Monday, July 04, 2011

Strong Tea of Life .......(edited)

I sometimes read , in various magazines, and the Net, various stories, where women ask for advice, outlining their problems in detail. It often has to do with interfering in laws or even parents, jealous spouse, thwarted ambitions, abuse, and so on. And what is notable is that these are all folks from a strata of society, where they basically don't have to worry where their next meal is going to come from.

And then I heard this story. From the lady herself.

She literally grew up as a daughter of the fields. Living with her parents , a sister, and two brothers, in a small dilapidated structure on a farm on the outskirts of Pune, she resisted every effort of her father to send her to the village school. The older children went, but she preferred to wander around, climb trees, collect cow dung to make it into dried fuel cakes, which someone actually bought for 15 rupees a basket. There was nothing better than working in the fields, and then learning from /helping her mother at home. Every so often, she would be part of a group gathered around to help someone who was sick, and years of participating, made her a kind of repository of native plant cures on various human conditions. The chance of a minuscule permanent government job, with all its attendant future benefits, had the family gravitating to Mumbai.

In her sister's wedding, some folks suggested a boy for her, her parents and the boy's parents agreed, and she was married off at 14 , and went to live again on another farm near Pune.

She was the mother of 4 children, (3 boys and a girl) before she was 21. Her marriage was a classic case, of, parents of a boy thinking "he will improve after marriage". He didn't. Verbal and physical abuse, unwillingness to stick on to any job, drinking, and inability to be a provider to his family, had her scrimping on what little she got, and starting off on her cow dung collecting again. She worked in the fields to keep the little mouths fed and sent her kids to the local school. The husband was a social misfit, and took pleasure in denying her the few outings she enjoyed with her kids and extended family of in laws. Not to mention the beatings, and drinking.

Came a time, when her parents thought things had gone too far, and she was brought home to a better life. She worked very hard, listened to whispers, but was surrounded by folks who cared for her.

For the last 25 years, she has worked houses, educated her kids , taken loans an
d risks , acquired a minuscule tenement, been socially active amidst the ladies group in the slum area where she lives. She is possibly the most educated person I know, who never went to a single school anywhere.

The children remember the father, and have visited him on occasions that would have demanded his presence, but the man refuses to acknowledge them. She is on excellent terms with her erstwhile in laws, and attends their social functions and vice-versa. She keeps her eyes and ears open, is convinced that her kids must be educated , and now that the kids are married, and have small children, she pays a completely preposterous monthly fee, so the grand kids can attend a good school in the neighborhood, where the ladies she worked for send their children.

It means there are almost no new clothes , it means you deliberately do not dream, it means you learn to share a lot as family, and it means you stand up for each other.

Very recently her family decided to apply for caste certificates for the sons. She has her own caste certificate thanks to her father, and her kids need to show that of their father/grandfather/uncle. Her certificate is of no use.

And so she disappeared a week from work, and went to search for the children's father, because he was not to be found in the village. She thought she had heard that he worked as a helper in a state transport workshop, and she went there to meet up.

The watchman barred her at the gate. She showed the guy the photo she was carrying and mentioned by name who she wanted to see, saying this was a case of a woman wronged.

And she was totally stunned to hear that the guy in the photo existed, but the name was wrong. So she asked if she could see the man, her husband. They called him to the office. And she got the shock of her life. The man was the same, but he now went around under another name . His entire work record, his savings with the company, retirement benefits were all under a totally different name. He flatly refused that he was in anyway connected to her, although the world and the office could see that he was the same man in the photo she carried.

She now had a problem, of claiming to be a wife of someone who didn't exist . His caste certificate with the new name wouldn't help, as the children's school records showed the original name. No one knows if he officially changed the name. Chances are he didn't. Chances are he was in trouble with the law, and did this name change to acquire the workshop job, by making payments here and there , and nobody wants to talk.

I asked her if she could get her in laws to identify him. They could do a affidavit to that effect. There was even a suggestion earlier that if she filed for a divorce (which wouldn't make a difference to her now anyway, after 25 years of no contact) , she could then have her children apply for a caste certificate , based on hers, as she the mother who took care of them, would be the only head of family.

How do you file for divorce when the other person's existence is not clear ? The guy now claims to be someone else. There is even no record of the death of the original chap. Why this is bad, is because there is some ancestral land in the village, and her children would have a right to that. No one knows if the fellow's name is on that piece of land record, and if so, with what name.

How much time can a person spend following up on all this , if you work at a job that pays you by the day ? 2 of her three sons, one daughter, and one daughter-in-law, fall under that category; you earn today if you work today. All the people she herself works for, do not subscribe to the theory of cutting her emoluments because she misses a few days.

And so she ends up making endless trips to Pune, her village, her husband's village, her in-laws , her lawyer and so on. Faced with a guy, who exists but says he doesn't. Doesn't acknowledge that she is a wife and that he has fathered children. The strange thing is there is no "other woman" .

