“The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have had on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes.”
― C. JoyBell C.
Born in the village of Payrachali, Bankura in West Bengal, Kamala was brought up in Tarar, Bhagalpur, Bihar. Kamala was an average middle class girl, in the 1920’s and 30’s rural Bengal. She didn’t have a formal education, nor did she aspire to be someone great. She was just another girl.
She was married at the tender age of 16 to Subal Ch. Sengupta, a wonderful and kind man, who was 8 years older to her. She was beautiful, they were rich and happily married and life seemed smooth. To add to their marital bliss she had her first child at 18.
They were stationed at Chandrapura, now in Jharkhand and she had pregnancy after pregnancy, giving birth to 12 children in total. Of them the twin boys died at birth, and one of her sons ‘Tarun’ died when he was in Standard 3. Amongst the children who survived are 7 boys and two girls. Kamala and her husband was the heart of the social circle in Chandrapura. Her story till then was an average woman’s story, a woman who was in perfect harmony with her family.
Misfortune struck in 1969, when her husband died due to a heart attack, leaving her with a big family and many mouths to feed. Till then kamala had been her Husband’s shadow, never having to worry about money or things that are needed on daily basis. This sudden downfall affected the family immensely. They were asked to leave the DVC quarters, where they stayed. Her children had not finished education; her youngest son was only 8 years old. Kamala was literally thrown out on the streets.
The people her Husband worked with ignored them; the women she had socialized in parties through her husband’s work never looked back. Suddenly she was this social pariah no one cared for. All the glossy days of contentment, money, socializing, a big happy family seemed like a distant mirage. One gentleman, Kamala’s youngest son Kalyan remembers him as ‘mantumama’ offered them his outhouse or in more crude words his servant’s quarters for a while so that she could arrange for a place to stay.
She went on a hunger strike, which was unthinkable back then for a woman like her demanding one of her boys be given a job at DVC, where her husband had served for so many years working as the ‘Snr. Engineer’. Finally the management bowed down to her courage and determination. Her third born ‘Pranab’ was given a job of a mere supervisor, with a very low salary. The two girls ‘Sujata and Sutapa’ were sent off to the Sarada Mission Hostel, as then there would be two less mouths to feed, and the girls would be taken care of much better at the hostel. Things weren’t rosy but it was a start, a start to an endless battle of survival.
Life in Chandrapura was over, the rest of the family moved to a rented house in Nabadweep, West Bengal. As the cost of living was a little lower there, but luck was testing kamala’s endurance. The River Ganges overflowed and flooded the place where they were staying in 1971. The family suffered further financial setback. She had to sell jewellery and other household items to keep the family running. Kamala never stopped believing that one day she would provide a better future for her family. She moved to Ranigung then with her boys, and rented a house there.
Her fifth born ‘Achintya’ left studies altogether and started doing odd jobs, working as a mechanic, a coolie, and a shop assistant, to bring in some extra money for the family. The family went from the beds of affluence to the shackles of poverty. Somehow Kamala’s incredible story was never her own alone, she existed as a family, and thus it becomes the story of the family too.
Kamala as a woman, as a mother, as an individual blossomed only after she was thrown down by the game of fate, the worst of the situations turned her into the best of a person.
Anyone who had known her would vouch that they never saw her without a smile; she was kind, broad hearted and brave. All the people who came into her house never went unfed; even if that meant that she would starve herself to provide the food to others. From 1969 when her husband died to 1975, those years were the worst. The storm named poverty had taken the toll on the entire family. They never lived together as a family anymore, only came together during the holidays. The elder boys Dilip, Apurba, Pranab and Salil were scattered in search of jobs, the girls were in hostel, Kamala was at home with her three young sons. She was adamant that Santanu and Kalyan finish school and their full education before they plunge into jobs to fend for the family like Achintya.
She got a pension on mere Rs.200 and travelled to Chandrapura alone to receive it, which was again another mark of courage, as women were seldom out on their own.
One after another, her boys found their standing, reaching up to great levels. Her daughters finished their education and were married. Kamala finally started to live in peace once again.
She travelled through India, along with her friend ‘Sunila’ which was also another great achievement for a woman of that era. When women were scared even to step out and voice their thoughts. Kamala was out there living her thoughts and dreams.
Kalyan, her youngest son never left her side. He was with her through all the ups and downs, and she spent the final years of her life with him and his wife. Even though she lived with her youngest born, she had all the emotional and financial support from all her sons and daughters. This is where luck had favoured her by giving her a family who loved her to no ends. Every single one of them idolized her, worshiped her and was there for her, whenever she needed them.
Kamala passed away at her home, in Durgapur at the age of 75 having lived a full life. She left behind a legacy of courage and power for women of her community. She is survived by her sons, daughters, and many grandchildren, who are very proud of her, and who she was. Not only was she a great mother, she was a wonderful grandmother too. Her grandson, Ritam remembers her as an inspiration; she motivated everyone around her to do better, to live better.
Her story was told to me in parts by her sons and daughters and grandchildren, which I hopefully have done justice to. We at Incredible women Of India salute this Lady for her courage, her determination, her dreams of a better life and her support to her entire family. She truly is an Incredible Woman of India.
Article by : Rhiti Bose