Baby Halder’s ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ didn’t begin very auspiciously. The introduction talking of a ‘striking metamorphosis from an unreflecting, passive woman, unquestioningly submitting to what life dealt out to her, into a writer capable of graphically evoking searing memories’ etc. sounded very patronising. The first few pages of the book are flat in narrative, poor in description and the chronology is confused. But as I persisted, I was caught. I saw for the first time in writing, stories that I have been ‘hearing’ all my life.
The tales I would overhear my grandmother telling my aunt, or that my mother would offer with pursed lips and tight voice as an explanation to sentences beginning, ‘R___ is going to live in the garage for a day or two. ‘ I was not called upon to display any equities or (in)equities in my few personal dealings. If I reacted with outrage when I heard of a daughter being married off at 13 or of a drunken, violent husbands being taken back , I was told ‘shut up, you can’t do anything.’. It was easy enough for me to go back to my own comfortable life with the relative moral satisfaction that I ‘wanted’ to do something.
Once I moved to set up and manage my own home though, I couldn’t hide any more. Had to make my choices and learn what my own moral fibre in these matters was. But this post is not about me. Its about a book that everyone should read.
Baby was married at 13 to a man 15 years her senior and was a mother at 14. The horrors of those years, lived with a violent, uncaring husband and maternal family, leave you wondering at the author’s capacity for survival. One day though, she breaks. She leaves Durgapur with her three children for Faridabad. Its not a kinder world, but at-least she is making her own way in it. She finds work as a domestic help in the kothis that dot Delhi’s suburbs and starts settling in. This book is written with the encouragement of a retired professor in whose house she begins working as domestic help.
Reading this very Indian life-story in English was rather disconcerting. The book was originally written in Bengali and published as ‘Aalo Aandhari’ in Hindi, so if you can get hold of either version, pick the vernacular. Irrespective of the language chosen – read the book.