An era in political and social life of Bihar came to an end on December 19th with the passing away of Bihar's revered 'Bachchi Jee' (Kishori Sinha). It marked the end of a spectacular socio-political journey of more than seven glorious decades of a stateswoman who stood tall among her contemporaries.
In the massively conservative and deeply patriarchal pre-independence social hierarchy, when women had no rights and choices whatsoever even in the most elite, liberal, and wealthy aristocratic families of the state, she emerged as an eminent voice of feminism and a staunch advocate of women's emancipation and rightful place in society; thus often challenging the powerful and influential patriarchal establishment of Bihar.
Although she was married into the family of legendary Bihar Vibhuti Dr. Anugraha Narain Sinha at a tender age of thirteen in 1938, she successfully persuaded her father and in-laws to accept her strong wish to continue her studies post-marriage - a rare concession in an inherently feudally patriarchal system of the time. It is not that she believed in blatant defiance but she was a firm believer of striking the right rational balance between traditions and modernity.
Of course, Kishori Sinha's life has not been less than a fairy tale but the pertinent fact is that it wasn't because of her illustrious lineage but because She earned to transform it into a fairy tale by her dauntless determination, dent of merit, selfless service and unrelenting passion towards service of the masses, especially women, and literally lived her life to the fullest till her last breath. She was a pioneer who blazed a new path for women in the cultural, social and political arena of Bihar.
When journalist M. J. Akbar (now MoS, External Affairs) called her the "Cultural Czarina" of Bihar in the 1980s, it was a befitting sobriquet for the daughter of Vaishali and the first woman to represent it in the parliament who had transformed the annual District Level Vaishali Mahotsav to a country level cultural extravaganza with national level audience and attention. It was at her initiative that the then Vice-President of India, Shri Shankar Dayal Sharma inaugurated the grand opening of the Mahotsav in 1987 with highest echelons of central government, government of Bihar, eminent artists and iconic women from India's art, music and cultural arena in attendence. From the suave Arpita Singh to versatile Zarina Hashmi to the triumvirate of Nalini Malani, R. Banerjee and Dayanita Singh to the ever gracious Vyjayanthimala, India's women power of the time converged to make the occasion a spectacular success while sending out a clear message to the under-served sections of the society. Vyjayanthimala described her as the "gentle daughter of Bihar" who was also its ambassador of feminism.
Besides being an able administrator, she was an educationist too. When she was first elected to the 6th Lok Sabha from Vaishali in 1980 (along with her husband, the veteran statesman Satyendra Narayan Sinha from Aurangabad, thus becoming the first parliamentary couple from Bihar to be elected together), people asked her to open a college in Lalganj (then part of her constituency). She fulfilled her promise within three months by donating a large tract of her own ancestral property and setting up the A.B.S. Degree College, Lalganj (then the first college in the area).
She also opened a women's college in Aurangabad and another in Vaishali. It was for the first time the rural women of these remote areas had a dedicated college of their own and their families readily agreed to let them study at the behest of "Bachchi Bua", as she was fondly called.
Who can ever forget that her official residence in Delhi for four decades, 28 Akbar Road, had consistently won awards for being one of the best kept bungalows in the national capital and was one of capital's landmark gardens. Her admirers and opponents (but not adversaries) in the highest corridors of power unanimously agreed that Bachchi Jee had a rare godly gift of elegance and gentleness stitched together. She had a knack of keeping personal relations and political affiliations completely distinct and her biggest political opponents of the time were also her greatest personal admirers. No wonder, when she made her transition to the heavenly abode, right from today's prominent stalwarts of Bihar politics on the national scene cutting across parties to highest judicial authorities of state, seasoned bureaucrats to the Czars of media and corporate world assembled together at "Sopan" to bid her a tearful adieu.
But this didn't prevent the hordes of women who respected her, idolized her and whom she treated like her own, from turning up. As a Patna'ite with roots in Vaishali, I too joined the unexpectedly massive crowd of people who had gathered to pay their last respects to her during the state funeral at Kaunhara Ghath in Hajipur. There were spontaneous emotional outbreaks, wet eyes cutting across generations and what a great irony; she began her journey as a mother on the banks of River Gandak-Ganga in 1941 with the birth of her son Nikhil Kumar who became one of country's well known and decorated IPS officers and later Governor of Kerala and Nagaland and now her journey ended at the same place in 2016 with her son lighting her funeral pyre.
Revered "Bachchi Jee" is no more among us but she will eternally exist in the thoughts and memories of every single soul which met her as the Czarina of hearts and taking ahead her message of social justice, inclusive development, and women leadership will be a genuine tribute to her.