Shanti pained her way to earning her children an educated life. In return, she was abandoned on streets to starve
When making ends meet became difficult, that is when she resorted to begging. And then when even that didn’t help, she found her way to Vrindavan. Shanti was a mere 13-year-old when she was made to tie the knot to the man best-suited for her, at least that is what the family had told her. Life was as normal as it is scripted for any next-door-married-woman in India. Her husband was a worker at a wool factory in Benaras. They were ‘blessed’ with four children – three girls and a boy. The money wasn’t huge, but enough to meet the daily needs for six. Life was a bright and pretty hue. But normalcy was a short-span event in Shanti’s life. Her husband died of heart attack in a few years time, and things went black and white.
As it goes – poverty, hunger, helplessness, and all things gloomy hit her hard at once. Her husband’s family was least bothered with where life leads her now, and her birth family wasn’t her own family anymore following the day she tied the knot – according to Hindu religious beliefs. With nothing in hand and four very young children to look after, Shanti started working as a labourer. The wages were low but enough to feed the little ones. Time went on, and the little savings added up to buy five tickets to Agra. She gathered all she could lay hands on and decided to begin a new life by moving to this new place.
Agra was fair to Shanti at first. She earned a living by washing utensils at various homes. Whatever she earned, she invested in the schooling of the children. Children would go to school, she would go to work, children would come home to a meal cooked by their mother and the five were growing out of the sorrowful past. The children grew up, and Shanti performed her duty by marrying them off in time, the three sisters followed by the youngest brother. Little did she know that her efforts were to be forgotten in a jiffy as the four ‘blessings’ would soon turn back on her as they move on with the new phase of their lives.
Soon Shanti was a burden on her son and daughter-in-law. The money “wasn’t enough to drag the burdensome mother’s expenses along”. And thus, she was shown the door.
The poverty-stricken street days were back in Shanti’s life. This time with an unbearable pain, both emotional (the heart-break by children) and physical (all the labouring had weakened her knees with age – making her unfit to work anymore). When the hunger struck beyond toleration, Shanti started begging. This helped for some time, but mostly it was days of fasting. And some days were as merciless as picking eatables from the garbage or quietly eating the chapatis placed by devotees on streets for cows. Some of her previous employers, seeing her on streets, then told her about how the holy land of Vrindavan is where she should steer her life towards and one of them got her admitted to the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation-run widows’ ashram where she stays now.
“The world is full of selfish people. Only one in a million can understand the plight of a widow,” said Shanti as a lone tear trickled down her cheek.
Shanti – meaning thereby peace, calmness, comfort… But her life was the exact opposite of all this. She recalls her Banaras days and tears fill her eyes. There is no looking back but if given a chance, she confesses that she wants to go back to the city where once she grew up, though that doesn’t include meeting or living with her children. The four never for once tried to trace her down and so she wants nothing to do with their lives, too. She says that ‘Lal Baba’ (that is what all the women living at the ashram call Sulabh Organisation’s founder Dr Bindeshwar Pathak) is taking good care of her and all others at the ashram. Probably,
at last, there is some ‘shaanti’ in her life.
“I’m not happy with how my life turned out, but at least now it is not at its worst. The ashram has put a shelter over my head. A bed to sleep, washed clothes and decent meals – life is instilled back into me. More, a monthly stipend of Rs 2000/- provided by Sulabh is taking care of my medicinal needs. Vrindavan will never let a soul sleep hungry and ‘Lal Baba’ is the God of the widows who stay put here. The life goes on, and at least now there is peace,” said Shanti, wiping her tears and giving a smile.
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