My father used to earn by displaying his scrolls in villages. My parents stayed in Singur Muri after they came over from Thekachak. They lived in a room in the house of a Bengali gentleman who had let them stay in that room. My parents, my elder sister and I used to live there. My father had admitted us to school there. The teachers used to teach us while I sat on their laps. I was very young then. I was sent to school but I would run away. That is why I couldn’t learn anything. My parents then came to Naya and started living here permanently. My sister and I would go begging. We were so young then, but how could we eat unless we begged? my mother used to go out in the morning selling cosmetics in villages. She would come back around the evening. I found out that other children would get more alms by singing scroll songs. We had to do something better than just beg. I would go with those kids, singing songs. my voice was sweeter than all theirs. Then, as I was going older, my father arranged my wedding. He did it without spending any paise, without paying any dowry. He brought me to my marital home and I ran away. Since then he never visited me there.

A daughter Manimala was born to me. I could barely get anything to eat there. Then my husband left us and married another woman. Initially I didn’t go out with the scrolls. I would sell cosmetics from a basket, going around the villages. I used to hawk stuff, carrying my daughter. I made very slow progress with a heavy basket on my head and lugging my daughter. I struggled hard. Again my husband brought his second wife home. I was his first wife. After my daughter Manimala was born he had to remarry. When the older woman came, how could I manage the expenses? There was no food. Then I told my husband that I would sell cosmetics from a barrow, while he had to start his repair work again. This is how we earned and ran our family. His second wife had no skills. My uncle asked me to paint some scrolls when I was going around selling cosmetics. He wanted to sell them for me. He told me to paint another since people liked my scroll. In fact they had asked for a few more.

I started to paint happily since then. I painted using different scenes. I show them in various villages and beg for rice and money. But scrolls don’t sell every day. I’d go out with scrolls, come back to cook, look after my children, tend to my goats and chicken and also paint when I got a little free time. I used to earn like this. As a result of living with my husband I gave birth to a baby boy. But he left us again. Four years later he came back once more and started crying and promised to never leave me. I told him then that I wouldn’t go with him to mind his home.

My mother had given me a tiny plot where I had made a small hut. I would stay there. He could stay with me if he wanted, but I wouldn’t leave with him (laughs). He agreed to stay with me. He brought his second wife here and she became pregnant once more. It was almost laughable that with all the misery around he left us again. Four months later he came back with another wife. The old one had been had been discarded. He would marry a woman, make her pregnant, leave her, and remarry. It’s better than before. My sons earn a bit. But I have a lot of debts. My family is running along, neither too well nor too badly. I have to ‘manage’ very carefully but can eat properly now. We don’t have to starve as before in spite of our debts. We can have dal/bhat and vegetables, fish and meat occasionally.

Scrolls by Jamuna