Batanagar to Brisbane

Image Courtesy: Anindita Samadder Chowdhury

It was raining cats and dogs outside, and Emily wasn’t at all sceptic. She knew that a sudden downpour would never manage to foil her chances of taking one drastic step to climb the ladder of success. It seems that her prolonged wait for this day is over. She is the first member of her lower-middle family who will step outside the country to make a career out of her own.

Not a single individual in her extended self certified illustrious family ever tasted the waters beyond the Ganges. That didn’t deter the ambitions of this bright and dusky lass. Are you wondering about the mention of skin colour?  No, it is not about any kind of racism. It is instead a taboo to be dark-skinned if you are a girl born in India, especially if you are from a humble background. Well, despite being in the twenty-first century, physicality still matters if you have parented a dark-skinned girl. How will you marry her off? 

For an academically challenged family with least regards for education and career coming this far isn’t a matter of joke. Being the first child of her parents in the early 90s of the last century, it was a path of fire for Emily Palit. Mr Sanatan Palit was a school dropout. So was his newlywed wife, Jayanti. The firstborn was expected to be a son.

Struggling Childhood

She’s so dark-complexioned!” “A male child would’ve been better!”She’ll never contribute to your fortune Sanatan!” “ Her traits are so inauspicious!” These were the few examples of the compliments she received after her birth. That’s why despite being financially stable, she was sent to a government school run by Maheshtala municipality. She was brought up with age-old values that are obsolete. Day in and day out, the child had to witness the tyranny of her father on the female members of the household. Feeling tormented from inside, Jayanti never protested as her parents also brought her up with the archaic values that your husband is your Lord. He has the right to exercise his full powers on you. 

On the contrary, you aren’t entitled to any reasons. Your husband is doing us a favour by releasing the burden of yours. What would one expect from such an upbringing? But Emily started questioning the societal norms resulting in acrimony between her and others. Her mother was compelled to give birth to another child within two years. Luckily for Mrs Palit this time it was a boy, and the entire family was ecstatic. But her newborn sibling added salt to her injury. He was the apple of everyone’s eye. The most desirable toys were purchased for her brother Ripon. He was favoured over his elder sister for every privilege. Her mother Jayanti ensured that Emily should also learn the household chores like cleaning utensils and leftovers apart from floor mopping and laundering clothes.

Emily did grow up as an allrounder in a literal sense. Not only did she excel in studies but also singing and recitation. Well, for most middle-class households vocal skills are considered to be an essential tool for a marital match. But as it has been mentioned before, Emily decided to question the societal norms. She knew that she doesn’t dare to ask her parents about the step-motherly treatment meted out to her. But what she could do is redefine success in her way and only her academic achievements could do her a favour if she aspired for a different life. There wasn’t any iota of doubt in her mind that she needed to be unorthodox and unconventional if she nursed an ambition of a better existence compared to her mother and many others in the surroundings.

All these years she didn’t get suitable replies to her valid queries. And they are as follows-

  1. Why being born as a girl makes a difference?
  2. What has skin complexion got to do with one’s acceptability?
  3. If being dark-skinned is considered a taboo, then why is Maa Kali, Lord Rama and Lord Krishna revered by devotees?
  4. If a relationship between a man and woman is considered illicit, then do the worshippers know the exact relation between Lord Krishna and Radha? 
  5. How can one justify freedom if he or she isn’t allowed to exercise his/her liberty?

Excel in Studies 

The most important parameter of any student life is academic performances. Going to a girls’ institute where only 75% of students pass their school finals, it was unthinkable that someone from that very school would go on to score more than 83% marks in Madhyamik. This performance did delight Sanatan to some extent as he felt that it was his achievement. Maybe what he was dismissive about may actually be fruitful in the future. His daughter can bring up educated sons in the future for her in-laws. Never in the weirdest of his nightmares, Mr Palit felt that Emily has her eyes on her professional career.

