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Journey Towards Enlightenment - Story of an Unknown Bengali Woman

BY: Pala Sen | Category: Women | Submitted: 2012-05-02 12:37:39
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Article Summary: "This is a short story about a very ordinary middle class Bengali girl during the British Raj who became extraordinary through her own unique efforts..."


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This is a short story about a very ordinary middle class Bengali girl during the British Raj who became extraordinary through her own unique efforts. This tale also tells of how a girl defied all odds in her life time and still tasted success in her own proprietary style. This was an era when though British ruled over India and education was slowly spreading all across the country, yet the rules for the Indian girls were quite different from their male counterparts.

It was in mid nineteen twenties that a girl child was born in an educated Bengali middle class family in the city of Nagpur. Contrary to the period when parents lamented at the birth of a daughter in India, the family rejoiced at the news. Mr. Satyendra Gupta, a city magistrate at that time, was so happy that he named his daughter "Jyotsna" (meaning moon light) as he believed that the new born would spread "light" all around her. Little did he know that his wishes and dreams would come true some day because the girl actually spread lights of wisdom and affection to all the people around her.

Jyotsna was the second child of the Gupta family and though she had seven brothers and sisters, she always remained her father's favourite. Her mother expired during a child birth and Mr. Gupta decided to bring up his children with the help of his widow sister who came to live with the family at Nagpur. The aunt went on to have a great influence on little Jyotsna as she virtually brought the little girl up.

Jyotsna like all "Probashi" (A Bengali who stays away from his or her homeland) Bengalis had great curiosity to visit Kolkata, the 'City of Joy' and she made up her mind to do her schooling in the city. It was unheard of during that time, as traveling in train between two cities was something a young girl from a respectable family never even dreamt of doing, specially travelling unchaperoned. Girls from respectable families were always accompanied even when they visited a neighbor's house and Jyotsna was no exception to this rule.

There were tensions in the family initially, but Jyotsna finally managed to convince her father and took admission in a school called 'Bethune Collegiate School'. She stayed in the hostel and traveled alone to Nagpur from Kolkata during the vacations which shocked many so called "respectable" people and her relatives but that did not deter or discourage her. She had selected "Bethune" for several important reasons to pursue her schooling. The school played a historic role in the cause of women's education in Bengal. It boasted of several illustrious alumni like Ms. Chandramukhi Basu, who was the first female graduate of India. She was the only and first woman to pass MA from Calcutta University in 1884. Kadambini Ganguly, other alumni was one of the first female physicians of South Asia to be trained in European medicine in the nineteenth century.

This was an eventful time for Jyotsna as she came across some of the best educationalists of the time and made many friends who were all ahead of their times and extremely modern in their outlook..

Once she finished her schooling, her aunt wanted to get her married, as girls of educated Bengali families generally got eligible grooms once they completed their schooling. However Jyotsna decided to rebel once again. This time she wanted to do honors in "Botany", which shocked her family all over again. She selected Scottish Church College at, Kolkata which was at par with Presidency College in terms of education quality during that time. Moreover at that time ,science stream was not available in Bethune college. The Scottish Church college was established by Rev. Alexander Duff who was a missionary of the Church of Scotland. The college produced numerous outstanding people, chief among them being Swami Vivekananda and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. This time Mr. Gupta put his foot down. It was unbelievable that his daughter wanted to study with men (She would be the only female student in her batch) . Which respectable man would marry his darling daughter! However Jyotsna won her battle once again and went on to study Botany and stayed in the hostel. She was the only woman in her batch who specialized in her batch.She graduated successfully in the year 1945 with honors in Botany in the very first attempt which many of her classmates could not.


Afterword: More than 50 years passed and incidentally one of her grand daughters had the fortune of staying in the same room in the same hostel at Scottish Church for two years. Jyotsna was happily married with three children and a doting husband. Though she was a brilliant student and got several job offers in the latter years, she opted to be a home maker and excelled in that. She was instrumental in keeping her joint family bonded together and all the children in the family fondly called her "Bado Ma"(eldest mother in Bengali). She had an extremely modern outlook throughout her life and managed to inculcate the same values amongst all her grandchildren. She was a kind hearted lady who was always sympathetic towards the poor and less fortunate and everyone in the family still remembers her fondly.

About Author / Additional Info:
The author resides in Kolkata, West Bengal, India and when she is not busy looking after her 11 year old daughter, she loves reading, writing, travelling extensively and listening to music. You can reach her at senpala@yahoo.com

Comments on this article: (1 comments so far)

Comment Comment By Comment Date
nice article.....keep it up:-) dgh brh 2012-05-03 01:24:55 1264

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