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Unsung Heroes: Of warmth, will and wisdom- Bari Maa

Joined: 1/4/2015
Posts: 1
Siliguri, West Bengal, India

Within few short weeks following the night of her wedding, my grandmother knew that she had made the worst mistake of her life. Her husband and in-laws had stated that her bread and water was not their concern. Months happened before she came to accept that dreams she had dreamed of having a happy married life had been shattered. Lying on the cold steps of the stairway of her own house, she decided at last to visit the nearby school to inquire if there was need for a language teacher. And that’s how it all began. From reading to the girls their first Tagore poem when they first joined as shy fourteen year olds, to discussing with them democratic philosophies as they graduated as unafraid thinkers; from lining flower pots with the gardener, to representing the school faculty in State Board meetings- hers was an insatiable, irrevocable thirst to make her institution a temple of knowledge the underprivileged called home. Her monthly salary of merely 167 rupees was always enough somehow, even after paying the fees of some of her students if their families couldn't. Extra classes were held at her house during her husband’s absence. Behen ji or ‘dear sister’ as the school mates called her, well knew that most girls were born to illiterate parents who would have been much happier had they stayed at home looking after younger siblings. And throughout four decades of association, Rajendra Prasad Girls’ High School was her, Shubhra Pal Chowdhury Kundu's platform for rewriting their destinies.

My mother narrates memories of childhood-she remembers her mother herself cooking for hundreds of poor people on festivals. Wondering how she brought up two children alone while selflessly serving the world in every way it allowed, I marvel at the unbreakable, unsinkable spirit that fills her being. To her, it’s all the blessings of a Supreme Power, her faith in which is infinite.

These days, at the age of eighty-three, on her own she hosts health camps and cultural events in my grandfather’s estates; villages where there is not a single household with a toilet. Villagers are given medicines and told the essentials of maintaining good health. They enjoy music performances, theatrical displays, a delicious supper too. At the training centres my grandmother has opened, volunteers are teaching them the written language, equipping them with vocational skills, raising their awareness about vital issues.

Hundreds of miles from where I write, thousands of miles from where you read, in these small villages, ‘Bari Maa’, or the ‘experienced mother’, as we call her, has made space for a million smiles. In me and hundred others, she has awakened goodness, inspired greatness; she stands as idol and hero for us all. As I tell her story, I revisit times we spent together and I find my eyes getting misty. Suddenly at half past ten, my cell phone rings.

“Did you have dinner?” asks a voice worriedly. It’s she.

Tears come rolling down. I am not ashamed.
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