After completing her 12th with flying colours, she wasn’t allowed to pursue engineering despite availing impressive rank in her Joint Entrance. She was allowed to study Maths honours from Lady Brabourne as it was a girls’ college. No Presidency or St.Xaviers can be considered as they are co-educational institutions, and the Palits believe that boys and girls lose their sanctity when they study together. They feel that it is immoral for boys and girls to be in such proximity to each other. Readers shouldn’t think that these descriptions are absurd. A section of mofussil Bengal still nurses this kind of mentality. The bright and prospective students are at the receiving end. Intelligent Emily was content with the arrangement after much persuasion. Yes, not being able to study engineering did shatter her aspirations. But she knew that if she had to prosper Lady Brabourne would be the most convenient for her to commute from Nangi station to Park Circus. Lesser the time on travel, more will be time to study and chase her dreams.

She got to know about her possibility of getting admitted to the prestigious Indian Statistical Institute for her post-graduation. Only sheer hard work and determination can ensure that. But will her family allow it? She explained her ordeal to her tutor, Vandana madam. They hatched up a plan. One day she came from her tuition and told her father that madam wants to see you. After Santan met Vandana, she told him about the prospects of his daughter. By then, Mr Palit was too helpless. Ripon didn’t study after Madhyamik. He is neither interested in business and only squanders the hard-earned money that was showered on him since his birth. A BOKHATE CHHELE or a spoilt brat in the true sense, he could only bring dishonour to his parents. That is why Santan gave in to what Vandana convinced him to do. He was hypnotized by Vandana for an hour and promised that he would allow his daughter to further her studies beyond graduation.

After three years, a first-class Maths graduate from Calcutta University, Emily Palit walked the stairs of Indian Statistical Institute and stayed in a girls’ hostel at Baranagar. She managed to get a scholarship and did well for herself. At ISI, Kolkata she became friends with two non-Bengalis. This was the first time she spoke to an aboriginal from outside her home territory. Annapurna Menon from Kerala and Khoirakpam Thoibinu from Manipur found her to be extremely soft-spoken, gentle and approachable as they were oblivious to the city. So was Emily as she started exploring the city of Kolkata from her college days only. Prior to that, her activities were restricted to Nangi and Batamore. Things became much easier for the trio as they kept on exchanging notes and study materials. Secondly, the other two girls hailed from supportive families. Thirdly they were from provinces where literacy rate is higher compared to the rest of the country. This camaraderie helped them in their joint studies and all of them became master degree holders with flying colours. Both the girls sat for their CAT exams and went to different IIMs.  

Emily chanced upon a scholarship from The University of Queensland in Brisbane and her friends informed her about the opportunity. It was exclusively for some Indian students who were eligible for sponsorship. The girl cleared the online admission test and her academic records do fulfill all the crucial parameters required to study in the prestigious university. The only major challenge seemed to be sustenance. Annapurna’s father Mr Arvind Menon who worked for the British Embassy knew some of his ex-colleagues and their acquaintances in Brisbane. He arranged for her stay with Kairali Brisbane, an organization for Malayalees in the Australian city. For a change, she started believing that she alone can script her destiny in the near future.

Brief resistance did come from the Palits as they had strong reservations about their daughter venturing outside the country for greener pasture. Deep inside Sanatan and Jayanti started repenting about their indifference towards their daughter. Other relatives started envying and Ripon continued with his histrionics as ever.

In fact, Ripon was happy that the heavy downpour may dampen the spirits of his didi and she might not take her flight in the night. But he probably never understood his sister. Emily was well prepared for every obstacle. Khoirakpam, who travelled multiple times by flight in the past, guided her well before she could board one as it was the maiden air travel for Emily, that too all alone. It was a break journey from Kolkata to Bangkok and from Bangkok to Sydney, followed by a connecting flight from Sydney to Bangkok. She was advised by Khoirakpam to observe the proceedings around her as much as possible.

Arrival in Brisbane

Emily had previously heard the term jet lag but never experienced the same ever. Now she realized what it is and dropped herself at the office of Kairali by a cab. What surprised her was the population density. The calmness around the busy road gave her a serene feeling. It was in complete contrast with her native place in Maheshtala where the density of population per square kilometre is much higher. She was allowed an accommodation on Mr Arvind Menon’s recommendation and in return she has to offer maths and science tuitions to the children of the members. It was a lucrative offer for her.

