A Life Less Ordinary by Baby Halder
Translated by- Urvashi Butalia
Originally published in Bengali as- Aalo Aandhari
Sometimes, extraordinary lives make ordinary stories. Sometimes, it perhaps happens the other way round. Baby Halder’s memoir is a gut wrenching tale of struggle, violence, repression, suppression and exploitation-these, often synonymous with the subaltern voice. What stands out in this one however is the tone adapted, the rationality with which an untrained, uneducated writer weaves her story. It makes you wonder if education clouds the thinking process so much, that we, the educated often feel impaired when it comes to grasping the powerful tools of clarity and objectivity. That’s how Baby chooses to tell her story- simple yet deep; questioning some of life’s primary turns and coming to a mature understanding of it over a period of time. The earthiness is felt, the subtlety and the beauty of the emotions experienced.
Abandoned by her mother as a young child, often neglected and ill-treated by a father who was coming to terms with his own frustrations, Baby’s childhood fades like an elusive dream. She tries to describe the strong child’s instincts as the young bride but feels hesitant to take the step because of her married status and the laughter this elicits from the neighbours. That defines the real personality of this child-woman who, if not for the ill-fate that marred her early life, would have been a cheerful soul spreading joy in her environment. Facing intermittent pregnancies devoid of healthcare, nothing seemed even a lone star in this young woman’s life. The image painted of her family is inconsistent, as if they were trying to show love and affection but eventually choosing their own comfort and well-being over hers. To add to this early childhood trauma and marriage, she is forced to face incessant physical and emotional abuse from her husband, who seems the only real “monster” in the book and is consistently animal-like. He is perhaps a little softened by his children, but refuses to take the responsibility of their lives. After going through multiple exploitative employers, struggling to feed her three children, family losses and several relocations, hope finally comes in her magnanimous employer Tatush (Prabodh Kumar). His concern, kindness and encouragement propel Baby to take up both reading and writing seriously. And what we have today, as a result of those candle light burning sessions is a wonderful life story of courage and resistance.
This story definitely does not necessitate a critical analysis or judgement. It goes way beyond that kind of dissection. It must be remembered for some of its unique yet endearing lines, its aim; of liberating more women caught up in the strangles of this hazardous endurance by putting to use basic education, and finally, realising passion and pursuing it with all determination.