MARDAANI


mardaani

She was no Abla Naari,
Fighting injustice, courageous Praani,
Her name was Basanti,
A true Mardaani!

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I know Basanti since my school days. She was our domestic maid who'd come daily, to do her cleaning and washing routines. She had this irritating nasal voice, hence, I used to ignore her non-stop chatter. Gladly, I had to deal with those only during the holidays as rest of the days I'd be away at school. If her work was for 1 hour, she'd take 2 hours to complete ~ because she'd be gossiping in the meanwhile. At least, I thought it was gossip until I listened carefully one day ~ and my opinion changed.

It was a half-day Saturday, and because of some strike our school got over even earlier. As I entered the main-door, I could hear voices that came from the back verandah. My mother was sitting in her arm-chair and Basanti slouched on her knees, plucking few of my mom's grey hairs from behind. Now, this was not really her job; but I guess, my mother pampered her a bit so she did these kinda little 'extra' work too. Amused, I sat near them, thinking she'd be gossiping about the neighbours as usual ( other houses where she worked ). But to my surprise, Basanti got up and came in front and turned; she pulled her blouse up a bit to show some scratches and bruise marks on her back. Curious, I paid more attention to what they were talking about.

"I'm fed up madam ji. He did it again last night, that too right in front of Munna ( her son ). Its getting worse day-by-day. I feed him, give him money, look after him and his daaru ( liquor ) and he pays back like this! What more, he now wants Munna to stop going to school, do labour work and pay for his daaru and gambling too."

Basanti is a hindu bangladeshi woman. She and her husband had crossed borders looking for better prospects. While her husband initially took odd daily labour jobs, Basanti would go around doing chores as a domestic maid in people's houses. They both had a son ~ Munna, who was recently admitted in a municipality school. Things were fine in the beginning, but slowly her husband Dhania started drinking a lot. Alcoholic that he was, he gradually stopped going for work and literally lived on Basanti's meagre earnings. He gambled too, losing everything she earned. If she couldn't give him more money, he'd beat her black and blue. His latest demand was to stop their son from going to school and instead make him work as a daily wage labourer.

"Munna is only 7 yrs old; that shaitan Dhania has made our lives hell. If we escape, he'll come after us and find us. I'm at my wits end madam ji - what I should do?"

Hearing all these moved me greatly. I wanted to help her, but didn't know how. But before I realized, I had blurted out these words ~ "Why don't you beat him back? If he hits you once, you hit him twice. Hisaab Barabar!"
No sooner I finished uttering these words, I found both my mother and Basanti looking at me wide-eyed, as though I spoke something alien.

"He is my husband choti-baby. How can I hit my husband? No matter how much he tortures me, he is still my husband, my bhagwan ( God )!" Basanti was perplexed at my suggestion.

"Then keep suffering. Don't do so much rona-dhona if you don't have guts to stand up for yourself. Some bhagwan that monster is? Huh!" I guess it was my tae-kwon-do lessons at school that led me to speak like this ~ cos' otherwise I was still a school kid then.

"Okay, we'll talk about this later. ND, go wash yourself, I'll warm-up your lunch," my mother got up ~ meaning the discussion was over.

Surprisingly, after this conversation Basanti stopped coming to our house. Days passed and there was no sign of her. Some enquiries in the neighbourhood revealed that she was absent in those other houses too where she worked. So ultimately, my mother had to get another help.

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It was after almost 6-7 years that I saw Basanti again. I didn't recognize her at all at first. Gone was her long oily braid - she was sporting a boy-cut hairstyle. Gone was her traditional bengali cotton-printed saree, she was wearing a loose trouser and a shirt. Gone was her bright red bindi and bangles too. My mother was out, so I asked her to sit and wait a while - which she did.

"Choti-baby you've all grown up now. College mei ho kya ab?" Basanti asked me.
"Yes," I replied, "but more than me, you have changed Basanti. Your whole persona has kinda changed; you look so different."

"All thanks to you choti-baby," she smiled at me. "Can I make some tea?"
Her question surprised me, nonetheless I said, "Sure, go ahead and make a cup for me too."

Within few minutes she was back from the kitchen with two cups. Her earlier statement had me puzzled, so I asked her why she thanked me for her changed appearance.

"Choti-baby, you remember that day you asked me to hit back twice, if Dhania hit me once?" She asked. I nodded. "At first it was unthinkable. We are brought up thinking our husband is our God. But, no God hurts anyone like he was hurting me and Munna. Plus, a husband's duty is to take care of his wife and child. Here, it was ulta ( opposite ) ~ I was the one earning and feeding, taking care of all. I was the one who was doing the husband's job. So, it was okay to hit back if he hit me. And taking your advice, I hit him not twice but many times when he raised his hand. Being drunkard, he was a useless loser. Finally, I left him for good."

