| Shristi Sarma at her restaurant. Picture by S.H. Patgiri
Guwahati, Sept. 25: As a member of the outlawed Ulfa’s demolition team, she operated under the alias Seema Biswas, a real-life avenging angel who echoed the ferocity of the reel character played by the actor of the same name in Shekhar Kapur’s film on bandit queen Phoolan Devi.
That was until last year, when Seema Biswas returned to being Shristi Sarma after more than one-and-a-half decades of guns and gore. Today, she is serving up culinary delights instead of bullets and mortar fire.
Shristi, who had became infamous as the Ulfa guerrilla responsible for several mortar attacks in the Assam capital, now manages two restaurants ' at Ulubari and Beltola ' under an Assam police rehabilitation scheme. Dressed in jeans and a striped T-shirt topped with a red cap, she is the epitome of courtesy as she goes about her new life, showing no signs of her violent past.
“I am very happy now. What gives me satisfaction is that I am no longer doing anybody any harm. In the process of opening these two restaurants, I have been able to give employment to a few unemployed youths,” Shristi says.
What next for the militant-turned-entrepreneur'
“My aim is to establish a good hotel in the city,” she says.
Shristi’s initiation into militancy happened when she was just 17 years old. She was good in studies, scoring over 75 per cent marks in both the matric and higher secondary examinations. But a dramatic change in her mindset ' her father was killed in their native village, Ghograpar in Nalbari district, and she was thirsting for revenge ' led to her joining the Ulfa ranks in 1988.
“It was misplaced anger,” she now admits, undoubtedly wizened by her fruitless tryst with violence.
By the time she became Seema Biswas, an alias that drew instant comparison with bandit queen Phoolan Devi because of her screen alter ego’s name, Shristi was an active member of Ulfa’s demolition squad. “I was trained to fire 60 mm mortars, light machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and all rifles of the Kalashnikov series,” she recalls.
She received arms training directly under the supervision of Ulfa deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah in Bhutan.
Shristi credits senior police officials with motivating her to become self-reliant after her surrender. “All is not over for them if they are willing to give up the path of violence.”