“Her unadorned face with a parting free of sindoor and a simply worn white sari indicated her to be a young widow. Something in her appearance impacted Dipen.
Dipen could recall his aunt becoming a widow when he was a mere seven or eight, she had her hair cut short and seemed perpetually in a complaining and cantankerous mood. She was required to observe strict fast on certain days and Dipen still remembered how she would secretly beg him for moa or naru, homemade Bengali sweets. Considered inauspicious, Dipen’s aunt was barred from participating in joyous occasions; to everyone around she personified inconvenience and this showed up in the insensitive behaviour of family members towards her. Dipen was too young to understand the ramifications but as he grew older, he could sense the unforgiving and interminable despair that his aunt’s life had represented.”
Snippet: In the early twentieth century, the plight of widows in Bengal continued to be terrible, arising from customs and social ostracization.Even though remarriage of widows had been made legally permissible from mid-nineteenth century, largely due to the efforts of the Brahmin social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, society continued to frown on all such attempts.
Once the husband died , the torture of his wife began. It was as if Lord Yama of the netherworld was taking away her soul. Even when she had to endure the grief of her husband’s death, society somehow held her ‘responsible’ for the death and even her closest relatives could not come to console her. A woman whose husband had died was thus like a living corpse. She had no rights in the home and had to remain as a slave to other family members.
The above extract is from the story Pandemic, a part of my forthcoming book, ‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories’.
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