This time in the afternoon is actually the best. Lunch over. No utensils to wash anymore. Kids in school. Watering plants in the garden is also over.
And, her employer is sleeping.
Next work : Cooking around 8 PM.
Till then, it’s her own little world. Very peaceful one. The world of books. She took out the book ‘Amar Meyebela’ from the bookshelf.
Sat down on the chair. Started reading. A few pages over and suddenly that strange force.
As if, something from the book is dragging her. Very strongly. Where ? Who is that ?
“No..No..I don’t want to remember. Stop…Please..”
She closed the book.
(A few months earlier..)
She came to this house in Gurgaon, to work for him. As a domestic help.
That means, all work. Right from cooking to washing utensils. The employer is an old man. 65+. Seems to be gentle enough. Not like the earlier one, who never missed an opportunity to touch her indecently.
Few months passed. She is comfortable. Very much comfortable. What more she can ask ? The employer never looked at her badly or, talked to her indecently. Treated just like a normal human being. One day, when she was dusting the book shelf, he even noticed that she tries to read the books. Dusting the book shelf is visibly her most favourite work in the entire house.
Next morning, he gave her a book – ‘Amar Meyebela’ by Taslima Nasrin. She started reading in the afternoon, that only time to relax after the usual household chores.
How stupid..She is trying so hard to control, but can’t..Why ?
Sometimes silently, sometimes like a child, but non-stop she cried while reading. Onion is not so bad, she realised – at least nothing as compared to this book. Her face literally looks swollen.
After completing she returned the book to her master. On one hand he took the book, another hand gave her a notebook and pen.
“Why ?” She asked.
He: “From now on, whenever you get time try to write down, whatever is there in your mind.”
She: (Blank look..Didn’t get the point)
He (….Continued): “Your motherless childhood, adolescence, adulthood.
That everyday torture by your step mother, your struggle as a rape victim,
your helplessness to get married to someone twice your age, forced motherhood when only 13 ,
your struggle to tolerate the domestic violence for years, then desperation to leave your abusive husband, your courage to escape to Delhi for work in that train; with your small children despite knowing nothing about the outside world,
your struggle to raise them as a single parent..everything. Just write. You will cry, you will laugh, you will lose direction, might feel blank, still never let the pen stop.”
She came back to her room. Opened the notebook. Removed the cap off the pen.
Closed her eyes. Few minutes passed. Opened the eyes. The pen started moving on the notepad.
A couple of months passed.
It’s complete now. She handed over the notebook to him. Bengali, being her mother tongue – she wrote in that.
Frankly, he did not expect this. Such depth in her writing who barely studied up to 7th Grade. Simple language, straight from heart. He showed it to his friends. They agreed too. This needs to be published. He translated it into Hindi.
The book got published. And, became a bestseller.
Now, the same book got published in English.
And, again a bestseller.
Now, in Bengali, Malayalam.
Finally, in total 21 languages across the world including Korean, German, French, Japanese.
And, she is an established author now. Rubbed shoulder with many popular writers at literary festivals across the world.She does not need to work as a domestic help anymore. Built a house in Kolkata with earning from her books. Has a plan to settle there finally. But not now. Why ?
She does not want to leave her 84 years old employer, who is a father-like figure to her. Much more than her real father, who gifted her only abuse.
Her name ?
The 42-year-old Indian domestic help who shot to fame in 2006 with her acclaimed autobiography Aalo Aandhari (A Life Less Ordinary) that describes her harsh life growing up and as a domestic worker, later translated into 21 languages across the world. She has been on book tours to Paris, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, France and Germany and is often invited to speak at literary festivals across the country.
Abandoned by her mother at age 4, she spent her traumatic childhood in Durgapur. Being married to a man 14 years her senior, she was raped in her wedding night. Had her first child at the age of 13, and two more in the following years. Started working as domestic help in the neighbourhood areas, until in 1999, after years of domestic violence, she left her husband, escaping to Delhi on a train, with her children. There she started working as a housemaid in New Delhi homes, to support her kids – Subodh, Tapas and Piya ; and then encountered several exploitative employers until she met her last employer Professor Prabodh Kumar (grandson of Munshi Premchand) who ultimately became her literary mentor and translator. He gave her to read Taslima Nasrin’s ‘Amar Meyebela’ (a book based on the trauma on being born a woman) which deeply moved Halder as it rekindled her own memories.
In 2010, she published her second book ‘Eshat Rupantar’ – a sequel to her first book. Her third book is about the story of her progression from childhood to teenage. Her favourite author Arundhati Roy, Taslima Nasrin and Jhumpa Lahiri.
This Women’s Day, my ode to this braveheart who proved;
Sometimes the place we are used to is not the place we belong.
One belongs where one believes he/she belongs.
Search, Where is that for you ?