It was around 5.30 in the morning. As the first rays of the sun fell on the great snow capped peaks of Himalayas, the little village at the foothills slowly began to wake up. Savita had a lot of tasks at hand. She had to clean her hut, take a bath, cook, all before her husband and three kids woke up. Besides, living in a remote village in North Bengal, watching the sunrise was always a pleasure. Her husband was a daily wage worker at a construction site. The eldest daughter was fifteen and had recently started working as a maid at a Babu’s house in the village. The younger two “luckily” were boys and have been admitted to a primary school. After sending off her two sons to school, she will head out to the nearest town where she works as a maid. It takes her two hours by cycle to reach the town.
Night came in early in this tiny village. People in general didn’t have access to television except for the Babus. Sometimes they used to gather in the houses that had television to watch Bengali serials. There wasn’t much left to do after dark. The deafening silence of the surrounding forests except the sound of the common house cricket was like a lullaby. By 10 pm everyone was usually in a deep slumber after a long tiring day.
But Savita was content with her life. She had been married off at fourteen. Her parents lived in the same village. She had once been to Kolkata with her husband but her rustic soul couldn’t figure out if it was a dream or a nightmare. Her husband was a good man who had no illicit relations, didn’t drink or smoke and had even bought her the cycle a few months ago with his savings. Though she had been happy, she wondered if he should have saved the money for their daughter’s impending wedding. Her would be son-in-law was a gem. He had studied till the tenth standard, worked with his father as a carpenter and had a motorcycle of his own. They hadn’t even asked for dowry. She considered herself lucky compared to what she was used to seeing around her in the village everyday.
After their usual breakfast of rice, daal and a sabzi, she packed muri and gur for her husband and kids. They set off on their usual duties while she prepared to get ready to leave for work. She was changing into one of her “chhapa shuti (printed cotton)” saris, when she heard Minati calling her. The local panchayat had arranged for a programme for women. There was free food !!! All her friends and neighbours were going. Minati convinced her to skip work for a day. In any case, it wasn’t like she was very regular, one additional day of leave wouldn’t do much harm !
(Illustration by Mukta Lata Barua for International Women’s Day)
She headed with them for the field where their usual festivities, including Durga Puja and Mela, were held. There was a huge stage on which a few educated “bhodromohilas (ladies)” were sitting in their silk saris along with the a few members of the Gram Panchayat. Her daughter, who had studied till class eight, had taught her to read. “Antarjatik Mahila Diwas (International Women’s Day”). It didn’t make much sense to her. The next two hours were pure torture, with the women coming to the stage and speaking about the importance of women, about something called empowerment of women etc etc. She waited eagerly for the promised food packets. All these lectures meant nothing to her. She knew the women of her village work day in and day out to run their households. Even if no one said it, she knew that she was indispensable in her small world. She knew her kids would starve had it not been for her contributions. Her rustic mind, however, couldn’t quite understand why educated people needed a ” day ” to understand the contributions of a woman.
At the end of a long torturous two hours, she received a food packet filled with Singara and sweets. While the young girls sat giggling under the banyan tree savoring the delicacies, she rushed home with her packet. Her kids came back home around 2 pm in the afternoon. She watched in pleasure as they shared the Singara and sweets, something she had last bought for them from the Mela, six months ago.
The next day onward, she went back to her usual routine. She never saw those women in silk saris, who had said “big” things about empowerment, education and equality of women, again. When Minati said they would come back again next year on the 8th day of March, she felt happy. Not because the day meant anything to her, but because she would again be able to see the sparkle in her kids’ eyes when they would find their favourite Singara and misti waiting for them after school !!