Basundhara Saikia
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Basundhara Saikia

Whenever this 70 year old lady accompanied with a dog comes back after her morning walks most people in her neighborhood would being deep sleep. Whoever comes into contact with this industrious lady with a unique personality cannot forget her. A social activist, an educationist and a mother, this lady was renowned figure in Assamese Literature. She is none other than the Academy Award winner for translation in 1924, Basundahra Saikia.

She was born in November1921 at Nagaon and her father was Dandiam Khound and mother was Saroj Kumari Khound. Although she was born at a time when women education was not widespread in Assam, yet her father got admitted to a lower primary school at Panigaon. She recounts- “at that time education system was at a nascent stage. We were given banana leaves to write and after school hours we used to throw those leaves away upwards towards the trees. If we were not able to do so, we used to request the boys because we were afraid if the cows ate those leaves we would lost our knowledge. We had to do physical exercises before classes. We were taught social studies by Gosain Sir( Biswa Dev Goswami). This Goswami Sir used to teach this subject in practical manner.

Basundhara Saikia successfully got scholarship of Rs.2.00 as she topped this subject in Nagaon Mission School which was run by the American Missionaries Mrs. Cresisiberry and Mis. Hoe. There were Assamese teachers like Anandi Kenuwar and Puspalata Bhuyan. The school taught her moral values and basics of good behavior. When she competed her 6th standard her mother asked her to give up her studies because according to her, a girl should learn weaving and household chores. However when her father saw her face he enrolled her in Panbaazar Girls High School in Guwahati and he even made arrangements for her to stay in boarding. In doing so her father went against the norms society but this motivated her to study well. When she returned after matriculation examination, her father was working at Baghmari Tea Estate near Biswanatha Chariali. In order to go there one has to board a ship at Silghat to Kathonibari Ghat. She recounts how she used to travel in a buffalo cart equipped with bedding. “The tinkling sound of the bells still haunts me today”. Her results were declared- she not only got letter marks in Mathematics and Additional Mathematics and topped the state. She also got Hemaprabha Memorial Gold Medal and Lotika Devi Cash Award for scoring highest marks in Assamese. Still her mother asked her father to look for prospective grooms but her father instead got her enrolled in the prestigious Cotton College in the Science Stream so that she can fulfill the dream of becoming a doctor.

She was privileged to be taught by teachers like Dr. Hiranya Bhuyan, Dr. Surjya Kr. Bhuyan, Dr. Birinchi Kr. Baruah and Atul Dutta etc. Dr.Birinchi Kr.Baruah used to say “To the students all of you are defeated by a lady student she scored the highest marks in Assamese”. She used to feel very proud. The boys used to tease her quoting Rabindra Nath Tagore’s “Dhone Dhane Puspe Bhora , Aei Je Amar Basundhara”. When she got 83 marks in Botany in annual examination, Atul Dutta, her teacher told her that after the vacation he would take extra care so that she could get letter marks.

However, her dream of becoming a doctor was never materialized. During her vacation when she came home she had seen that the compound of the residence had already been cleared and only the work of staging a pandal had remained. Within 15 days she was married to Mahendra Nath Saikia, the only son of Nandiram Saikia of Titabar.

Considering the fact that it is every parent’s dream to get their daughter married to eligible grooms, she accustomed herself to the new situation and started her married life That  was 1940. The girl who used to shine in academic life engaged herself miserably in the household works. She became a good daughter –in – law. She used to cry silently in the bathroom and even curse Buri Baideu  (Mrs. Hiranya Bhuyan) who arranged her her marriage . Initially when she had to offer betel nut to elders and bow down to them , she used to feel a sense of revolt but in worldly she realizes that these things have instilling values in her. Within a short time she became expert in weaving and could weave beautiful cloths with floral design . She also became expert in embroidery works, in making different kinds of pickles. For all these works she always remained grateful to her mother –in-law. After the demise of her in laws she single handedly looked after the family. Her mother-in-laws words used to guide her. She not only taught her own children but she used to work in a newly established Girls High School. When her children grew up she decided to utilize her free time translating works. Initially she started to translate  short stories published in Readers Digest, illustrated weekly of India as well as Chekhov’s short stories and published them. She translated two books of Dalai Lama named “My Land and My People “ and Kashmir Princess” as “ Swadesh and Swajati” and” Kashmir Kuman” and published them serially in Asom Batori. The Kashmir Kumari very much impressed the young girls of Assam and they used to praise her  by sending letters. Along with literary activities she also engaged herself in social works. She was the Vice President of Social Welfare Board of Titabor from 1957 for long 12 years. During that period she did much for Social, Physical, Economical and Spiritual uplift of the Women. She also explained to women the benefite of good health and sanitation. She was elected thrice as the member of Sibsagar District Social Welfare Board. She was the inspiring soul behind the construction of the beautiful  building of Sishu Neketan- a Pre-Primary school of Titabor. Of course in all these works her husband had inspired her. Her husband Late Mahendra Nath Saikia possessed a very gentle, grave, liberal and decent personality.

After the demise of her husband she devoted  herself to literary activities and took up the task of translation . She translated  two books of National Book Trust of India-Rani Chand’s “Purna Kumabha” and Ruchi Modi’s”Some Cricketers of India”. She then translated Sarat Chandra Chauttupadhay’s “Datta” and it was published by Lawyers Book stall. This work fetched her the prestigious Sahitya Academy Award. Her favorite novelist is Sarat Chandra and her favorite poet is Rabindra Nath Tagore.” If ever have to stay alone I would take Sarat Chandra’s works with me” she says. Two of her translated works “Bipro Das” translated Gyan Bigyan Committee’s “Darshan and Apaharan”and Dr.Veda Prakash Boidic’s Engrazi Hatau” into Assamese. Several works of her are published from time to time in newspapers and magazines. Her literary skill and rich vocabulary are reflected in her translated works.

One trait of her character is that if she read a good book she would ensure that others read it too. She also donated some books to college library of Nanda Nath Saikia College. She is not only the member of the Governing body of the college but also the Secretary of the Development Committee of local Girls High School. She played a significant and from that time she was the advisor of the Samiti. She was also the advisor of local Mahila Samiti. Various institute of Jorhat and Titabor felicitated her for such contributions. Her interviews were also telecasted in All India Radio and TV etc.

She has been to several places like Japan, Bangkok , Singapore, England, Scotland and France around the world. The experiences of her journeys were published as articles in a magazine “Prantik”. She is also a good orator. She is a successful mother in the sense that she is the mother of successful individuals. Her eldest son Gautam Saikia is an Eye Surgeon, her second son Ashok Saikia is an IAS Offices third son Partha Sarathi Saikia is a successful businessman and her fourth son is an Engineer and a higher official in the Indian Navy. Of her two daughters, Nivedita Hazarika a lecturer of Lalit Chandra Bharali College Guwahati and her other daughter Anuradha Dutta is a professor in the dept of Political Science of Guwahati University.

Her children stay away from her and her only companion in the big house with a huge compound are her books She herself takes care of the flower garden full of  various kinds of local and foreign flowers and also her kitchen garden. She has a contribution in the renovation work of the Satra Namghor of Kangsapar Borthai. By lightening an earthen lamp she always prays to God for whatever she is blessed by Him, she has no complaints against anybody. We pray to God for her good health and longevity so that she can contribute much to the field of literature.

 

 
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