I was born and brought up in Park Circus, Calcutta (now Kolkata) in West Bengal, India, in a middle class family. My parents were once residents of the Eastern side of undivided Bengal (now Bangladesh). During partition, the British integrated that part of Bengal to Pakistan, which became an independent country in 1947. My parents, like thousands of others had to flee from their own homes as refugees to India, which became a foreign country overnight, long before I was born.
What is the greatest thing about the place you call home?
When East Pakistan was created, my parents left everything behind and fled together with my paternal uncle. They bought a house with the little money they had, a few years before I was born. I grew up in a two roomed house, one occupied by my uncle and his family. My brother and I grew up amongst relatives and friends who fled from East Pakistan, like my parents, after losing everything they had. Uprooted from the soil of their motherland they came to us for succour. I grew up amidst the agony of these people. It burned them till the end of their lives. Naturally our one room was full of people and being philanthropic, my parents couldn’t refuse them temporary shelter and even financial help through their own limited means. We didn’t have a place to study, leave alone our own individual rooms. My mother cooked for ten to fifteen people every day, for there wasn’t any dearth of helpless people. Before my exams, I had to spend nights studying in the corridor, hastily trying to cover my syllabi, because preparation beforehand was out of the question. After school, I read books other than ones prescribed by the school. Reading was like oxygen to me. This routine went on till my university days. But these hardships proved to be a boon for both my brother and I. We grew up with sympathy for the underdogs, the penchant for sacrifice, to adjust, to share and be happy with the little we had. These we inherited from our parents and though they’re no more, they will live through these values which are fast becoming obsolete in the present world. We learned to be happy with little things. My mother was an accomplished singer and at night we had musical soirees where well-known vocalists came to our house. Now, all I cherish are beautiful remembrances. There was fun amidst sadness, joy of love and togetherness in the old home of my birth.
My second home after my marriage, was in Christopher Road, south Calcutta. It was very close to my husband’s chamber. Being a philanthropic doctor, he took up a two-roomed apartment there, to be closer to the majority of the poor people he wanted to serve. Apart from my parents I had rarely seen such a big hearted person. My small, rented apartment too was home to people who came to us with various problems. We started life with very little money and I completed my postgraduate just six months after my marriage, which was really tough. The greatest source of happiness in my second home was my son’s birth. I was shackled by painful diseases and remember writing my dissertation in bed. After I got through, with the encouragement of my loving family, I got a job as a lecturer in a college. My home is my world. Seeing one’s child grow up into a good person is the most rewarding thing for any parent. My son, an engineer is very caring, with a strong moral character. My daughter-in-law, a school teacher, is understanding and I just adore my lovely grandchild. My own apartment bustles with relatives and friends most of the time. We live together strongly bonded. It is a home of love and happiness. What more can one want?
What turns you on creatively?
Many things. But most of all the pain of the have-nots, the exploited and injustice of all kinds. These feelings transcend domestic, national or international barriers. I am saddened by exploitation based on religion, cast, colour or creed. I vent my anger creatively at social systems in which the rich waste and the poor starve to death. Spirituality is another side of myself, even though I am not religious. Some of my poems are born out of sudden gushes of spiritual moments. I am also an incorrigible romantic. Nature drives me to write ecstatically and so does love, with all its joys and sorrows.
What is your favorite word, and can you use it in a poetic sentence?
You may find it amusing but amongst my many favourite words, the word ONE tops the list. Why? This poem will answer the question.
……. let us see…. normal delivery or caesarean section, birth pangs and joy just the SAME.
Then Time…. and afterwards…. death, burial, putrefaction, maggots inside coffins. The SAME. Years pass… to crumbling Skeletons. Always the SAME. ‘Dust To Dust’, or in cremation…… ‘Ashes to Ashes,’ flying in the wind Result, the SAME. And then….. Earth – return, as sod, cycle of Life SAME for ALL.
Blood RED hue everytime, drops, the SAME Yet Divides Race, Colour, Creed, Religion, Gender, UNCHANGED Echelons are Power constructs Man versus Woman. Patriarchy, Ego, Muscle, Male Gaze. Yet Procreation Process of OPPOSITES, Historical success of SAMENESS.
We Are MINGLED…. Dust and soil. Flesh of this ONE WORLD.
Work TOGETHER for Understanding of Veined ROUTES, to make a World of LOVE, and EQUALITY.
Standards are set by. HYPOCRITES, who pretend not to understand ONENESS that ALL of us rise Upwards or Downwards as the case may be. Bloodlines are analysed and Social Platforms- RICH, POOR, LOW, HIGH — What tools for measurement? Egos, Power Politics, Gender, Ours, Theirs, Religions, Countries, Colours, Black, White, Brown. Result SAME War, Destruction.
We cheat ourselves knowing well that we Live through the EXPENSE of OTHER LIVES…….yet Intelligent Savages construct…… Proudly, Stupidly, to DIVIDE, DEMEAN …… Unaware that HUNDREDS of candles can be Lighted. by a SINGLE flame. HUMANITY.
What is your pet peeve?
‘Discrimination’. I am not sorry to say that we still are savages in spite of our claims of being civilised or modern. With all our pride of advancement have we developed the altruism of envisioning civilization from a macrocosmic perspective? We, as humans haven’t any empathy for the underprivileged, irrespective of who they are or where they belong. There are exceptions of course. Everyday millions are made homeless or die hungry. We divide by creed, colour, country, race, religion, money. We divide to rule, we discriminate from a false sense of superiority. Power breeds discrimination. We have lost the softer qualities of our heart and have become self-centered automations circling inside our own orbits. From the richest to the poorest country, discrimination is rampant. Yet sadly we boast of a world connected by a click of the mouse.
What defines Satabdi Saha?
This is the most difficult question for me to answer. Well I am just an ordinary woman with lots of weaknesses and a few strengths. I follow some ethical principles and believe that they are not limited by time and place. I try to be honest with myself and introspectively follow my conscience. Respect is important to me. I can tolerate dislike but not disrespect.
My writing career started at a very late age. I was in my mid-forties and totally oblivious of my creative streak until a relative of mine spotted this potential in me and encouraged me to write. I consider him as my severest critic and guide. Writing or reading is the key to my happiness. Any kind of help to someone in need, means a lot to me. Prayers nourish my spirits and are a source of inward peace. I am a bilingual writer and Bengali is my mother tongue which I worship and write in. I am also a lover of music and films.
To conclude, I am an inveterate optimist, mentally strong and ready to fight against evil of any kind through my ink. It’s my greatest weapon and I still dream of a world of peace and unity where not a single person will be without a roof over his head or go to bed hungry.
Author of three publications and poetry, short stories in various other magazines. Published poems and short stories in Bengali and English. Published articles and essays in various magazines. Satabdi Saha is an ex- professor of English in D.A. College, Kolkata.