Fortunately, the mentor for her research happened to be a Bengali. He is Dr Animesh Batbyal, a middle-aged gentleman who migrated from Kolkata decades ago, now well settled in Brisbane with his widower father and ten-year-old daughter. He is a widower too. His wife Ayantika died while giving birth to their daughter Aishani. The language wasn’t ever a deterrent for Emily at least while interacting with Animesh. Animesh assigned her another important task after seeing the progress of his disciple. It was his earnest desire that his daughter learns Bengali, her mother tongue and he asked Emily whether she can facilitate his child to be familiar with her culture.

It was an opportunity for Emily to earn more and she realized that it’ll be sheer stupidity to spare this opportunity. Most importantly Animesh Sir’s aged father was an interesting person too, but he pampered his orphan granddaughter to such an extent that Aishani never wanted to learn anything from him. Her dadu was a source of entertainment and recreation for her. That is why Animesh wanted a facilitator for his daughter. Else he has enough education to teach his daughter the fundamentals. Emily came as a breath of fresh air in their life as someone who started making his daughter gain proximity to their rich Bengali culture.

One fine morning she receives a call from her father that their son Ripon has eloped with a girl and the girl’s family has lodged a police complaint against the Palits for abducting their daughter. Later on, it was revealed that the girl Jyotsna was an adult and she willingly fled with Ripon. This was just another stray incident for Emily and she wasn’t at all surprised that her brother could do this despite all the love and affection he received from the family. She only knew that she needed to stay focussed and move ahead in her career.

Aishani started developing a fondness for Emily and started addressing her as didi. Despite the fourteen year age difference, Emily feels that she has found a soulmate at last. In the university, he met Assistant Professor Chris Gelfian, who joined very recently. He is a native of East London in South Africa and his grandfather was jailed during the apartheid of Botha regime. Hailing from a family of freedom fighters, he became friends with Emily once he heard that she is from the land of Mahatma Gandhi. Their age difference wasn’t that wide. But what surprised Emily was Chris’s dressing up in kurta-pyjama during Janmashtami. 

How is Mr Gelfian familiar with our Indian culture? Then she learnt that his father was converted to Hinduism during his childhood. That is why he was born a Hindu. His grandfather was a member of ISKCON and that is the reason their family celebrated Janmashtami with so much fanfare. Chris was named after Lord Krishna. Emily found that interesting. Gradually, they developed a fondness towards each other.

The match fixed

No one has any evidence whether matches are made in heaven or not. But Both Emily and Chris felt the warmth in each other’s company. Throughout his life, Chris has faced racial slur and Emily faced hostility from her own family for being dark-skinned. Rather, a couple of students on the campus did taunt them for their skin colour whenever they were spotted together. Animesh once overheard two students and he called them up in his chamber. He told them about the Racial Discrimination Act1975, a racial vilification law of Australia. He warned them that if he hears any racial comments in future, he will report it to the University authorities.

This brought an end to the temporary harassment that Emily and Chris were facing. Animesh started treating Emily like his own daughter and asked her directly if she was interested to tie the knot with Chris. After Emily answered in the affirmative, he formally met Mr Gelfian and asked him to invite his parents to Brisbane. It will be an intercontinental wedding down under, ie Asia- Oceania and Africa and it should be a grand affair. He also told Emily to invite her parents. What she replied stunned Animesh and his bed-ridden father. She said “ I can call them from India. But what they did to me can’t be pardoned. I may come from the land of the Mahatma but I personally do not believe in forgiveness. If I forget all the tyranny and hostilities and patch up with them, I may set a wrong example for millions of girls in my country who all are fighting the patriarchy among their kith and kin. I do not want to do a disservice to their cause of survival. Had my parents been supportive, I would have been in this country as a motivated individual. However, I am still self-motivating myself for a more challenging life with more responsibilities. Me getting married to a foreigner will bring dishonour to my parents and I am sure that they would disown me. They have to find solace in their son and that should be the penalty they need to pay for being a misogynist.”


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