RASSUNDARI DASI “AMAR JIBAN: Review of a very inspiring and motivating book “Amar Jiban” , tracing the life of the first full length autobiographical writer in Bengal -Rassundari Dasi.
Dasi, Rassundari (c 1809-?) a self-taught woman to leave behind an important autobiography. In the age of 19th century Reformism in Bengal, the first full length autobiography was written not by a man but by an unknown, self taught, high caste Hindu housewife from a conservative rural household – Rassundari Dasi.
Rassundari Devi, wrote a story of her life, Amar Jiban (“My Life”), that was published in 1876. This detailed memoir revolves around her day to day experiences as a housewife and mother. Obsessed with a desire to read, she stole a page from a book and a sheet of paper from her son and kept them hidden in the kitchen where she furtively pursued her education.
Rassundari was born in a remote village in Pabna into a poor family. In her father’s house a missionary lady had a small pathshala where boys went for lessons. As a female, she of course had no access there, but she would sit close by and pick up the rudiments of reading by watching the boys learn. At the age of 12, Rassundari was married off to Sitanath Ray, a landlord in Faridpur. A Vaisnavite like her husband and his family, Rassundari was deeply religious.1n her autobiography she states that the impetus to read, an act forbidden to Hindu females of the time, was born from an ardent desire to read religious texts specially the chaitanya bhagavata.
Rassundari fascinating autobiography records the details of her life, her childhood, marriage, the daily round of domestic chores in a large joint family, the clandestine manner in which she taught herself to read anew in her husband’s household at the age of 25, and later to write, by secretly studying her husband’s religious manuscripts. The book contains a picture of the changing rural world, the status and role of women and Rassundari’s own views on changing times and life in this earth.
Rassundari was widowed at the age of 59 in 1868 and the following year she finished and published the first version of her autobiography Amar Jiban (My Life). (Ghulam Murshid, however, is of the opinion that it was first published in 1875) She added a second part in a new version published in 1897 when she was 88. Jyotirindranath Tagore wrote the preface to this edition. Unfortunately there is no mention of her in the standard histories of literature from those times, nor is her death mentioned. Rassundari’s life was lived out far from the din and hustle of Calcutta, the cultural epicentre of Bengal. Yet she has the honour of being the first writer of an autobiography in Bengal, a genre just coming into vogue.
Written in chaste Bangla, Rassundari’s Amar Jiban portrays the changing world of rural Bengal and situates woman there. In her life and text Rassundari maintained many of the restrictive norms and rituals enjoined upon a traditional Hindu housewife, yet through her dispassionate, objective style and subject matter, through the very act of writing, forbidden to women not so long ago, Rassundari Dasi was engaged in a unique act of emancipation.
[Sonia Amin] Post Contributed by: Vijeta Pai, India