Lady Yashodabai Joshi was the grand dame of her family and a woman far ahead of her times. Not only was she literate, she also knew English, an achievement In the 19th century. She took the lead in work for the uplift of women, was resolute in her open secularism and courageously disdainful of caste barriers. She died at the age of 81, on the morrow of Independence.
Vijay Kumar Bhide, who has translated the story, is her grandson. He retired from the Indian Army as a Major General after a career that saw active service in Burma and Sumatra during World War II. Now 81 years old, he lives in Pune with his wife, Kusum.
T n 1940, on Dussera Day, the eightieth birthday of my husband, Annasaheb, was celebrated. On that day our family members and friends suggested that I should write my memoirs. Upon their urging, I decided to do so.
I have been bedridden for the last six or seven years, and everyone tries to divert my mind and to do everything to make me comfortable. God has tried me before this many times, but this trial-of being bedridden-is the most difficult. Though I am completely dependent on others, I feel God will give me the strength to complete the task.
Life's journey is like climbing the Himalayas; there are many obstacles to cross. But now the summit is near and my legs are heavy with fatigue. So I rest in this sheltered place and calmly survey the long vista of my life.
Memories crowd my mind. What should I set down and leave out? What I feel important may not seem so to a reader. Occasionally, I wonder why I write at all and whether Annasaheb will like it. But my daughters have urged me to persevere, saying, 'Please write so that future generations will know what merit you and Annasaheb have earned. Let others know of the vicissitudes you have endured for your work and principles, so that they will be encouraged to tread the same path with fortitude.'
By God's grace, there are three generations before my eyes. All of them are virtuous. I am writing because I feel they will like it. But this account should be kept within our family. I cannot write with my own hand, as my fingers do not move. So my third daughter, Manik, is taking down the dictation. I do not think I have done anything great. Anyone can pursue higher aims and work on them according to his or her ability. Everything will be accomplished if one keeps a firm hold on morality, truth and courage. I am no writer, but my memories are clear and vivid. I hope my readers will find them interesting.
Women's autobiographies graph the inner contours of familial change and are valuable personal and historical records. Yashodabai Joshi's moving memoir documents a gracious and generous life lived to the full. It is also the story of national consciousness in the formative years between 1868 and 1948.
Maharashtrian literature is alive with accounts of confessional and testimonial writing. Ramabai Ranade's Amuchya Ayushyatil Aathwani (1910), Laxmibai Tilak's four volumes of Smriti Chitre (1934-1936), Hansa Wadkar's Sangtye Aika (1970), Madhavi Desai's Nach Ga Ghuma (1988), Suneeta Deshpande's Jagle Jashi (1992), and Kamal Padhye's Bandha Anubandha are some of the landmarks in this genre. Like their counterparts in Bengali literature these efforts aerated the intellectual life of generations of women, imparting a sense of both progressiveness and continuity to their readers.
Lady Yashodabai's autobiography is crowded with the reflections and shadows of larger events and her minute observations and detailed recollections create a continuum with a vanished epoch. Personal narrative creates a sense of powerful intimacy with the reader, and Akka's spontaneous and heartfelt story brings alive the domestic and national realities of her life and times. The images and memories in this book are like pressed flowers, still carrying the breath of life in them.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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