Kalpana’s life was never easy. She lost her mother when she was in class VII. Her father, a poor wood cutter, married again. She did not get along with her new mother and was soon married off to Amal who was 11 years older than her. She came to live in Joynagar in South 24 Parganas. While the couple struggled with poverty (Amal too was a wood cutter), Kalpana was still happy. Gradually, the family grew to include two children.
Then, a routine (but typically clandestine) visit with a few others to the forested area for cutting trees brought Amal face to face with the famous Royal Bengal tiger. “He sunk his teeth into my neck,” recounts Amal. Another member of the group attacked the tiger with an axe and it slunk away. “We built a big fire to keep him at bay. But I could feel his presence that night,” he adds. Amal credits the blessing of the reigning deity of the forests (Bon Bibi) and his parents for keeping him alive and bringing him back to his family. But he had been mauled badly and needed sustained medical treatment. “We sold our cows to relatives. We almost moved to Kolkata. My daughter and I started working. We needed the money,” shares Kalpana. This was 27 years ago. While Amal gradually improved, the treatments and expenses in Kolkata plunged the family deeper into poverty. Amal never regained his strength fully and had to rely on a string of odd jobs. Meanwhile, the family had grown with the addition of two more children.
By 2012, the couple’s three daughters had got married and moved away. The son also married and began living separately with his wife. Husband and wife were now on their own. Gradually, Kalpana began to have problems with her left eye. Then, she had difficulty seeing with her right eye as well. “I couldn’t cook properly. Sometimes, the food would get burnt. I couldn’t see anything,” shares Kalpana who then hit upon a novel method to help herself. She got her husband to tie strings within the two rooms of the house and also leading from the house to the pond nearby. She would walk holding these strings. But even then, Kalpana would sometimes bump into things or trip and hurt herself. Around the same time, Amal’s eyesight also began to fail.
Amal’s sister had attended an eye camp under the Sightsavers supported project in the Sundarbans and then undergone a cataract surgery at the base hospital. She told the couple to visit the local Vision Centre. Kalpana and Amal underwent cataract surgeries for both eyes during 2016-17. “First, he got it done for one eye. Then I did and then he went again and then me,” shares Kamala with a smile. Both husband and wife are satisfied with the service and care given. “They all did their duty beautifully,” says Amal. They have told relatives and neighbours about the services. “One woman had got the surgery done for one eye. She had been asked to go again for the other eye. But she could not go on time and ten days passed. She told me that she was scared – that if she went now, they would scold her and not treat her properly. I told her – these people are not like that. I convinced her to go,” says Kalpana with a smile. “I have worked in a nursing home as a helper. I know what good service is and I saw it there,” she adds.
Post surgeries, Kalpana and Amal have been able to return to their usual routines. “He doesn’t have to eat burnt food anymore,” says Kalpana with a chuckle.