This story was first published as a winner of Muse of the Month, September 2016, at Women's Web here.
This was a small town in Chhattisgarh, about a hundred kilometres away from the remote village that was home for her. Kamayani Bose was here on her monthly visit to buy school stationery and medicines. This was also where she sometimes used the internet at a Cyber Café to look up current affairs and government policies or the fate of her various Right to information applications lying pending with this system in slumber.
Today was momentous, as she was reading an article on upcoming public food supplies policy on a news website a familiar face stared at her from a pop-up window- Subroto Ray, an advertisement for his next book launch in Kolkata.
She looked at his receding hairline, the grey curls, and the sly smile and finally into the eyes of that face, they were still the same, charming and deceptive. Kamayani smiled to herself as an old chapter from her story was reshuffled by that face. She had forgiven him and moved on, yet memories shall remain.
It was the early 80s in the most prestigious university in Delhi that Kamayani had first seen those eyes following her and observing her intently as she went about the political meetings and protests by his side. She was the only child of two famous communist ideologues and living up to that reputation had joined socialist student groups in college and university. He - the Che Guevara of Delhi as he was famously known then was one of the most famous faces of the students’ movement - the much-respected, idealised Subroto Da.
Like all other ‘petit bourgeois’ kids of the 70s and 80s they were all high on the idea of rebellion. Other than her marriage-seeking relationship with Subroto, Kamayani had broken all traditional rules- short hair, smoking in public, pre-marital sex, abusive language, her mother worried that no good Bengali family would accept her as their son’s spouse, she feared that the well-reputed, politically and financially powerful Rays would only accept her if she changed her ways to become a proper ‘Bhadralok’ daughter-in-law.
But Kamayani was blinded by love and ideals and she rarely cared, she lived her ideology, at least she thought so, everything about her was so anti-establishment. She was inspired by the Paris’ Sorbonne university upheavals and anti-Vietnam protests across US campuses.
Soon they started travelling in groups to villages with their lofty ideals of a revolution by the commoners. She dreamed of setting up an idyllic country home somewhere as Mrs. Subroto Ray and then show-off her tribal and organic lifestyle when they travelled back to their elite families in Kolkata and Delhi respectively.
She imagined them travelling together to International Conferences and in her tribal-patterned kurtas and jeans walking to the prestigious podiums becoming the face of the rebellion against the oppressive government in India. Teaching English, Marxism and Feminism to villagers and bringing back international prizes for the work.
Unfortunately her dreams had a lifespan of only a few months. Subroto, the Ray scion could not bear with the heat, mosquitoes and unhygienic living conditions in the rural areas. The recurrent news of police atrocities on members of the group if caught with Marxist literature or any other association with the movement heightened his blood pressure so much that her rushed back to Kolkata for a short stint to regain health, but never came back.
Next Kamayani knew he had flown to Boston for a Doctorate and she was left alone to stay on if she wished. She survived the abortion by an untrained midwife in the village and realised for the first time what a real revolution here demanded- a lifetime. Being a true revolutionary she had to overcome all her traditional ideas of marriage, family, and society and start her life afresh as someone who had undergone a radical soul-transformation.
A decade later, the radical movement had fizzled out, Kamayani Di as she was now known ran a school for girls and a few friends ran a small clinic in the village. She had realised the system could only be changed from within.
Her father had passed away and her mother had moved to live with her uncle’s family in Kolkata. Kamayani had sold their house and every piece of precious heirloom to buy infrastructure for her school.
Her long lustrous hair had greyed in corners and edges, her crude cotton saris were woven right here in this village by a women’s cooperative, she had forgotten all her elite swagger and now spoke their language, ate their food. She never went to any conferences even if invited, just sent articles by post to a few publications and periodicals about their projects.
Her screen had turned on a screensaver of bouncing balls by the time her reverie broke; she clicked back into her email-account and was happy to receive another contribution from a friend in Delhi for the hospital they were planning to build in place of the clinic.
Kamayani no longer wanted a handsome, intelligent, go-getter husband or a perfect idyllic home; she did not crave for recognition or acclaim all she wanted was a better life for the tribals she lived with and this was now her only lifelong commitment.
As Nilanjana Roy says in The Girl Who Ate Books,” It was a choice that turned in another direction from the freedoms she had so often longed for and fought for….” , but Kamayani now knew for sure it was a worthy choice and now her life was her revolution.