From a construction worker to her daughter
‘Always have the courage to say no’
I still remember the day when you were born — not the exact date though — it was Ram Navami. We have celebrated seven Ram Navamis since.
You are my fourth child but third daughter, and your grandparents didn’t like it. They wanted another grandson. But you proved to be a lucky charm for us. Soon after your birth, your father and I moved to Pune to work at construction sites. After nearly 10 years of marriage, I felt free. Free of being conscious of what the village folk would say if I broke any norm, free to be the “woman” of the house, free of the need to relieve myself in the fields after dark. Even today, every house in the village has cellphones, but no toilets.
I was orphaned early in life as my father died of alcoholism and my mother died in childbirth. I grew up cooking and cleaning at my nani’s house.
I don’t have great insights about life as I am not educated, but I would like to share some things with you. You are only eight years old and may not be able to grasp the meaning of many things just yet, but I hope you are able to read this when you grow up.
Just as I do not remember the date when you were born, I don’t remember Pooja’s (the eldest). She was born a year after I got married. I was about 16 then. Beta, the first thing you should do when your children are born is write down their date of birth and get a birth certificate made. These documents are necessary for things like school admission or for availing government schemes.
I was extremely nervous when I was pregnant because I didn’t want to suffer my mother’s fate. I am lucky to have survived but two of my childhood friends died in childbirth; in fact, nearly every fifth woman in our village dies like that. The ayah, who took Rs 300, advised me to go for regular blood tests during my future pregnancies too. It helps beta, you should also do that when your time comes.
I have six children, my body feels tired now. I couldn’t muster the courage to tell your father to allow a family planning operation. The larger the number of children, the more difficult it gets to sustain a family. Today I wish to educate all of you and marry you off, but I earn just Rs 300 a day. You should say a firm “no” after you have your second child.
I don’t know what the future holds for you. But I hope that you choose to live in the city. Village life is difficult. I wore a pallu all the time I was in the village, here I am bindaas. I can live the way I want to.
Whatever you do, always have the courage to say no, to express yourself. It is the only thing I lack and I wish you and my other daughters don’t.
Love. Your mother,
Sarita Thakur, who works at a construction site in Pune, is from Kulharia village, Dumka district, Jharkhand. Thakur cannot read or write. She spoke to Alifiya Khan on what she would like to write to her daughter Neha, who goes to a school run at the site