Homage to my great great grandmother, a child widow, during Pitru Paksha 2020

 Pitru Paksha is the fortnight of rememberance of one’s ancestors in India.

I have often marvelled at the determination of my great, great grandmother, Radhika Devi.

In accordance with customs prevalent in the late 19th century, she was married at the age of 9 to her young husband of 14. She was meant to go to her husband’s village after she attained puberty.

Karma decreed otherwise.

Radhika became a child-widow. She was fortunate. Her parents and brothers cared deeply for her and she remained in their home for a few years. Against their wishes, we are told in my grandfather’s memoirs, she decided to go to her husband’s family in Panchapalli, a village in what is now the district of Jagatsinghpur, in Odisha.

I quote here from my father’s memoirs, The Casquet of Remembrance, by Dr.Justice Braja Nath Misra.

“She lived a very simple, chaste and virtuous life and observed all the rituals and pujas that a Hindu widow was required to perform. Her brothers who loved her very much often stayed with her for two to three months and helped her in cultivation of her husband’s agricultural lands.

Soon Radhika realised that being a widow, she ought to take a son in adoption to continue her lineage and look after her house and landed properties after her.

Around the age of 21 years she requested her husband’s younger brother, Banambar Misra, to give his second son Dayanidhi, who was then aged about 4 years, for adoption by her. After Banambar Misra acceded to her request, she changed Dayanidhi’s name to Chintamoni and adopted him in 1861.

She was very interested in providing proper education for Chintamoni and got him admitted to the government Upper Primary school at Panchapalli.

Chintamoni was the first and only Brahmin student of that school.

This step was unprecedented.

The entire Brahmin community at Panchapalli was infuriated and offended that Chintamoni had joined a government school. They took a rigid decision so as to discourage other Brahmin boys from joining the government school and excommunicated Radhika and Chintamoni from the Brahmin community.

The ban remained in force for about five years, but Radhika and Chintamoni did not bother. Both mother and son carried on as before. Chintamoni completed his studies at the government school and passed the Upper Primary exams. He next studied at the Middle Vernacular School at village Punanga for two years.

After passing his Vernacular examination being eligible he joined the medical school at Cuttack, where the subject of medicine was taught in class in Oriya, the local language.

However, again there was very strong and loud protest from the Brahmin community at Panchapalli, as studies at the medical school involved dissection of dead bodies.

This time Chintamoni did not fight, but gave in as at that time Radhika was all alone in the village while he was in town at Cuttack. He left the medical school and joined the Upper Primary School as a teacher.”

I have always admired how my great great grandmother adopted a child and helped him study. And later, how my great grandfather did not wish to leave his mother alone in the village.We learn of their deep love, compassion, determination and sacrifices.

These memories truly bind us to our ancestors.

Pranaam.

Published by Jayshree Misra Tripathi

Jayshree, as the eldest of five daughters, includes her maiden surname 'Misra' in her writing. She lived a nomadic life from 1986 till 2015, as the wife of a career foreign service officer in the Indian Civil Service. She has written from across three continents - as a freelance journalist, teacher and poet. Jayshree followed up her MA in English (Literature) from Delhi University (1978), with a Post Graduate Diploma in Human Rights Law from the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru (Distance Education programme, 2001). She has taught English Language and Literature, been an examiner in English for the Diploma of the International Baccalaureate Organisation and was their trained Consultant for the DP & CP. She worked briefly in the print media, in Delhi, during the mid-80s.

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