On the night it prowled the streets of Mumbai, death came for Prakash Mandal, then 25, in the form of a single assault rifle bullet that pierced his head from behind. He was waiting at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai to board a train to Chennai, late by an hour, when the indiscriminate firing began on the night of November 26, 2008.
Four years later, his wife Mamta Devi decided to make a fresh start, marrying her late husband’s youngest brother. The alliance was initiated by none other than her mother-in-law, says Mamta, whose daughter Shilpi, now 13, also has a baby sister, Sandhya, soon to turn two years old.
Mandal, a native of Nagar Keshwari village under Sariya Block of Jharkhand’s Giridih district, had been living in Dharavi, Mumbai, since 2003, working as a mason. Mamta Devi had last seen her husband a couple of months before the incident when he had visited home.
In 2008, mobile phones were less common in Giridih, and the bad news arrived through a relative.
Mamta expected that the body would be brought to Keshwari, but logistics forced the family to do the cremation in Mumbai itself. A couple of months later, Mamta got a job in the Railways on compassionate grounds, and she started what would be a gruelling daily routine for the next four years. Posted at Dhanbad Railway hospital as a helper, Mamta would wake up at 3 am, board a train from Hazaribagh Road, 7 km away from her village, to reach Dhanbad by 8 am. At the end of the working day, she would catch the 7 pm train to get home by 9 pm.
Through this period, it was her mother-in-law Radhiya Devi who kept her spirits up. “Woh kahti thee ki tum kaam karo, ghar hum sambhal lenge (she would ask me to focus on my job, while she would take care of the household),” says Mamta. From waking her up in the wee hours to looking after Shilpi who was then barely four years old, to managing household chores and the kitchen, the then 55-year-old woman kept Mamta going.
But as Shilpi grew, Radhiya Devi realised that the arrangement could not work for long and she began to advise Mamta to marry. “Humko boltee thee ki aur kisi jagah kahaan jaaogi…yahin settle ho jaao… phir uhee baat badhayeen….. (She would keep telling me that I should plan to settle within the family itself instead of looking elsewhere….she initiated the task of negotiating with people.) Finally, in 2012, I got married to my youngest brother-in-law Kedar,” says Mamta. A year later, Radhiya Devi passed away.
Incidentally, Mamta’s parents were against the arrangement, but she had made up her mind. “They stopped talking to me; but I told them that I would live with this family no matter what.”
Kedar says he respects the decision that his mother and the village elders took. “Hum bhi soche ki ek chhoti bachchi hai. Ek aurat hai jiska lamba zindagi hai. Sab bade bujurg jab bol rahe hain to sahee hee hoga… ab donon ko parivar bhi mila hai aur sab ek doosre ka dhyaan rakhte hue chal rahe hain. (I too thought that there was a young girl, there was a woman who had a long life ahead of her. If the elders are saying something, there must be some merit in it… now both of them have a family and we are moving ahead taking care of each other),” says Kedar, who is currently studying for recruitment exams for government posts.
Shilpi, who says she wants to be a teacher, likes Hindi. At 13, she handles her school work herself and also pitches in with caring for little sister Sandhya.
Mamta and Kedar say a host of promises made by the state government of the time — including a job and a home — would be welcome measures now. With Sandhya’s arrival, the couple feel they need to supplement their income. But both also say they’re now hopeful about the future, thanks to Radhiya Devi’s foresight.