Seventy-year-old Pratima Sengupta, who pressed on with her charity and social activities despite debilitating arthritis, is among those being appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2015 Queen's Birthday Honours List.
The honour is recognition for her services to the community in East Renfrewshire, Scotland. Sengupta has been living in Glasgow since 1969 and is now confused about which of her five grandchildren she will take along to accept the honour from the Queen.
On April 30, Sengupta got a letter from the Cabinet Office stating that the British Prime Minister had proposed her name to the Queen. On June 12, her name was published in the London Gazette. "I started shivering when I heard this news. All those who are on the Honour List will be invited to an investiture. The events are organized by the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood in St James' Palace. I was told that I will receive the invitation about five weeks before the event," Sengupta told TOI from Glasgow.
Sengupta had spent her early years in Kolkata where her father, Dr Promodranjan Dasgupta, was a teacher at Presidency College. After marriage, she moved to Glasgow where she worked at the tax office. Due to arthritis, she was forced her to take early retirement in 2002. Pain in her joints notwithstanding, she continues to do voluntary service at a hospital.
"I started the Women's Voluntary Royal Service (WVRS) at the Victoria Infirmary. I loved to give company to patients. Some of them couldn't speak English and I worked as their translator," she said. But her failing health didn't make it easy. "They made special shoes so that I could walk properly. I refused to use a wheelchair. Sometimes, I'd fall down or bleed from my hands. At night, I'd cry in pain. Yet, I never stopped working," she said.
Wearing a sari with a red bindi, Sengupta would stand out in the crowd. "Initially, people would ask me about the red blot on my forehead!" she laughs. She became a director with Voluntary Action group in Glasgow that worked with children who couldn't afford higher education. "I'd sing 'Phule phule dhole dhole' to them. I also got in touch with an NGO in Tollygunge that worked with impaired children," she added. She joined an organization called Women Across the World. "I'd go door to door asking for donations. I remember telling people: 'You don't need to give me more. Even one penny is enough."
Meeting the Queen is the big event on her calendar now. "My husband and I had once attended the Queen's Garden party at Edinburgh. I have been told that I can take four guests to this event. But I have five grandchildren. And all of them want to go to see the Queen," Sengupta laughed.
A version of this article first appeared in The Times of India, June 16, 2015
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