GUWAHATI: A 100-year-old woman in Assam, surviving on just tea and biscuits for 70 years, has applied for starting an old-age home. When she approached the civic administration here to seek its permission, the mayor asked: “Who will run it?” The centenarian replied that she will. She is hoping to start the home for the elderly in October.
It is her spirit that has kept philanthropist Aruna Mukherjee going. She runs four institutes, which offer free training in vocational courses. She is adept at fine art, music, knitting, sewing, embroidery, painting, soft toy-making, etc. and takes classes occasionally. When she turned 100 on August 31, she had a message for humanity: live for mankind.
In 1947, Aruna stopped eating everything, except tea and biscuits, after seeing the sufferings of people who fled Bangladesh following Partition.
“I had seen hundreds of hungry people when they fled Bangladesh and took refuge at Guwahati railway station. I had seen children cry inconsolably for food. I cooked for them and gave them my food. I made paper bags to earn money so I could feed as many as possible,” Aruna told The Sunday Standard.
“In due course, they migrated to different places, but the feeling that they didn’t get to eat for days together is still with me. That’s why I can’t eat anything except tea and biscuits even today. It is that feeling which made (singer-lyricist-musician) Bhupen Hazarika compose and sing the song ‘Manuhe Manuhar Babe’ (man for mankind). There are many among us who do not have that feeling,” she laments.
Despite being 100 and eating sparsely for seven decades, she has no diseases, but struggles with failing vision and hearing. “She does most of the household chores,” says Ganga, her aide.
Born in Dhaka, Aruna came to Assam after her marriage some 80 years ago. Her husband, Jadulal Mukherjee, who is no more, was the head of the Chemistry Department at Cotton College in Guwahati. The couple had four sons and a daughter. Three of the sons, who lived and worked abroad as scientists, died. The fourth son and the daughter live in Canada.
Former beauty pageant winner and producer Bobita Sarma, who is making a documentary on Aruna’s life, says: “Her spirit is such that even at the age of 100, she gets desperate about visiting flood-affected areas to help the marooned.”