Cultivating Life and Happiness | Milaap

Cultivating Life and Happiness

Gangarampur looked like any other small town. Local brand clothes flung by the garment shops, puris were being served in newspaper, advertisement of brands I’d never heard was basically everywhere. Our sense of sight gets used to what we see constantly. The difference between the city I live in and the small town that I was in now, was vividly visible. The people were different and space too was very different.
Gangarampur is a town in Dakshin Dinajpur district of West Bengal. In the east, the district shares its border with Bangladesh. The town is famous for the historical Bangarh Fort. The ruin of the historical fort was excavated in 1938 - 41. The fort dates back to thousands of years and historians claims that the existence of the fort is mentioned even in the epics such as Mahabharat. But the ruins of the fort is nothing for the inexperienced eye. Only keen and trained pairs of eyes can translate the remaining bricks and walls. With a population of over 56 thousand, Gangarampur was a new place for me to explore.

Chaya cooking lunch in the open kitchen outside her home.

I, a Milaap fellow, was expected to talk to women from Gangarampur. I didn’t realize that I was going to meet entrepreneurs, owners of established small businesses and many other resilient and hardworking women who were the embodiment of what we loosely call ‘struggle’. Several questions ran inside my head as I prepared for my first interaction. Questions such as who are these women that I am going to meet. I tried to figure out what I imagine when I think about women from rural parts of India. A timid, saree clad woman who does not talk to strangers? A shy housewife, who only does the household chores with no public life what so ever? Or simply a non-existent entity we don’t know anything about? From whatever sources we draw our imagination of women from rural India, it was going to be proved incomplete and biased within the next few days of my stay. I do not claim to present the truest representation of rural women. Rather, it can just be called a reflection of observations made over several days.

Nagari with her earthen pots in the background

It can be said that women from rural India were non-existent in the collective cultural conscience. She was just someone’s mother or someone’s wife who did a whole day of unpaid and unrecognized work. But the few days of interacting with several women made me realize that the dynamics are changing slowly if not at a fast pace.

Rekha at her grocery shop

Bulbuli from Gangarampur is a housewife. When she is done with her household chores she sits down in her sewing machine and sews children’s clothes. Nagari is a potter, she makes earthen pots in the workshop beside her home. Mala is a budding entrepreneur. She owns a small ladies garment business. She spreads the garments in her veranda every day and hopes to make the venture bigger. Shuili also has a garment business. Bhakti, Chayya, and Rekha own grocery shops. These women are among the few I met. There were women working in the local textile mill and many other small enterprises.  

Bhakti attending to the young customer

 The dynamics are indeed changing, the invisible women are no longer invisible. They are coming in the public domain and claiming their rightful place. There might be several factors which propelled this change, the boom in the micro-finance industry, women-centric policies by the government and general recognition of women’s sufferings in the public mind. But it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the important factor of this change is the rural women themselves. They are the people with a stubborn desire to make their lives better. They are the ones who have been pushing the boundaries further. They are the ones who are putting to use every resource and every help they get, to add happiness in their lives.

Basana, her husband and son in their newly bought tuk-tuk.

There might be several other deep-rooted, intangible problems still present in their lives and it might not be "the liberation". But problems can be solved if one has access to two square meals. And these women are making sure that they and their family get the two square meals.

"Even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there." — Stephen Chbosky