"And it will be a royal journey to the City of Joy which is anxiously waiting to accord a memorable reception to them," Bindeshwari Pathak, the founder of Sulabh India that is organising the visit, told IANS. The organisation takes care of more than 2,000 widows, mainly in Vrindavan and Varanasi.
The widows will fly to Kolkata on Oct 6 and will straight away proceed to a special function to mark their welcome by members of YLO, a youth organisation, which has decided to arrange for a band with the traditional "Dhaak" to mark the occasion.
"A few days back, some of the elderly widows expressed a desire to visit Kolkata during Durga Puja. Though it was a good idea, we were scared of the crowd. In the meantime, some organisers approached us and said they would make special arrangements for the women," Pathak added.
A Vrindavan Shelter Home official told IANS: "The Puja organisers said they would make special hassle-free arrangements to make pandal hopping easy for the elderly women.
"Some puja organisers in Kolkata and its suburbs have invited widows from Vrindavan to grace their pandals. Some puja committees like Pally Mangal Samity Durga Puja in Jodhpur Park, Salt Lake FE Block, and Hindustan Park in Kolkata have decided to felicitate them. A few Puja committees have even requested these widows to inaugurate the Puja festival."
Jaydeep Mukherjee of the Pally Mangal Samity has planned special celebrations for the widows. According to the organisers, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee is likely to be a guest at one of the functions for the widows. They will also get a chance to meet West Bengal Governor M.K. Narayanan.
At one of the felicitation pandals, a replica of the famous Sri Krishna temple of Vrindavan is being created.
Many of the Vrindavan widows have never visited the city after they had to leave West Bengal due to different practical constraints they experienced in the family after their husbands died.
"When some of them expressed the desire to enjoy Durga Puja in Kolkata, we thought this could be a noble idea - a break from their monotonous life in the ashrams," Pathak said.
Some of the widows had left the state about 70 years ago after their husbands died young. These women led a sub-human existence till the Supreme Court intervened and asked Sulabh International to act as the Good Samaritan.
"Today they lead a normal life, their healthcare and basic needs are taken care of, including entertainment. Some of them are being taught vocations and the three Rs," Pathak added.
Each widow in Vrindavan gets Rs.2,000 a month. Earlier they were not even able to make Rs.5 a day. "Five rupees was our earning. We had to buy food and fuel from that paltry amount. Now we are getting Rs 2,000 per month. What else do we need at this age when we are waiting for the final call," Kanchana Devi, 78, who had left Kolkata 50 years ago, said with a smile.
More than economics, it is the dignity restored and a sense of satisfaction that is clearly visible.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
--IANS (Posted on 01-10-2013)