Tribute – Sita Devi

Born 10 April, 1895; Died 20 December, 1974
(Excerpts from the tributes by her sister Shanta Devi and brother Ashok Chattopadhyay on her adya Shradhya; Translated from the Bengali versions.)

Sita Devi, the younger daughter of the renowned journalist Shri. Ramananda Chattopadhya, was a reputed author in her own right. Together with her elder sister Shanta Devi, she had published many books for children as well as novels for the adults. She spent her early childhood in Allahabad after which the family relocated to Calcutta. Excerpts from the reminiscences of her sister Shanta Devi and brother Ashok Chattopadhyay are translated as under.

Shanta Devi: (Sister)
‘Sita was younger to me in age but senior to me in many other aspects. Since her childhood she would react against any injustice done to me. Often her reactions were rather violent.
When we came to Calcutta and got admission in school, she was often mistaken as my elder sister. She was good in her studies and having read English books since childhood, she was quite proficient in the English language. The teachers were impressed by her grasp of English, but she was not so confident in mathematics. In College, the professors greatly appreciated her knowledge in the English language. But these were her outward qualities. Her inner soul was gifted with an outstanding quality of honesty, to which she would adhere with the utmost sincerity even at the cost of hardship. She never compromised with untruth.
Sita Devi started penning stories in Bengali from her college days. She had written many stories effortlessly which came to her spontaneously. She could weave a story around any event and had authored several novels along with numerous stories. Unfortunately, these were not compiled and published due to lack of interest of publishing houses.
We used to go to Santiniketan in our childhood, where she was noticed by many due to her outstanding qualities. Rabindranath Tagore knew about her talent as a story teller and she helped him write his ‘Jiban Smriti’ by copying out the manuscript for the press. She could learn to sing the songs of Tagore by listening to Dinu-Babu while he trained his students. I could not sing but Sita was proficient in music although she was not keen to sing. Rabindranath Tagore asked the teachers of Santiniketan to translate his writings first into English and then back to Bengali from these English translations. Sita did both these jobs skillfully which impressed the bard. Sita used to teach English and History to the students of the Ashram where the senior students came to her for help.
Sita never hesitated to disclose her real age and tried to correct those who tended to hide them, for which she was reproached by our mother.’

Ashok Chattopadhyay: (Brother)
‘Our house in Allahabad was in South Road. There were two other bungalows in that large premise which had flowering shrubs and trees. One was occupied by Tej Bahadur Sapru and his family and the Nehrus lived in the other. Our house was a little away from the main road. In order to approach the courtyard of our bungalow one had to enter through a lane edged with hedges. At the age of five, when I was but three, Sita was not constrained by the inhibitions natural in girls of her age. She boldly climbed trees and jumped from high grounds and challenged the boys in fighting with sticks. She was enthusiastic in her studies and sang in full throat. There were few who could equal her in abilities, proficiency and spirit.
Our mother, grand-mother and great-grandmother were all very bold and strong. They all lived long to become centurions. Sita perhaps had inherited their strong constitution. She was equally bold in her activities even when she grew up to be a lady. Her spirit and courage were never dimmed by the gentleness that generally accompany womanhood. She was courageous and independent spirited. When the horse-drawn bus to college refused to down the curtains, Sita Devi started walking to college with a few of her class-mates. When some ‘smart’ young men passed unwelcome comments, she came down on them with cane and soon they dispersed. During this time, she visited Darjeeling and successfully walked all the way to Sinchal lake at the first stroke of dawn to see the sun rise over mount Everest. This was a very rare feat among women in those days.
She started writing with her elder sister Shanta at the age of sixteen. Before she started her journey as an author, she prepared herself by reading numerous books in English and Bengali. Some books were regarded as unsuitable for the young mind on grounds of morality. Sita Devi never cared for such restrictions. The famous teacher from Santiniketan. Nepal Chandra Roy, affectionately called Sita ‘Mother’. He prescribed many books to the young students and narrated many of them in Bengali in order to encourage the students to read extensively.
The situation changed when we came to Calcutta. Charu Bandyopadhyay, the Editor of Prabasi, became a good family friend. At this time our home and the office of the two magazines, Prabasi and Modern Review, were very close to the prayer hall of Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. This locality was popularly known as ‘Samaj Para’ or the Locality of the Samaj. During this time many renowned persons visited us. Among them were Rabindra Nath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Abanindra Nath Tagore, Gaganendra Nath Tagore, Lala Lajpat Rai, Ramsey McDonald, Keer Hardy, Shronivas Shastri, Lalubhai Shyamaldas, Prafulla Chandra Roy, Jagadish Chandra Basu, Sivanath Shastri, C.F. Andrews and the king of Pithapuram. There were many others who were renowned in the fields of politics, economics and literature. We were rather young at the time and so was Sita Devi. But she never hesitated to speak to those who were unapproachable to her siblings.
Sita Devi passed her Entrance examination in flying colours and performed well in the Intermediate Examination. At this time women were granted permission for admission to the Bachelor’s course for the first time. Site Devi passed her B.A. with honours in English. The first world war was raging at the time and our elder brother, Kedar Nath, was studying in England. Educational processes were getting hampered due to the war. In this situation the sisters were not able to travel to England for higher studies. However, that did not prevent their getting enriched by interacting with many great and outstanding personalities. We were inspired by the freedom struggle while in Allahabad. In Calcutta, the influence of many freedom fighters inspired Sita to live for the upliftment of our fellow citizens in education and cultural spheres and she held the national pride high.
Sita Devi spent some time in Burma after she was married to Shri Sudhir Kumar Chowdhury, in 1923. He was engaged in the business of publishing and selling books. But soon his business was affected adversely due to Government restrictions and they were compelled to come back to India. After return, it became difficult for them to settle down comfortably. But Sita braved the adversities with her natural courage and started her journey as an author after the situation changed for the better. She soon reached the height of fame because of her pure style and ideals.

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