I remember the floods of 1955, especially the night the water had entered the mud houses in our village causing them to crumble. The cattle were howling while the people cried at the destruction all around. There were no rescue teams but the villagers kept telling each other that ‘Raju Babu would come in the morning and save us’. He did come the next day with help, but not for us. The villagers, who had started dancing with joy seeing his boat in the distance, were stunned when his boat sailed past his own village and towards the neighboring Dalit village. He knew that we were on the roads, waiting, but their condition was worse, as they were not on high ground. Oh, how the people complained! The villagers said a lot of things that day because he chose to save them first, but that was the quintessential Rajkishore Nayak: selfless service and compassion above all else, even his own family!

The day I married him, he asked me to give up all my jewelry, which he gave to two needy young boys from Bauri Sahi who wanted to study. He did not believe in the practice of dowry. In those days there were barely 2 schools in Patkura (Kendrapara). When he saw that parents did not want to send their daughters to the co-ed village school, he built a ‘girls only’ school so that their education was not hampered. When I used to visit my parents, my sisters were clad in expensive sarees and jewellery unlike me. I wore a khadi white saree because my husband liked simplicity.

He always told me, ‘Be Self Dependent’ and I took it to heart. I decided to continue my studies. I used to finish the household chores then start studying. I was very good in literature except English. I had trouble with pressie, punctuation, and narration. A friendly neighbor, who had an English tutor, lent me her notes each night so that I could copy it and teach myself. Our kitchen was open to all. It did raise many eyebrows when I cooked for and later washed dishes, of people from ‘lower castes’. He invited the dalit students from the hostel and served them food at our house. He gave them pithas on occasions like Durgashtami. I have cut the umbilical cords of many dalit newborn babies, he asked me to help the lower caste women, as they didn’t have much knowledge about childbirth and safety. He believed in selfless service and had passed on his beliefs to me. In those days there was no hospital in and around our village. People had to travel to far off places to get treated. I gained homeopathy knowledge and used to prescribe pills to the entire village during times of need.

He believed in serving people but did not want to accept anybody’s service. So he had long bushy hair as he never went to a barber. Once when he fell ill for a long time, someone suggested he should cut his hair short. So I had to become his hairdresser till he died. My husband was a great freedom fighter; I felt the pride and happiness of it much later in life. In the initial phase, the hardships and sacrifices took precedence. But I never felt any sorrow because I knew my husband was an extraordinary man, he was destined for greater things.

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Ootkal spoke to Mrs. Nirmala Prabha Nayak, who was honored by Odisha’s Sahitya Academy for her book, ‘Sayanhara Smruti’ on her late husband, freedom fighter Rajkishore Nayak.