Recovering Budhni Mejhan from the silted landscape of modern India

Budhni inaugurating the power station at the Panchet dam in December 1959. PHOTO: NEHRU MEMORIAL MUSEUM AND LIBRARY, NEW DELHI. / The Hindu

Chitra Padmanabhan in The Hindu:

A few months ago, the retired schoolteacher’s story became a part of my present when she asked me to gather information on the places she had visited in 1957. I want to write a detailed account of my best trip ever, she said with a glint in her eye.

Sometimes an innocuous request leads you to the past only to snake back into the present as a story sounding like a sigh, waiting for more than 50 years to be told. Who was to know that a straightforward task of collecting dry facts about a dam visited 54 years ago would bring me face-to-face with the story of Budhni Mejhan, a Santhal tribal, whose life became a testament to nation-building in a way that could never have been imagined; who lived all her life like a pebble trapped under a huge boulder?

I chanced upon Budhni while ferreting out information about the Maithon dam in Dhanbad district (Jharkhand) bordering West Bengal, which was a high point of Surjit’s itinerary. The third dam of the ambitious, multipurpose DVC, established in 1948 on the lines of the Tennessee Valley Authority, it had been inaugurated around the time of the schoolteachers’ visit.

After Maithon I could have moved on to Surjit’s next destination. However, a predisposition to stray from the highways of search engines lured me towards material on DVC’s fourth dam at Panchet in Dhanbad district, near its border with Purulia (West Bengal). The dam was built across the Damodar river known as the ‘sorrow of Bengal.’ Not only was this Rs.19 crore dam DVC’s biggest until then; its inauguration on December 6, 1959 had been graced by Prime Minister Nehru himself. More:

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