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The Offering


									                             Orissa Review * February - March - 2008

                                     The Offering
                                                                                      Indrajeet Mohanty

It was a turbulent time. A time of confusion and         leading a satisfied existence. My grandmother
understanding; a time of hate and love; a time of        (aie) being a very competent house-wife was
rigidity and compromise and a time of war and            taking care of the entire household. She was also
peace. Above all, it was a time of pain-the birth        an excellent cook. What else would a man ask
pangs of Indian Independence. It was the year            for ?
1945. The Great War had come to an end and                      This very Euphoria and self satisfaction,
the whole of India was swept by the deluge of            prevented my Grandfather from actively
Gandhism - a period of acute patriotism against          supporting the cause of Gandhi. The youth was
an alien rule-a government which had employed            highly motivated by Gandhi and they were coming
my grand father (aja) and was paying him.                single and in groups to help bring freedom to India.
       The ideas and preaching of Gandhi had             Schools and colleges were being boycotted and
touched the heart and pleased the mind of my             the young were renouncing their jobs. The main
grandfather. He was an educated and enlightened          objective was "Swadesi". My aja espoused a
man. This awakening, however, did not mean that          secret fear that his sons would join this movement
he supported Gandhi openly. He had to take care          and neglect their studies, becoming jobless
of a family of ten or twelve members and being           vagabonds. Thus in public life, he kept as far away
the sole bread winner, ousted from any ancestral         from Gandhi as he could. For his dedication and
legacy by a typical step mother, Aja had neither         devoted service, the British government had
the courage nor the resource to quit his job and         honoured him with the Rai Bahadur" title. Aja was
join the new revolution. Patriotism was dormant          very proud of this.
in him, like it was in many an educated man in                  My Aie was not one of those complacent
those days.                                              non-entities which womanhood reflected in those
      In 1942 Aja had been posted at Puri as             days. She had studied upto class eight, wrote in
the medical officer, to eradicate malaria. He had        Oriya, Bengali and English, read novels of Bankim
constructed a small house on the V.I.P road. The         Chandra, Sarat Chandra etc, saw movies of K.L.
bath rooms were fitted with taps with running            Saigal, Suraya, Noorjahan and was determined
water-a very modern concept in those days. This          to educate her daughters. However, like all good,
house also had electric connection. Being                Hindu women she never went against her husband.
westernized in his outlook and bearing, Aja              She did nothing without Aja's permission nor did
possessed an Austin England Automobile and the           she go against his decisions. In her heart she
luxuries like a radio, a gramphone, a horse-cart         admired Gandhi's courage. This old man could
etc. By Indian standards he was quite affluent.          challenge the mighty British government with just
His children were all good students. He was              prayers and an ordinary stick. He has a magnetic
                               Orissa Review * February - March - 2008

appeal and was a real "Mahatma" as he knew all                     Aie bowed down her head in silence, Rama
the religious scriptures and mingled with the               Devi looked at her with all compassion and
untouchables and the Muslims. Aie was really                lowered her gaze towards her neck. Pointing at
sorry that her husband never discussed this "Great          the necklace Aie was wearing she said- "Why
soul" at home. She did not agree with Gandhi on             don't you give me that? It would help..." Ashamed
one point- to robe the idols of Lord Jagannath in           N.P. and distressed at not having enough money
"Khadi". She however, had no time to speculate              to donate and refusing the revered Rama Devi,
on Independence and Gandhi.                                 Aie took out her necklace and gave it to Rama
       One fine winter afternoon, when the                  Devi. The ladies took it carefully and folded it in
seasonal flowers were in full bloom and marigolds           an handkerchief all the time smiling at Aie. She
lined the drive upto the porch, Aie was basking             cut a receipt and went away, profusely thanking
in the tepid sun on the verandah. Her eldest                Aie.
daughter Bibi was on the gramophone listening                      Alas, all hell broke loose when Aja came
to a Shamsad Begums record, while other three               back. He scolded Aie for giving away a necklace
Mama, Kunmuni and Manu were playing a game                  weighing around 50 gms worth nearly Rupees
of Ludo. The youngest son Babu was crawling                 Two Hundred. He rebuked her for being
all around. The older son Bhola and Tuku had                irresponsible, when she had four daughters to get
gone to school. Then came Rama Devi and Masi                married off. She was branded a "foolish" and
to my grandfather's. Rama Devi was a great                  "mad" woman. Aie sulked throughout the day and
women activist as the most revered workers of               refused to enter the kitchen. That night, the
Gandhi. She was called "Ma" by every one and                children had to go to bed with only bread and
was a selfless worker. Mashi was a Bengali lady
                                                            milk. My grandparents did not touch any food as
who had left the luxuries of a zamindari family to
                                                            they were suffering from depressive psychosis
serve the Mahatma and Rama Devi and thus her
                                                            syndrome. Aie kept on cursing, the noble Rama
country. Aie touched the feet of the elderly ladies.
                                                            Devi, under his breath. It definitely must have been
They blessed her and were offered places, on
the warm verandah, to sit, where Aie spread a               a traumatic and sleepless night for both.
mattress. After the exchanges of the usual                         As dawn broke, bathing the surroundings
formalities of enquiring about each other's health          in pale, golden-red and covering everything with
and about the children etc, Aie got up to make              mist, Aie went out into the garden, as a matter of
some tea. Rama Devi caught hold of her and said-            habit, to pluck flowers for the daily pooja.
No Mani, I will not hurry. I have come to collect           Everything was so fresh and inspiring, but Aie was
donations for the Kasturba Gandhi Trust, which              hopelessly depressed to be enervated by the
will be utilized for freedom struggle. Please give          natural beauty. Mechanically she went from one
some money".                                                shrub to another. Plucking flowers, she came near
      Aie was greatly embarrassed. It was the               the gate. There, she got a shock of her life. A
month's end and she had no surplus to offer. This,          vision which was emerging from the mist, slowly
she said to Rama Devi and promised that when                coming towards the gate. On reaching the gate, it
her husband got his salary, she would personally            started banging the gate, as it was locked. Aie
go and give her the money. Then Rama Devi,                  went towards the gate to unlock it, but the vision
whom Aie called "Bhauja" showing surprise,                  shook its head. As Aie came to the gate, she
asked her- "Do you really have nothing on you to            realized that the vision was no one else but Masi
donate will your Bhauja go away from here empty             (Mangala Sengupta) who was giving her
handed ?"                                                   something across the gate. Aie caught hold of the

