not held immediately! I still remember, Salil could not control his tears while he exclaimed; “Didita e vabe more galo? Aro anek upay to chilo, naki!” (Why did my elder sister chose this way to die? She could have ended her life through any of other prevalent options, right? )
We could feel his pain, but our elders were more or less happy with the solution. They nodded positively and accepted Konaboudi’s family into the society once again. One fine evening, Pannada got married with Kona Boudi at Kalighat temple. Perhaps, Kali Ma was also shading her tears that day. The rain continued for three long days.
A lot of things changed indeed. We used to call her Konadi( Didi stands for Elder sister); our elders asked us to call her Konaboudi (Boudi means elder brother’s wife). Probably, she was accepted as Pannada’s wife only; not as our very own Didi. Konaboudi used to tell afterwards though; “Pritikona to morei gechilo..Je bie korlo oi loktakey, se or aboshishto!”(Pritikona had died already by then; Panna got married with her remaining only!!)
Konaboudi has not quitted her job. Every morning we used to see her at the Bus stand. In our society, whenever a girl gets married, she wears colourful saris; preferably red. She even wears sindur, sankha pola as the sign of her marriage. But Konaboudi used to dress like a widow. She was seen in off white saris most of the time. Whole Para was inquisitive, but she did not bother herself anymore to answer. We came to know the reason somehow though; probably from Salil only. According to Konaboudi, she had married a person, who was already dead to her. In that sense, she was a widow. She not only used to clad herself on a white sari, she also used to perform all the customs a widow is bound to do. She used to keep a fast on Akadoshi as was the ritual; jokingly she used to exclaim – Sadhobar Akadoshi! (the woman whose husband is alive is not supposed to keep a fast on the eleventh of every lunatic month.) Each and every day, when Pannada used to see her, he used to die out of guilt; she had not spoken a word with him ever; not till the last day of his life. He died during the Nakshal Amol on a police encounter. When his body was brought for the cremation, Konaboudi was at the mill, supervising the factory functions…
So, this was Konaboudi. She is still alive. Her family is well settled now. Salil is in US now for the past twenty years. Konaboudi stays alone in a 2BHK apartment at Behala. She has moved out of our Para after Pannada’s death. She has not only looked after her own family, Pannada’s mother also used to stay with her till her last day. Pannada’s younger brother, Dhruba has become a doctor; credit goes to none other than Konaboudi.
I told you, she was special! that is the reason, I was so much tempted to script her story.
Surely, it is exceptional, profound!