Author Anuradha Mitra
Born 29th December. Capricorn. Schooling from Loreto House Kolkata, college from Presidency and MA from Delhi University. Civil servant presently working in the Ministry of Defence, Delhi. Interests are arts, culture, literature and music. Keenly follows politics and social economics
My growing up years in the 60s were in the midst of women: Ma, Didis (sisters), Mashis and Pishis (aunts). Except for Baba and one Kaka (uncle), the girls were in a majority. In a family where adda (light chatter), fun, laughter and games ruled the world, without brothers jostling for attention space, there was ample freedom to think, do or say what we want.
There were no prohibitions, bans or curfews in our lives. Not having brothers meant that there was no discrimination either. We loved our childhood years.
Baba was the patriarch of the family. Though he gave us the best of education, it was Ma, whose influence was just overwhelming. She was everywhere all the time: from driving us to school, interacting with memsahib teachers at school PTAs, taking us shopping to New market, attending family functions like marriages, birthdays, anniversaries, advising us on dressing up like what clothes to wear, tying up hair .... the list goes on. She was the light of our lives, the centre of our universe.
Seeing Ma's boundless enthusiasm, our late aunt Pratibha Mitter, a social activist herself roped her into joining All India Women's Conference (AIWC) Central Calcutta Constituency at Beliaghata. AIWC is an NGO with many branches in Kolkata. In those days, it got together a bunch of enthusiastic ladies, mainly homeworkers with spare time to do something for the community of poor women in and around Beliaghata. It could be primary education, vocational training, catering or running women's hostels and canteens. It was the first rudimentary efforts at empowering women, not as institutionalised as today. At a time when most women would have been taking siesta at home in the afternoon, Ma would have slipped away for a meeting or a seminar or a function but would be dutifully back at home when we returned from school or college. Her energy was amazing: she loved social work especially helping other women who were not so fortunate as us. Relatives would be lined up at home seeking her assistance: it could be wise counsel in a difficult marriage, or hauling off a shy relative to the gynecologist for medical advise or practically organizing whole weddings of relatives who sought her help.
I remember Ma every year on Women's Day. She is 89 years young. Beautiful, dignified, courageous, compassionate with a childlike zest for life. Having completed nearly 60 years in active social service, she has never for once sought fame or recognition. She is one of the few Bengali women who have toiled tirelessly for empowering and uplifting destitute and poor women and remains till today one of the unsung heroines of our times. I salute her colossal contribution to social service and draw inspiration from her in my life even today.
Her name is Reba Mitra