Kozhikode: “A river is flowing down as waves and whirlpools through the open door! I held my breath. She is not coming alone. It is a stampede of 6.5 crore people who were uprooted from their own land for the implementation of the giant projects in the country. As I stood with my eyes wide open and forgot to fold hands to greet, Budhni folded her hands giving me a toothless smile like a baby.”
Writer Sarah Joseph was all amazed to remember a very rare moment when she met with a character of her latest novel who she thought to have died many years ago. It was Budhni Mejhan, who was labelled as the bride of India’s first prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and was later ostracized by her community. The modern India should never forget her.
Budhni is also the title of Sarah Joseph’s novel published in Mathrubhumi weekly. Sarah Joseph met Budhni, the heroine of the story, at her residence in Panchet of Jharkhand. Budhni belongs to Santal ethnic community. Her life was turned upside down on her very first meeting with Nehru on December 6, 1959 during the inauguration of Panchet dam which was a dream project of the Nehru government.
When Nehru arrived to dedicate the dam to the country, he invited Budhni who was then a teenage girl working in Damodar Valley Corporation to execute the switch-on function. As Budhni entered the stage, Nehru welcomed her by garlanding as a usual token of honour. Next day, newspapers published on first page the story and photo of Budhni standing beside the prime minister dedicating the dam to the nation.
It could have been a very precious moment for anyone. But it turned out to be tragic for Budhni. As per Santal tradition, a man garlanding woman is considered a wedding. The tribe decided that Budhni became Nehru’s wife. Thus she was ostracized from the community for marrying outside the community making her life disastrous. Some media reported later that Budhni passed away after leading a pathetic life.
Sarah Joseph penned the novel ‘Budhni’ based on this incident she heard somewhere. It was a narrative on a late person based on the time she lived in and the historical events. As the novel was widely appreciated, the novelist decided to visit the place where her heroine lived and died. However, her journey had an unexpected and dramatic twist when she met the still alive Budhni.
The heroine herself welcomed the writer. Sarah Joseph had thought that Budhni passed away years ago but was amazed and surprised to see Budhni in flesh and blood. The novelist shared the wonder of meeting her dead character alive, in the latest edition of Mathrubhumi weekly. It is the memory of a rarest of rare meeting which has never happened in the literary world before.