I was listening intently. Never did I imagine this would be the turn of events.

"At first, I was scared that he would follow me, harass me or hurt Munna - so, we left the city altogether and went to another town. I didn't tell anyone about our whereabouts and started afresh. That's why I didn't come here anymore too, to visit you and madam ji. I had changed my attire and everything. I met similar women who faced such situation and have formed our own small self-help group. I'm head of that group now. I also teach self-defense lessons to face boldly ~ those who dare to do us any physical harm. So, no more rona-dhona choti-baby."

Wow! I was impressed with her tale. It was simply amazing. A timid lady now had become a roaring lioness. And to think my nonchalant suggestion many years ago prompted her to make such a drastic life-changing decision ~ oh! boy, it did feel good! The change I saw in that woman that day ~ makes her a true MARDAANI!

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mardaani

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This is written as a part of I am Mardaani activity exclusively at BlogAdda.com for Indian Bloggers | ( Images Courtesy : Yrf & Mine )
Spectacular stories of spectacular women that we meet in our life. Stories of women who stood up for themselves or others, without any fear or expectations of being lauded. Untold stories of such living women and bringing their stories to light ~ Mardaani


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20 comments:

  1. Very nice Nandini! i truly appreciate the courage shown by Basanti, which even the highly educated women in our country lack! Kudos to you as well for inspiring her to stand up against the injustice!

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  2. It's a good sentiment and a better story but with all due respect i do not see the need to use the word 'mardaani'. A woman is capable of doing all these things and more without having the characteristics of a man. i believe that the woman here is actually being insulted by being called mardaani if mardaani means beating up your wife and gambling away her money. Wrong adjective altogether.

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    1. hmmm...i think it was meant the opposite way that women are not physically/mentally weak as generally presumed...hence the term 'mardaani'

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    2. Yes, I get the point entirely but don't you think that it is this very perception that needs to be changed? That women DON'T need to be like men? That women can be strong and independent by and of themselves? I believe that to bring women on the same stage as men, we have to stop giving them manly adjectives to define the power within them.

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    3. yes...you are right....but change happens gradually...more these kinda women appears...that term will gradually fade too :-)

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    4. true, but won't change only begin if writers take the first step?

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    5. true, but won't change only begin if writers take the first step?

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    6. @Brendan...i'm glad you are raising this issue. This post will be read by YRF Team and Blogadda too ....so hopefully it'll have some impact in greater scheme of things :-)

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    7. I did bit research on the term, it was referred to Rani Laxmi Bai if you've read history --- "Khoob ladi mardani woh to jhansi wali rani thi" -- as admiration of her fight against enemies, so the term basically is meant in positive sense not negative. And since it is associated with a historical figure too -- I doubt it'll fade off soon. You can read more here > http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rani_Lakshmibai

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    8. Yes, i get it but still it is borrowed from the other sex. We will just have to agree to disagree on whether it is suitable or not ma'am.

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    9. Do take a look at this, it expresses my thoughts in entirety: http://brendanantondabhi.blogspot.in/2014/07/the-mardaani-problem.html

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    10. Brendan..i read your post..for some reason my comment was not going thru...so replying here itself. I think if some men have feminine type qualities, i'm sure there's term for that too. The context here is not abt "who stood up for their rights and fought back against patriarchal society" but more about physical strength/attitude --- i think that's what the film depicts hence named it mardaani. I don't see it as a big issue as such, for me its just a word -- it may or may not refer to the physical strength of men. We have the "female" term having "male" in it too, but by itself its a word right...or you think its borrowed from other sex too? If we talk about equality and no we are not talking abt equal rights in society etc, we are here talking about something strictly physical or mental, i think in terms of physical strength men/women can never be equal due to their physical structure, women are physically more delicate ---- so nothing wrong in the term, while in mental strength women might be more stronger....so again no equality here. So, no matter how much we yap about equality, practically there's always gonna be some difference --- so when either a women or man shows qualities of the opposite gender, they'll be referred to as such. At times it may be positive like in this case, and at times negative. eg when male have feminine nature they are called girly, sissy and yes that's more negative but it exists.

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    11. Alright. But why compare at all? Both the sexes have distinguishing characteristics and features and whatnot but then why compare at all? Many readers have also commented on other factors. Do tell me your views on them.

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  3. it sure does.. and you made that change in her so well done on that.
    and hats off to basanti for actually standing up for herself .. most of the times it that first step to say NO that is difficult and thats all it takes for bad things to happen

    Bikram's

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    1. thanks..and yes...you're absolutely right..

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  4. Perfect story for Mardaani.
    At times one needs a child's perspective to realise 'anything is possible'.

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    1. thanks for reading @Nimi :-)

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  5. Well curated post Nandini. And I completely agree with the statement you made all-in-all.

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