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Of An Unusual Life

Visalakshi Menon

By Sarladebi Chauthurani . Translated and edited and with an introduction by Sikata Banerjee
Women Unlimited and Stree, 2011, pp.195, 500.00


This is a fascinating memoir and it is indeed commendable that Sikata Banerjee has chosen to translate this text which, until now, was only available to the Bengali reading public.Saraladebi Chaudhu-rani, the niece of Rabindranath Tagore, was a woman who was able to stand her own ground and do exactly what she wanted. She resisted marriage until the age of thirty-three and there-after, she clearly chose her brand of nationalist politics which was not quite in sync with that of her husband. Sarladebi was greatly influen-ced by Mahatma Gandhi and his non-violence and constructive activities. Gandhiji, in fact, stayed at her residence when he visited Lahore in 1919. Born in 1872 in Calcutta, she spent her early years in the Jorosanko home of the Tagores.  She had a rather unusual childhood. Her mother Swarnakumari Debi, sister of Rabindranath Tagore, was a well known writer and feminist who was so absorbed in her own activities that she had little time for her children. Saraladebi strongly resented being left to the care of the ayahs in the household, each of whom was responsible for one parti-cular child. She felt that a mother's natural love and affection had been denied to her and was envious of her cousins who had less educated, less sophisticated mothers but who enjoyed their spontaneous warmth and love. Sarala-debi's feelings towards her mother seem to have been quite similar to those of Kamala Das (Soraiyya) towards her own mother, the well-known Malayalam poetess, Balamani Amma. Sarladebi's autobiography can be said to have three locations: Calcutta, Mysore and Lahore. The first section, which is the longest, describes growing up in a Brahmo ethos in Calcutta. Then comes Mysore, where she went after her graduation to teach at the Maharani's school. Finally there is Lahore, where she lived after her marriage to Ram-bhuja Dutta Choudhuri, a prominent Arya Samaj and nationalist leader. While the first section is the most detailed and descriptive, in all three, she delineates the prevailing customs and practices of the people with remarkable perspicacity. Thus, in the first part, which largely revolved around her life in the Tagore household, she describes the daily routine of the womenfolk in delightful detail. She observes: 'Every afternoon, the women of Jorosanko gathered on my mother's enormous bed to talk and play cards'. She writes about the endless supplies of batter fried spicy onions, eggplants and cauliflowers which would arrive and ...

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