Tough times are inevitable in life. But how we manage ourselves during tough times not only defines our spirit but our future too.
Though many of us tend to blame our circumstances, very few gather the courage to fight those circumstances for their dreams. And, one such brave soul is Baby Halder.
Abandoned by her birth mother at the age of 4, Halder grew up at the mercy of her abusive father and stepmother.
And when she was very young, she was forced to drop out of school in Class-6 and married away. While recalling her traumatic life, she shared with TBI,
“I remember the house being full of guests one day. I was taken away from my friends while I was playing with them, forced to wear a saree and made to sit in a mandap with an older man I had never seen before. And, I kept thinking it was a pooja until I was asked to accompany him home.”
After some time, it struck her that she was married off to an older man – a man who was 14 years older to her. At her marriage, Halder was only 12 years old. Within a year of her marriage, she became a mother.
So, while her friends were either busy studying or playing with their dolls, she was taking care of her family.
Sadly, her marriage did not bring any good luck to her life. The abuse that started on the first night remained her constant companion throughout her marriage for almost 10 years.
And, then one day she decided to end it.
In 1999, when Halder was 25, she gathered the courage to leave her life of abuse. She left her husband and escaped on a train to Delhi with her three children to start a new life.
She started working in several homes as a maid, where she was often humiliated for being a single parent.
As they say, tough times never last forever but tough people do. Similarly, Halder’s life turned around when she started working at the home of writer and retired professor Prabodh Kumar in Gurugram. He is the grandson of famous Hindi writer Munshi Premchand.
For almost four years, Halder worked really hard. She meticulously cleaned, swabbed and cooked in his home without saying a word.
But, during this time, she had fallen in love with the professor’s bookshelf.
She remembers how her arms would slow down as she would approach the bookshelf. And sometimes, when nobody would be watching her, she would pick up a book, touch it to feel the fine print and then keep it back.
Though she felt nobody was watching her, but the professor felt her love for books and encouraged her to read. Realizing it may have been too late for her to learn reading, the professor emphasized that it was never too late to do what we love.
And, one day when Professor Kumar handed her a blank book and a pen and asked her to write. She was perplexed as she didn’t know what to write about.
Should she write about the lost childhood or the horrifying first night or the labor pains that she suffered at 13 or the scars that remained on her body from years of domestic abuse?
Nervous at first, Halder, who had studied only up to 7th grade, began writing about her own life and thoughts which she hadn’t shared with anyone.
A domestic help by the day and an author by the night, she found writing was making her mind and heart free. As quoted by Hindustan Times, she said:
“I was nervous when I held the pen in my fingers. I had not written anything since my school days. But when I started writing, words began to flow effortlessly. In fact, writing turned out to be a cathartic experience.”
When the professor read her first book and autobiography, Aalo Aandhari (Light and Darkness), it touched his heart so much that he was in tears.
After several rejections, when Aalo Aandhari was published, it was sold out from day one. And, no wonder it resonated with everyone – from sweepers, domestic helpers to the retired headmistress.
Later the book was translated in English and became a bestseller. The New York Times called it India’s Angela’s Ashes. Today the book has been translated in 21 local and 13 foreign languages, including French, Japanese, Korean and German.
At I FOR HER, we salute Halder’s courage and determination, who fought against her life circumstances to create a dignified life for herself.
We feel her story is an inspiration for thousands of women, who are struggling with an abusive marriage, and seeking the courage to create a better life for themselves.