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Shahida Bibi's Bangles

After her grandsons migrated from their home in West Bengal to work as goldsmiths in Navi Mumbai, a matriarch enjoys simple pleasures bought with their earnings

Pictures & Text:

Anwesha Ganguly

Matriarch Shahida Bibi poses in the front yard of her house, filled with cauldrons meant to extract rice from paddy and sheds made of  hay.

Dwarhatta, West Bengal: Shahida Bibi, 79, the grandmother of brothers Rafikul Islam (23) and Shahrul Islam (19), is finally seeing better days after they migrated from Dwarhatta, West Bengal to work as goldsmiths in Navi Mumbai in 2021 and 2023, respectively. Widowed at a very young age and left to fend for herself and her young children all by herself, Shahida stayed home to manually extract rice grains from paddy, while her children went out to work in other people’s fields and wash dishes at a local tea shop. Starting off with very little resources and sometimes having to feed on the starch of the remnant rice, Shahida now uses multiple large cauldrons to boil the paddy– the first step towards extracting rice grains.

Shahida sits in front of the first ever almirah owned by the family, flaunting her bangles, that her grandsons, Rafikul and Shahrul had jointly contributed to buy.

Rafikul and Shahrul are goldsmiths in Navi Mumbai. They live with their fellow workers in their workshops, and send a major chunk of the Rs. 10,000 salary they respectively earn to their grandmother, keeping only enough for food and other small expenses. This has made it possible for Shahida to buy the first almirah ever in her life. Her grandsons also gold-coated her brass bangles earlier this year.

Researchers estimate India’s domestic remittance market at $10 billion.

Members of Shahida’s extended family, with only the women staying back in the village, live nearby and sometimes pay her visits.

 Situated on the banks of the Damodar river, Shahida Bibi’s village boasts of fertile land yielding rice, potatoes, sesame and jute. But work is limited and wages are poor. Newbies on the fields are not paid on par with seasoned workers. Jobs have also shrunk on the fields with the advent of machinery, resulting in men, from mostly Muslim landless families, seeing migration as their ticket to a better life. Migration from Dwarhatta, that many say began 20 years ago, has increased over the years.With the men gone, many homes in Dwarhatta have only women staying back.

The goat shed in the premise of the household is going to be accommodated elsewhere to build a washoom in its place.

This migration has benefitted families beyond small material pleasures. For Shahida’s family, a new way of life can be seen unfolding. Their house is far from being a comfortable abode, but significant changes are visible. They have started constructing a small washroom and are going to shift their goats to another shed.

The exterior of the pucca room of Shahida’s house, that oversees the main road. 

Shahida was married into a thatched hut at 10, which she worked hard enough to make a tiled hut. Her grandsons’ migration has made the family build a small pucca home for themselves, painted brightly with a cement advertisement. Hoping to get Rafikul married soon, the family has hopes to start building a pucca room for him, separately, to welcome the bride-to-be.

 Rafikul and Shahrul’s bike rests in the house, amongst the season’s produce of potatoes, which awaits the brothers’ arrival and their maiden ride on it.

Rafikul and Sharul have spent many Eids away from home and now look forward to spending more time with their family, enjoying the fruits of their labour, including a new motorcycle bought from their remittances. “I don’t like staying away from my family and I miss them all, but it is alright. I feel good when I see them happy. I want to go on a ride with my brother when I go home next,” Rafikul said.

Anwesha Ganguly is a writer, researcher and translator based in New Delhi.


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