Remembering Senehi Begum

BY BHASKAR PHUKAN

The passing away of Senehi Begum – better known as Senehi Baideo to her legion of students and admirers all over Assam — marked the end of a life that contributed so much in a variety of fields that it makes one wonder:  Could it be possible for a person to be so multi-faceted? Much before the words Women Empowerment became vogue, here was a lady who excelled in every field she chose to hone her interest. Educationist, radio show hostess, NCC Major, author, Journalist, translator, social worker, Senehi Begum’s life was choc a bloc with her achievements. Those of us who grew up in her neighbourhood at Ambari in the heart of Guwahati, during the seventies and eighties of the last century, watched in admiration as the tall, elegant lady with striking looks strode past us in a mekhela sador and pump shoes. She always seemed to be a person in hurry but never failed to smile at us youngsters playing on the street. My mother who was her contemporary in both TC High School and Handique Girls’ College recalled that Senehi Begum was one of the most beautiful women of her generation and looked attractive despite invariably wearing a plain mekhela sador and almost no jewellery.

Born into a respectable and enlightened Assamese family, Senehi, the youngest of six children of Mohiuddin Ahmed, a magistrate under the British Government chose to be different from the rest of her siblings from her early childhood. When the family which originally hailed from Jogighopa in the undivided Gaolpara District, settled in the Ambari area of Guwahati, Senehi was admitted to the TC Girls High School. During those days, the TC Girls High school had been one of the most reputed educational institutions in the state. It was there, amidst a liberal and progressive environment  under the care and tutelage of such legendary teachers as Indira Devi, Tomal Kushum Das, Girija Das, Gauri Das and Senehi’s own elder sister, Noor Jahan Begum, Senehi’s character and outlook were shaped and moulded to accept and overcome any challenge that stood in the way of her ambition. Later, she graduated from Handique college, and completed her masters in History from Gauhati University. Soon, she joined her alma mater, Handique Girls’ College as a lecturer in History. She served in Handique Girls’ College throughout her professional life, going on to become and retiring as its Principal. During her tenure at Handique Girls’ College, she served considerable time as superintendent of one of the Girls hostel, a role that brought her close to batch after batch of boarders whom she guided and motivated to excel in every field besides academics. Many of her old students who now occupy exalted positions in society still recall with gratitude how Senehi Baideo chaperoned them and took personal interest in their careers.

Senehi Begum’s will to excel enabled her to constantly raise the ceiling of her own achievements. From translating Edward Gait’s History of Assam into Assamese to writing editorials for the news daily, Assam Express to leading a NCC contingent, Senehi Begum’s life was a journey of personal fulfilment from one success to another.

When the news of the passing away of Senehi Begum was first conveyed to me, my thoughts went back to those days of my childhood when every Sunday morning, the soothing voice of Senehi Begum crackled through our old radio as an interesting fairy tale or a historical episode was narrated by her at Akonir Mel, the popular children’s programme she hosted. I realized that Senehi Begum had something for everyone.

Bhaskar Phukan

Bhaskar Phukan

The author is a civil servant with the government of Assam. The views expressed in the article are his own and in no way represent the Government of Assam’s views. Feedback: bhaskarub@gmail.com.