                               Orissa Review * February - March - 2008

thing in one hand as she was holding the flower                     Aie's pulse stopped. The world falling into
basket in the other. Masi smiled at Aie and                  taciturnity, the ground swept away beneath her
vanished into the golden mist.                               feet and the basket of flowers fell to the ground
                                                             scattering the flowers of on all sides. Aie stared
       A dazed Aie looked at what Masi had given
                                                             at the letter for a long time. She then folded the
her. There was something tied in a Khadi
                                                             sheet and put it inside her blouse. Awakening from
handkerchief and an envelope with a letter. She
                                                             a trance, Aie looked around her. The whole world
opened the handkerchief and was surprised to
                                                             was so beautiful. Birds sang, flowers boasted off
see her necklace in it. Her heart soared up to
                                                             their petals, the trees were boisterous with the
heaven. What a luck. She was saved. Her
                                                             gentle breeze. God was in his heaven and
happiness knew no bounds. Then she opened the
                                                             everything was right with His world. She felt new,
letter. In neat handwriting, on handmade paper
                                                             young and free. She realised her intrinsic beauty.
was written :
                                                                    She went inside, ignoring the inquisitive eyes
Dearest Mani,
                                                             of her husband. She unlocked the almirah, took
       I had come yesterday to buy your soul and             out her sandle wood jewel box and brought out
not to take your gold. I had no intention to take            of it her gold girdle, eight bangles and tied them
your necklace. Gold is a taboo with us as it binds           up in a piece of cloth together with the necklace.
women, as a chain does to prisoners. It takes                The gold must have been around 300 gms. This
away her freedom and individuality. Once Buddha              was hers and no one else's. Not even her husband
was preaching in the outskirts of Pataliputra, as            had any rights over this gold. she need not take
he never entered a city. A Bhiku went through                his permission. Then she changed over to a white
the streets of Patalputram asking people to give             handloom saree and ordered Aja to take out the
what they thought to be most precious to Buddha.             car. Aja never liked her wearing white but she
The king left his throne, the ministers and merchants        didn't care. Aja took out the car, without
offered their jewels, but the Bhiku refused. The             questioning her. She asked him to drive to
Bhiku said that enlightened one had no need for              Cuttack.
all such things, which he himself had given up. As                  On reaching Cuttack Aie asked Aja to take
the Bhiku was leaving the outskirts of the city              her to Bakhrabad. She got out in front of the
disappointed he saw of poor women working in                 palatial house of the Chowdurys'. She went
the fields beckoning him. The woman was barely               straight into Rama Devi's bedroom. Prostrating
covering her shame with a tattered rag. She asked            herself before Gopabandhu and wife Rama Devi
the Bhiku to wait, as she went behind a tree. From           she offered her jewellery. Both embraced her and
there she threw the rag at the Bhiku and said "go            blessing her, Rama Devi said, "So... .you have
give this to the Tathagatha." The Bhiku fell on his          come . ask our son-in-law to relinquish his Rai
knees and said "O Great mother, you are an arhat,            Bahadur title. "Aie felt euphoric and for the first
you are free, you have got Nirvana., bless me."              time in years, since being a mother, she felt she
       Now, I am sure, when the time comes, you              had done something useful. Rama Devi had given
will come out of your shell and give yourself for            her the Gospel.
the cause of the motherland.
                                  Yours loving,
                                                             Indrajeet Mohanty is a Lecturer (SS) in History in the
Bakhrabad, Cuttack                  Bhauja                   Rama Devi Women's (Autonomous) College and lives
28.12.1945                        (Rama Devi)                at A/133, Sahid Nagar, Bhubaneswar.


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