Obituary: Amiya Chaudhuri
Friday 23 September 1994
AMIYA CHAUDHURI was about 80 when I first met her and totally housebound. In the years since she never expressed any bitterness about her loss of mobility, but on the contrary was always warm in her manner and full of concern for her family and friends. The wife of the writer Nirad C. Chaudhuri, she ran her household in north Oxford from an upstairs room with clockwork precision.
She herself took up writing in Bengali only when she was in her eighties. Her two memoirs, Didimar Jug o Jiban ('The Life and Times of a Grandmother', 1992) and Prabashini Didima ('A Grandmother in Exile', 1994), are highly regarded in Bengal both for their historical value and their literary qualities. (She died before completing the third instalment.) She published, too, several autobiographical articles and biographical sketches of both Bengali and English life, produced a Bengali cookbook, and contributed three articles to the encyclopaedic Robert Carrier's Kitchen in 1981.
When she first became ill with a disabling condition she busied herself preparing for press the first volume of her husband's Bengali autobiography Atmaghati Bangali ('Self-destructive Bengalis', 1988). In 1987, in his English autobiography, Thy Hand, Great Anarch], Nirad Chaudhuri exquisitely described his arranged marriage in 1932, remarking that a fastidious man such as himself was fortunate to find a wife who not only could spell Beethoven correctly on their wedding night, but who also nurtured him through periods of 'poverty, anxiety, privations and humiliations', and bore him three sons.
Mrs Chaudhuri had a robust outlook on life. I know of no other Bengali woman of my grandmother's generation who would not have been daunted by the prospect of settling in England so late in life (1970). She, by contrast, adapted well to her new life, made English friends and enjoyed herself. She continued to wear a white cotton sari, with a shawl wrapped around her on cold days. She appreciated the best in England and the best in Bengal. By virtue of her books, she became a surrogate grandmother to all grandchildren of Bengal, chronicling her long lifetime for them in crystal-clear language that the best of story-tellers would envy. Her distinctive voice will endure for many years to come.
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