The young girl from Midnapore came to Calcutta eight years ago in search of independence and a better life. Although Lata Bera is still some distance from achieving her dreams, the 23-year-old’s life has taken her down some surprise routes.
When she arrived in the city at the age of 15, right after completing her Madhyamik examinations, Lata lived at home with her uncle and an older cousin brother, cooking and cleaning house in the small Amherst Street flat. But she had other plans in mind, and began to work, and learn, in earnest.
Despite family resistance, she went for regular evening classes in karate at the Vidyasagar hostel, eventually becoming a black belt. She then started teaching the martial art in girls’ schools, from Entally to Posta and Hedua. Lata would burn the midnight oil, working at the printing factory next door, folding pages through the night.
The teenager not only paid some money towards the upkeep of her home in Calcutta, but also sent cash to her family in Midnapore, to fund the education of two of her four younger brother and sisters. “It was my responsibility as the eldest,” she says. Her proudest moment was when her younger sister passed Madhyamik 2003 with a first division.
The remainder of her meagre earnings, she managed to save in fixed deposits. A year ago, she took out the entire amount, about Rs 75,000, and married off a younger sister. “My father couldn’t afford to pay more than Rs 20,000. So I had to do the rest. It was my duty,” she smiles.
Lata also tried her hand at physiotherapy, which she learnt once again by attending classes at the Vidyasagar hostel. Her first patient was her teacher’s wife, who had arthritis. After successful treatment of her first client, the enterprising young girl’s expertise spread by word of mouth. For the past four years, she’s been travelling and treating, from home to home, all day, everyday.
Her dream, however, is to learn English. “I have bought the books, too, but they’re just lying at home. There is a didi who is willing to teach me, but I hardly have any time. At the end of the day, I’m too tired to do anything but sleep. Massaging people is a very tiring job. Now that I live on my own, ever since my brother and uncle have moved back home, I have to do everything for myself, including pay the rent,” she explains.
Marriage, despite family pressure, is not on the cards. “What’s the point'” is her question, providing a glimpse of an indomitable spirit beneath the tired exterior. Independence, Lata feels, is the key to success. “I don’t want anyone’s help. I have to make my own way in life, and I am determined to do well,” she signs off.