Daughters – A Story of Five Generations

Daughters – A Story of Five Generations

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Book Specification

Item Code: NAC156
Author: Bharati Ray
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2011
ISBN: 9780143416487
Pages: 335
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 7.8 Inch X 5.3 Inch
Weight 320 gm

Book Description

From the Jacket

A chronicle of the lives of five generations of women in the author’s family, this fascinating story spans over a hundred years in its narrative sweep, from the late nineteenth century to the early years of the twenty-first. It mirrors and critiques the progress of a nation, its society and its women, seamlessly blending biography with social history.

Sundar-ma, Bharati Ray’s great-grandmother, was married into a conservative household at twelve. Self-educated, because formal education was out of her reach, she was an intelligent, deeply thoughtful woman who witnessed some of the most tumultuous times in India’s history and actively participated in India’s freedom struggle. Ushabala, the author’s grandmother, was the proud wife of a college lecture and a consummate homemaker, while Kalyani, Bharati Ray’s Ma, was the first woman in the family to get a college degree, but she gave up her studies and career to raise her children. Ma is lovingly described as feisty and irrepressible, a keen traveler and always ready for adventure.

Kalyani’s academic successes heralded the author’s in Calcutta University, then as its first woman provice-chancellor and later as a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha. Bharati Ray’s daughters, Khuku and Tista, both extremely bright, lead busy, fulfilling lives as academics.

Translated from the Bengali bestseller Ekaal Sekaal, this is a candid, personal and immensely readable account of five generations of remarkable women.

Bharati Ray, historian and educationist, taught history at Calcutta University and was its provice-chancellor from 1988 to 1995. She founded the Women’s Studies Research Centre at the university and is currently vice-president of the India Council for Cultural Relations.

She writes in Bengali as well as English and has numerous books to her credit. Bharati Ray was a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, from 1996 to 2003 and a member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Empowerment of Women.

She is president of the Children’s Little Theatre in Kolkata.

Madhuchhanda Karlekar is a journalist and freelance translator.


Writing good social history in a style that is readable is not an easy thing. Presenting family annals in an organized way is equally tough. But combining the two in a balanced manner, weaving family history in with the larger narrative of social change, is a well-nigh impossible task. That Bharati Ray has conquered this high and difficult terrain with such consummate skill is indeed cause for wonder. Of course, for those who already know Bharati, this new—and arduous—achievement of hers will come as no surprise. Since I have been well acquainted with her from our student days, the uniqueness of her new book has not astonished me. But the lucid brilliance, with which she tells her story, relating events and incidents to illumine the wider social panorama of changing times, has an invaluable merit which I wish to proclaim in no uncertain terms.

Though Bharati’s work may be compared to climbing an inhospitable mountain, the subject of her book is far removed from any tortuous landscape. There is no lack of entertainment in the situations she describes. Even those who are not constantly on the lookout for weighty wisdom, who have no objection to gaining pleasure from a straightforward story, engagingly told, will enjoy this book immensely. IF some knowledge of social developments is gained in the process, that would be a bonus.

Of the five generations Bharati deals with, the first person we meet is her mother is grandmother, Shailabala. Eager to be educated, undoubtedly meritorious, Shailabala is thwarted by the conservative values of her marital home. As times change and society evolves, fields of opportunity increase for subsequent generations. Bharati belongs to the fourth generation. When I saw her in Presidency College, amidst work or at her hilarious best in a circle of friends, I didn’t think of her as being particularly disadvantaged. But circumstances became even more favourable for her daughters——of the fifth generation.

In this story of five generations, the main characters are always women. As we learn of their life stories, narrated in vivid detail one after another, we simultaneously gather a clear picture of the progress being made regarding a particular aspect of Bengali society. Here we see the progress happening gradually Of course, not all Bengali women have been similarly benefited. There is no dearth of disadvantages—social, political or economic—in their lives, particularly among the poor. I know that Bharati has always been eager to work towards removing these disadvantages from the time she was a student. She has long been working for social progress beyond her own immediate circle; and marks of this larger perspective are evident in different ways in many parts of her book.

The person who arranged for Shailabala’s childhood marriage into a highly conservative family was none other than her father. Although Shailabala’s life was full of suppressed contradictions, nevertheless, she remained deeply and immeasurably devoted to this very father. This is a commonly noted aspect of the socially handicapped. All too often we see that those who suffer most from the effects of social inequality will not blame the patriarchs who are most responsible for their sorry state; thereby, the unequal conditions are further perpetrated.

Many such thoughts come to mind as we read through this book. Without marring the beauty of her narrative, Bharati has brought up many such issues in a simple way to provide Food for thought for the reader. In describing her own book, Bharati has said, It is a personal story a Family story as seen mirrored through my own life} The reader will see how current events can be presented with simple, good taste; and with it they will also see how very ordinary events can sometimes reveal some bigger truths.

I have no doubt that readers will find much to enjoy and much to think about in this beautiful and well—conceived book. Before I end this short introduction, I congratulate Bharati once again.


Foreword by Amartya Sen ix
Before I Begin xiii
The House on Hanuman Road 3
Sundar-ma’s Childhood and Marriage 10
New Delhi: Sundar-ma’s Household 21
Sundar-ma’s Family 29
The Larger Family 43
Beyond the Family 49
Didi-ma’s Childhood and Marriage 59
Berhampoer: Didi-ma’s Household 65
Didi-ma’s Family 82
The Larger Family 98
Last Act 105
Childhood and Marriage 115
Ma as Home-maker 123
Ma’s Household 133
In the Outside World 152
Adieu, Ma 172
Childhood 183
Formal Education 197
Romance, Marriage, Home-making 220
In the Working World 249
On the Political Front 271
Our Daughters 291
And So I Think 310
Acknowledgments 317

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