Original in Bengali by Jogendranath Gupta*
In those days, in Durgapur village in the district of Burdwan Ramdhan Basu was a wealthy and prosperous lawyer. His house was as large as it was well-fortified with a wall and guarded by two lathi-wielding guards. His mother Mahamaya used to stay there all alone, refusing the leave the poor villagers, while he worked in Burdwan town. Every night she would go round every corner of the huge house with a lamp to ensure all doors were shut, and then lie down in her own room.
It was the month of Paush.** Two of Mahamaya Devi’s nephews were spending the night there on their way home.All by herself, she was going around the house with an earthen lamp. Suddenly,near the northern room’s thatched roof, she heard someone snoring outside. Just as forest dwellers do not fear wild animals, similarly women of that area were not very scared of thieves and dacoits. Surprised at the sound of snoring, she went out seeking its source.
Mahamaya was a lady of great daring. Creeping alongside the northern wall she found Mr.Dacoit dozing comfortably, astride the northern wall as if riding a horse, holding on to a bamboo beam supporting the thatched roof, resting his head against it. Outside the house, Gosaindas Bagdi was pacing up and down, keeping watch. Once she thought of calling out to him. But Mahamaya’s courage was formidable. Do you know what she did?
Putting the lamp down on the ground, she grabbed the dacoit’s dangling leg with both hands and gave a violent pull. She had thought she would bring him crashing down on to the floor of the house and then cry out. Then everyone would run up and the dacoit would be unable to flee. But the dacoit was a strong man. He had been clutching on tightly to the roof’s bamboo beam, so it was not easy for a single old woman to pull him down.
Shaken awake by the pull, Mr.Dacoit realized he was in great danger. Quickly he managed to free his leg from Mahamaya’s hands and, squatting firmly on the wall, said, “Oho! What’s this! What a strange woman you are! Don’t you fear for your life?”
Mahamaya Devi roared, “Who? Chaandaa? You couldn’t find any other place to rob? I give you so much food to eat, two pieces of cloth to wear every year and you ingrate have come to commit dacoity in my house?”
Chaandaa dacoit said, “How can that ever be! No, mother! While keeping watch I felt very sleepy, that is why I dozed off a little sitting here.”
“Oh, I see! So the wall of the inner rooms is your bed!”
“Losing my way, half-asleep I climbed up here by mistake. This won’t ever happen again!”
This conversation inside the house had reached the ears of Gosain Bagdi who ran up asking, “What has happened, Ma?”
Mahamaya Devi pointed out Chaandaa dacoit. As Gosaindas lifted up his lathi, Chaandaa jumped down from the wall and vanished into the darkness. Gosaindas boasted, “Ma, instead of grabbing him, had you quietly brought me here, I would have taught him a lesson about his keeping watch.”
By this time, Chaandaa’s gang had quietly dug a tunnel into the house. Re-entering the house, Gosaindas and Mahamaya Devi heard the sound of digging. Quietly they went inside and, peeping out of the window, saw the tunnel being dug under it. A few bricks remained to be removed for making a large hole.
Quickly, Mahamaya Devi brought a flaming torch from the next room and lighting the kitchen fire, heated two large vessels of water, one after another. By this time the tunnel was through. The water was boiling. Watching all this, Mahamaya’s nephews, frozen with fear, were sweating even in the winter night.
Mahamaya did nothing. Patiently she waited for the robbers to make their entry. Just as the first one put his head through the tunnel and peered into the room, Mahamaya signaled to Gosaindas. Both of them upturned the vessels of boiling water on his head. At once shouts of “Aha! Alas! I’m done for! I’m dead!” rose outside and a mighty commotion was heard. Chaandaa Sardar, who had joined the band by now, shouted, “Alright, this time you have gone scot free, mistress. But you’ll see the fun soon,” and left.
Ultimately Mahamaya Devi got Chaandaa dacoit caught by the police. He was awarded a severe sentence. The story of Mahamaya Devi’s bravery was broadcast all over the region. People used to call her, “the dacoit-catching mistress.”
* 1893-1964, editor of many children’s magazines, biographies, authored a hundred books in Bengali including “Banglar Dakat” (Dacoits of Bengal) from which this is taken.
**The ninth month (mid-December to mid-January), winter, in the Bengali calendar.
See also: Robbery and Dacoity
Heroic Annada Devi and the Dacoit Gang