If you are a non-Bengali, then you might not have heard about Leela Majumdar.
But for us, the admirer of Bengali children literature, Leela Majumdar epitomized the image of a cozy grandma who wrote stories about-
i) harmless ghosts,
ii) adventure of fearless children,
iii) hidden treasure hunt and above all-
iv) the joy of being alive.
It’s when I read her autobiography ‘Paakdandi’( the spiral path of mountains), a bulb lit up and I realized what a trailblazer she was.
The way she molded her fate on her own during the not-so-women-friendly period of 20th century Bengal, had made her one of my personal sheroes.
a) Her remarkable childhood
If you read Paakdandi in future (I don’t know whether its English translation is available, if yes then do grab it), you can see it for yourself how prolifically she depicted –
i) the aftermath of First World War,
ii) the deconstruction of Bengali morality,
iii) the uprising of Bengali nouveau class in Shillong (India), and
iv) women education in colonized India.
b) The ‘no-nonsense’ mother-daughter sex-talk
One of the most favorite parts of the book for me when Leela Majumdar received her first ever sex-talk from her mother (the mom even bought some books on sex, birth etc. and gifted to her daughter. Another milestone!)
Given how Indian parents till date feel touchy-feely about sex-ed, it was quite unimaginable-
How in the first part of the 20-th century a Bengali mother from a middle-class household could teach her adolescent daughters on sex and pregnancy.
c) She moved out for her career
I could never imagine (till I stumbled upon Paakdandi) that a young woman from a modestly wealthy Bengali family could change cities for her career in the first part of 20th century.
From her auto-biography, I gathered that her father (a formidable patriarch ) was dead opposite to her career move.
But the reckless young ‘thing’ she was, she broke the glass ceiling (when the concept in itself was unheard of in this part of the globe) and headed on towards a thriving teaching career.
d) She married quite late
Being born in Brahmo Samaj (a monotheistic and progressive branch of Hinduism), her father threw hissy fit when Leela fell in love with a non-Brahmo dentist and tied the knot.
Besides, she was (“ripe age of”) 25 during her wedding.
Remember this was back in 1933-34.
Even nowadays a major percentage of Indians prefer their girls to be married by 23.
This was in itself quite a revolution on her part.
e) Her life ratifies “one can have it all”
Turning the pages of Paakdandi (which I read at least twice a year) will make you wish to believe—-
There was a woman who had it ‘all’.
Apart from being an auteur of importance, Leela Majumdar was a-
i) brilliant mathematician,
ii) a gourmet chef,
iii) a radio producer who had done some mind-blowing creative stuff in All India Radio (AIR),
iv) a hands-on mother,
v) an organized home-maker,
vi) a generous party-hostess (throwing lavish literary meets at her residence and encouraging emerging artists there ) and some more.
I don’t know how many in new generation Bengali populace (forget about India or West) have even heard of Leela Mazumdar.
But if you ever get the chance of laying your hand on ‘Paakdandi’ (somebody please translate it in English) – do indulge yourself.
This is a tale about- making of a fine woman during the most tumultuous period of Indian history.