It was on a very dull, dreary and wet August day in Kolkata, I first met Ratnadi, one of the most exuberant, dynamic and stylish woman I've had the privilege of getting to know. I had gone to her office to give an interview for the position of Program Lead for a youth related project that her organization, Anjali, was about to start. My first reaction on seeing the short lady with the fashionable cropped hair was ‘Wow, she looks hep!’. It’s not every day that you meet a 48 yr old Bengali lady wearing a shirt, skinny jeans, colorful chappals, gorgeous silver jewelry and absolutely rocking that look. She welcomed me with a big, bright smile and I immediately felt a connection with her. I liked Ratna di and I hoped she would like me too to give me the job so I would get to work with her. Like she did and a couple of week’s later, I was back at Anjali’s office working to get the youth project, Lattoo get a headstart. It was during that time I got to know more about Ratnadi and her passion.
Ratnaboli Ray is a fiercely articulate activist on issues of mental health, sexuality and gender and is a renowned figure in the Indian development sector. She was elected into the Ashoka Fellowship in 1999 and in 2005, co-founded National Alliance for Access to Justice for persons with Mental Illness (NAAJMI). She is the founder and managing trustee of Anjali : Mental Health Rights Organisation. Her first few years as a professional were spent in women’s rights advocacy, de-addiction and rehabilitation till in 1999, when she realized her true calling lay in working for the rehabilitation of the mentally ill. Through Anjali, her non-profit initiative, Ratna di works towards rehabilitating and reintegrating men and women with mental illness to mainstream society and running mental health resource centers in communities across West Bengal. The going has definitely not been smooth for her and Anjali. Visiting Govt mental hospitals with her, working with people diagnosed with mental illness, seeing the reaction of society and their own families towards them and at the same time looking at the relentless energy and dedication of Ratna di in trying to create awareness and work for their rehabilitation have been nothing short of awe inspiring. Here is a woman dedicating her life towards a cause she passionately believes in. One day I came upon an old photograph of her with long, flowy hair and I asked “why did you cut it off? You had such beautiful hair”. She replied with a smile “it used to be very difficult to maintain. I used to get lice from the visits to the hospital when I went for my counseling and rehab sessions. I could not stop going so I just cut off the hair”.
I can go on and on about Ratna di and how she is an inspiration to many men and women who know her and her work. Not only is she a fearless champion of human rights, she is also a very successful TV talk show host of ‘Bhalo Achi Bhalo Theko’, a show that discusses issues surrounding mental health and wellbeing. And I must add she has an incredibly awesome collection of sarees and silver jewelry!
Ratna di truly embodies the spirit of the Mia woman – a change maker, an inspiration and a very dear friend.
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