I received this picture on a family Whatsapp group yesterday. And this morning it was all over the papers. The lady in the blue saree is my Bua, my father’s youngest sister. Dr Geeta Kumari. She heads the Postgraduate Department of Psychology at Jai Prakash University.
Simple and unassuming, she has been teaching Psychology in Chhapra in Bihar since 1980. She retired yesterday. Her colleagues had arranged a farewell for her. At the programme everyone recollected how punctual she always was. Her ability to smile even in stressful conditions was applauded.
As she proceeded home in a cycle rickshaw after the farewell ceremony, a big surprise awaited her. The Vice Chancellor of her University, Professor Harikesh Singh, came forward and pulled her rickshaw outside the Science Block. What a touching gesture! You have to look at Geeta Bua’s face to see how moved she was
When I think of Geeta Bua, I always remember my mother calling her gutsy and ahead of her times. As a two-year old, she lost one of her eyes, due to some botched treatment of conjunctivitis in a remote village in Sabhapur when she was with her grandparents. And a prosthetic eye could be placed only as late as 1976.
She grew up in a Bihar where girls were meant to be married off as early as possible. And schooling was an afterthought for girls. But she was lucky to have a father who thought differently. My grandfather worked in the education department as an inspector of schools. He believed that everyone had a right to choose their own careers and encouraged girls to study. My mother herself completed her MA in Philosophy after her wedding, staying in a hostel in Patna Women’s College, something unheard of in the sixties in Bihar.
The schools Geeta Bua studied in, were humble, but she made the most out of what she had. She remembers carrying a gunny bag to school. There was no furniture. You were meant to sweep the floor, spread out the gunny bag and sit down on it for your classes. Yet she managed to win a scholarship to study, right from fifth grade till she finished her Masters degree. In tenth grade, she decided she wanted to study Psychology, which wasn’t offered in the Arrah school’s curriculum. The subject was included in the course simply because she opted for it, and a teacher would come from Patna to Arrah specially to teach her. Somewhere in the middle of that year, my grandfather was transferred to Sitamarhi and so she applied for a transfer to Dumra which was close by. The Principal refused to give her a transfer, as she didn’t want to lose a good student who would bring accolades to her school in the Board exams! She went on to complete her Masters degree in Psychology and her Bachelor’s degree in Education too. I guess the teaching bug has bitten all of us in the paternal side of my family!
In an era where girls were not even asked before they were married off, she put her foot down. She wanted to talk to the boy, tell him about her eye, and make a decision herself even though it was an arranged match. And she had her way. She got married in 1979. My Uncle was an MA in Political Science and together they chose teaching as their profession.
The couple had three children. But life showed them several ups and downs. In 2000, at the age of 16, their eldest son decided to leave home. They weren’t informed and later discovered that he had joined Belur Math. All efforts to convince him to come back home failed and they returned dejected. The people at Ramakrishna Mission later sent him to Indore. Somewhere in 2003, the couple received a call from Indore saying that they could take their son back home as he was no longer permitted to stay with the cult. Excited, they travelled by train to Indore, only to discover that their son had gone away before they reached. The grieving parents boarded the train back to Bihar when on the way, my Uncle suffered a massive heart attack. They were made to get off the train in a remote place and sent to a general hospital where he remained critical. Geeta Bua managed everything on her own, careful not to disturb her other children who were busy with their board examinations. My Uncle survived that episode but continued to remain ill. Her eldest son on the other hand, had gone off to Rishikesh and decided to become a sanyaasi. He does keep in touch with his parents though. She accepted all this and went about life with a smile.
In 2010, she lost her husband. She was always a fighter, and she continued to make her mark despite her circumstances. Today her daughter Rashmi has completed her postgraduation from the prestigious Banaras Hindu University and is pursuing her PhD. Her younger son Satya Prakash is a dentist. Until now she preferred to stay alone and keep teaching while her children pursued their education.
When I see her, I think of how things can change when you give girls opportunities to fly. I called her up this morning, asking her how she felt and in her characteristic modest style, she said: “All’s well that ends well!” She said she plans to travel now, since she hasn’t had the time to do so in the last four decades. I wish my grandfather and my parents were around to see this day. They would have been very proud of her.
There might be times when one feels stuck in a small place, and feels unrewarded or unrecognized. But Geeta Bua’s story shows that one’s sincerity and hard work never goes unnoticed. And then gestures such as these from people mean much more than medals or awards. For you know you have won the hearts of people you have worked with.