Memories of a Changing Century
Publisher:Stree Samya -Kolkata
About the Book
In writing about her life and times, Asoka Gupta characteristically stresses on what she witnessed rather than on herself. These were decades, as she says, ‘of new beginnings and new learning … amidst a constantly expanding stream of relationships a constantly expanding steam of relationships that made up my personal life. These were also nine decades of turbulent change in the life of a nation-in-the making eager to find its place in the sun’. Thus she knits her personal and public life together, relating how her life as a private individual became inexorably linked to voluntary social work. Asoka Gupta lost her father when she was six, and spent her childhood in Jaipur, Delhi and Calcutta, and the constant shifting of her home made her adept at changing situations. As a child of the distinguished writer, Jyotirmoyee Devi, she was drawn to books and learning, and even as a small child she learnt the importance of family ties and responsibilities, which later played such a large role in her marital life. Born in 1912, she belonged to the generation of middle class girls who went to school and later to university, and dreamt of building a modern progressive nation. Marriage to Shaibal Kumar Gupta, ICS, a district judge who was a nationalist and a Gandhian, took her to the districts of Bengal, and this is when she began her involvement with social work. In Dhaka in 1936, she became a member of the All Indian Women’s Conference, which was to become a lifelong commitment, becoming its President in 1986 and its Patron at present. In 1943, she helped coordinate relief during the man-made, cataclysmic Bengal Famine. Later in 1946, she plunged in to relief work after the Noakhali communal carnage in1946, at Gandhiji’s behest, living and working among the stricken villagers, taking along her very young daughter, Kasturi, to underline her commitment. Her account of the grief and trauma of Partition leaves a rare record of the broken lives and resettlement of millions who made the trek to new India. She also provides a clear-sighted critique of the Indian government’s inadequate and ill-implemented policy towards the eastern refugees. One of the most interesting parts of the memoir is the post-independence period when she was appointed to many responsible positions: member of the Central Social Welfare Board, assigned to Orissa, Tripura and Rajasthan, a member of the advisory committee of the Bengal Board, on the Board of the LIC, of the Karma Samiti of Viswa Bharati, and of her time with the Kasturba Trust. She tells us of the many women pioneers she met trough her work, ending the book with her fortnight reflections on the status of women and the nature of social work today.
It was the height of the riots in 1946, Noakhali district (now in Bangladesh) was in the grip of violence. A wife and mother of three was among the women who gathered at Chittagong under Nelie Senputa to help the victims. Even at 93[in 2005] the days are fresh in the memory Ashoka Gupta, the oldest girl guide who was felicitated on January 30th on the 75th anniversary of the World Association of Girl Guides Scouts. ‘We were meeting the fleeting villagers in railway stations and urging them to return, but they just took the relief materials from us and fled’, Gupta recalls. In frustration they wrote to Ghahiji…’On December 16, 1946, we met him. He advised us to go and stay in the villages ourselves so that the victims could take heart.’ So Gupta took her one-and a half-year-old daughter and traveled to Toomchar…on train, bus and then on foot.—The Telegraph
In Ashoka Gupta’s case, a pre-political life, lived within the precincts of an extended family and kin network, enables her transition into public work, and to this latter she brings an ethics of care, that is both affective and moral: embedded in practices of love and affection as well as a duty that one has to stand by …the essential richness of this text, which testifies to the good faith of those generations that fought for independence and attempted to realize it in practice—V. Geetha, The Book Review
About the Author
Ashoka Gupta is the former president of the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC), a premier organization for women. She has spent over fifty years in social work.