Selvi wasn’t a woman blessed with luck. As if being born a girl in India doesn’t carry enough burden. Selvi was a slip of a girl-woman, and shy, not feisty enough to employ a sharp tongue that may have given her antagonists some reason for respect.
She was employed as a labourer on the demonstration farm in south India. That her tiny village of mud buildings sat directly opposite the entrance to the farm, provided her with one providence: employment. Otherwise she would have been competing with many women far stronger than her for day labour on sites around the district, walking kilometres just to be in the lottery for wages.
Another curse Selvi was that she produced a daughter, for her husband. What temerity! For her insensitivity, her husband decided to abandon his dead-weight wife to seek another one who might offer a son.
So Selvi was left alone at fifteen or sixteen years (maybe less, who knows) in the village to live at home with her parents, and her daughter. And her younger brother and little sister, just a few years older than Jayalaxmi. When I say ‘house’ , I mean a 4×3 metre house-room, which served as kitchen, bedroom and living room. The bathroom was either the community pump by the side of the road, or somewhere in the fields a little further away, depending on the functions required.
Selvi wanted something better for her daughter. When a little school began near the village, Selvi immediately enrolled Jayalaxmi. It cost a few rupees, and she did not earn much, but she was determined that it should be so.
“Jayalaxmi will not have to carry rocks for her living.”
Her younger brother married, and he naturally brought his young bride home. He was the middle sibling, but as the only male, felt totally justified in bullying his older sister and her daughter, ‘for taking up my space.’
Living as a single mother, and the mother of a small daughter too, in a tiny, poor, south Indian village, is no bed of roses. Forget about any romanticism of the simple rural life; poverty is hard, harsh and cruel for all, and Selvi’s status was at the very bottom of the social ladder.
She did continue to have work though, and her little Jayalaxmi did her mother proud, lapping up every morsel of knowledge which was put before her.
She successfully finished with the tiny village school and went to the high school in town. There were still books to be purchased, but Selvi remained committed to doing the very best she could for her daughter, the one light of joy in her miserable life.
Although Jayalaxmi’ thrived, Selvi’s life spiralled downwards. She suffered appallingly, abused and beaten, physically and psychologically. Her life finally became too much for Selvi. She disappeared to stay ‘with a swami’ , who would try to cure her ‘madness’.
Extraordinarily, young Jayalaxmi continued to develop; she was outgoing, friendly and gracious. Perhaps not surprisingly though, one day came the news that Selvi had thrown herself down a well. Perhaps it was so, perhaps otherwise. Selvi was gone.
By the blessing of some benevolent deity, Jayalaxmi’s grandparents decided to respect their elder daughter’s dream, and continued to support her education. Her results were excellent, and she had the opportunity of attending a nursing college, but without money, there was no possibility.
A foreigner offered to pay for her further education, including the fees for boarding and lodging as well as academic costs. Jayalaxmi’s mother’s dream was coming true.
News arrived recently: she is well, qualified as a specialised nurse, has secured a good job in a bigger city, and will marry a fellow health professional next month. May he be a fine person, sensitive to his wife’s qualities, and kind in taking care of her. I’m sure he is, for she would accept no less. No doubt she will reciprocate.
Selvi is long gone, but her daughter will never carry rocks for her life.