She is hell bent on applying for the children's certificates because it entitles them to apply for a guaranteed house , possibly a small government tenement, and she thinks she will , in the meanwhile check out the situation on loans, from employers, well wishers, her bank where she manages with a thumb impression and some savings.

The latest I have heard, is that she has managed to get her brother-in-law's certificate, and apparently that proves, that her husband (whether he exists, existed, or not) is of the same caste. She is now paying some lawyer to do the paperwork, he has promised to get the caste certificates for not only her children , but their children as well.

I hope things work out for her. She has never cribbed about that husband of hers, ever, in all these years. Never considered him worth wasting any time on. The children went to call him for their marriages, and, except him, everyone from the in-laws attended, and she was pleased with that. She is on excellent terms with her in laws.

She has never done a hue and cry about her situation, but will fight to ensure that children get what is theirs according to the law of the land.

This was S., my household help. She told me the story about the husband, with changing names, after she came back from her most recent trip , in her on going fight. She has tried court cases, where he will get defined as her husband, and benefits will accrue to her kids. But he never turns up, and she only ends up spending money of travel.

I don't know what the current lawyer is going to do about the caste certificates. Maybe what he has charged is a fee, for getting things to move fast, who knows.

But in a country, where the premier investigative agency, drags its feet on investigations on worthies who have stashed monies abroad, and cases where the guilty have got away because some timing rules were ignored by the prosecution, I have nothing but admiration, for a woman, who has battled problems, single handedly , all her life, without making a public issue of it, preferring to do whatever was required for the common good of the family.

In the manner of folks asking for solutions on the Net , I wonder if anyone has a solution for S. ....

Eleanor Roosevelt , one tough lady herself, said something that fits this situation to a T.

"A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water".

S., is surely , one amazing cup of some really strong tea !

Update as of July 7, noon : A young friend who read this post, contacted me with a wish to help with her legal costs. S. also works for someone else in the same building as this young friend. They met, had a wonderful chat, and the young friend, a research scholar, handed her a decent sum to help her with the legal costs. S. is greatly pleased.

Thank you, and greatly appreciated.


  1. Indeed she is. My salutes to her. I remember a sweeper in my husband's office, who had similar mettle and such a cheerful countenance in spite of what life had served as her share. I had written a short piece on her long back.

  2. Wow. Just totally awed by S. I hope justice comes her family's way. How stupid that her caste certificate holds no she not a citizen?

  3. Shail Thank you. Will convey the salutes. And yes, I remember reading the post you mention !

    Starry S. is a citizen, but the laws of our country/state prescribe that the child takes his caste from the father . Here both the father and mother are the same caste. But they wont even look at the mother's caste unless, I suppose the father is dead/divorced etc. Then the fellow in question has gone and changed identity . How complicated can things get ?

  4. A strong woman, indeed! My salutation to her. So much to learn from her.

    Our laws are so ridiculously outdated!

  5. "S., is surely , one amazing cup of some really strong tea !"

    So true, so very true! A remarkable woman!

  6. Is there the equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service in India? Doesn't he have to pay income tax? That would be the easiest way to trip him up in the U. S. He could not get away with that here, but the lawyers would end up with the money. Thus be it ever; women have to fight for every single right that they have achieved.

    What doesn't kill you makes you stronger and S. has had enough trouble to be a very strong woman.

  7. Hats off to her .I sincerely hope that things work out in her favor .Wish there were some genuine forums to help women like her.

  8. What an amazing woman to go through so much. I hope things work out for her. Sending prayers.

  9. She is an inspiration. I hope things work out for her soon.

  10. sandhya Your salutations duly conveyed :-) Thank you ! What I admire is the constant effort she puts in to seek a solution....

    Manju Yes, she is, as you say, a truly remarkable woman !

    Darlene She /her erstwhle husband, are a long way off from being eligible to paying Income tax. Her entire family income , sons and all, taken together, still dont qualify to pay any tax. I am just amazed that she can keep her wits about her with so many problems, and the level of poverty.

    Kavita There are few groups that work, and someone from the SNDT Womens Univ was there with some project participation stuff for her, but she doesnt find so much free time with all this stuff she has to constantly tangle with.

    Aleta Thank you. I think the prayers may be working. I am about to edit the post to add check!

  11. Am glad that she has found help ! Your blog has won many awards and accolades. That it is impacting people by fundamentally affecting life and living, needs no further proof than the last para !


    Many congratulations

  12. Wow, that is an incredible story! Nothing like that here in Hawaii, thank goodness. I am glad I found your blog via Sylvia's, and I am always impressed by your artwork. I'll put you on my blogroll. Aloha!

  13. I think i shud meet S when I visit mumbai next. what an inspiration. Give her a big handshake from me.I hope the man is made to take a DNA test. Wishful thinking but cannot digest the fact that a father could do this to his own children.