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Parables of a Time Gone By


V. Geetha

IN THE PATH OF SERVICE : MEMORIES OF A CHANGING CENTURY
By Ashoka Gupta . Translated from the Bengali by Sipra Bhattacharya with Ranjana Dasgupta
Stree, Kolkata, 2005, pp. 254, Rs. 450.00

MY REMINSCENCES: SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT DURING THE GANDHIAN ERA AND AFTER
By Renuka Ray
Stree, Kolkata, 2005, pp. 271, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 5 May 2006

These two books are parables of a time when India was emerging into its nationhood. They encapsulate a complex social history—of a generation that attained adulthood in colonial India and citizenship in independent India and Pakistan.   Ashoka Gupta’s is a Gandhian tale of an intelligent, capable woman, given over to domesticity, and well-versed in an ethics of care, who comes to assume social responsibility and authority when she is required to. It begins as the story of a woman from a well-endowed Bengali family married living in Rajasthan – of Jyotirmoyee Devi, who is married into a home in western India and finds herself widowed. Undaunted, she works hard to attain a life of dignified independence and establishes herself as a writer. Her efforts to raise her daughters to be educated, feisty and free in their marital and other choices are particularly moving. Ashoka Gupta tells a simple, lucid story marked by memory and recall.   In the telling of it, her story, of how moved into domesticity from a free, unfettered existence as a happy college student becomes as a bustling tale of weddings, childbirths, family events, and most of all, work, the endless labour of women expended in care and nurture. It is also a tale of a life that is haunted by the colonial civil service. Wedded to a man who works for the Raj and is conscious of his duties, but who is also quietly and firmly nationalist, Ashoka Gupta lives the life of ‘a rover’, as she puts, it, travelling the lengths of riverine Bengal on the one hand and the forests of Dandakaranya on the other. Here are entertaining vignettes of life in the tehsil and moffusil, the charm of which is punctuated by historical events and circumstances. Quit India, the war and the great Bengal famine of the 1940s catapults Ashoka Gupta into public life – which, until then, she had only known through fund-raising efforts for organizations such the All India Women’s Conference. She also finds herself at this point in her life, wanting to look beyond the household and its demands. Working to run public kitchens and rehabilitation centers in the wake of the famine, and to provide women with work, she discovers how the discipline and relentless nature of domestic work, so familiar to her since her early youth, actually stands her in good stead now. She realizes how an ...


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