Budhini – Sarah Joseph
‘I felt Budhini had to be revived from the
criminal forgetfulness of the country; she
wasn’t just a mud block that was broken
during the great nation-building process.
I felt that she should rise again in the nation’s
memory along with the hundreds of villages,
vast farmlands, forests and temple complexes
that were drowned in the Panchet reservoir.’
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On 6 December 1959, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru went to Dhanbad district in Jharkhand to inaugurate the Panchet Dam across the Damodar river. A fifteen-year-old Santal girl, chosen by the Damodar Valley Corporation welcomed him with a garland and placed a tikka on his forehead. When these ceremonial gestures were interpreted as an act of matrimony, the fifteen-year-old was ostracised by her village and let go from her job as a construction worker. Citing violation of Santal traditions, she was outlawed for marrying outside her community. Her name was Budhini
Budhini Mejhan’s is the tale of an uprooted life, told here through the contemporary lens of Rupi Murmu, a young journalist distantly related to her and determined to excavate her story. In this reimagined history, Sarah Joseph evokes Budhini with vigour, authority and panache, conjuring up a robust and endearing feminine character, reminding us of the lives and stories that should never be forgotten.
Translated by her daughter, Sangeetha Sreenivasan, a fiercely individualistic novelist herself, Sarah Joseph’s Budhini powerfully invokes the wider biopolitics of our relentless modernisation and the dangers of being indifferent to ecological realities.
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