It was a beautiful summer morning of 1955. Sarojini was born in a small village named Khalisa, in Azamgarh. She was wise since she was little and would conquer the world with her smile. She had a curious mind that wanted to know everything.
It was not a practice to send girls to school in those times. But her father wanted otherwise, he wanted her daughter to study as much as she could, and as much as she wanted to. Sarojini aced in exams where her brothers would fail. She even graduated with honors when girls would hardly be allowed to study after third or fourth standard. “What will they do with all that knowledge? It will ruin them” – This was the general notion in those days.
When she earned scholarship for her Bachelor of Arts results, her father wanted her to focus on Masters. But the community coerced him to consider her marriage first. With all the emotional turmoil going around, Sarojini couldn’t focus on her studies and got married before she could pass her Masters’ exams.
Her husband was a cruel man. He would torture her – emotionally, mentally, and as the whispers go, even physically.
But everytime Sarojini would visit home, and anyone would ask, “Sarojini, how is your husband? How are you in-laws? Are they good people?” Sarojini would reply with an almost convincing smile on her face, “Everything is good. Everyone is nice” and then she would disappear into the day.
But in the night when she would find some time with her younger sister Maya, she would sometimes confess, “My husband doesn’t like me, you know. He says I am not beautiful. It hurts me, Maya. But what can I do if I am not beautiful?”
It would cringe Maya’s heart but what better could she do. After Sarojini lost her first child, she got more silent than before. Her husband didn’t want to see her. Amidst all of that, she got pregnant again and gave birth to a healthy child. One day, someone from her in-laws’ place, spread the rumor that Sarojini was losing her mind. She was getting mentally unstable, which would later be found to be completely untrue. Sarojini was just physically not well, she needed medical consultation, but she was intentionally not offered any.
She learnt to live with that pain, but when her mother asked her how she was, she would say, “Everything is good…everyone is nice.”
The days went by and one day when Sarojini was at her mother’s, she got the news that her husband had gotten a 2nd wife. It shocked her to the extent that she couldn’t cry. She knew he didn’t like her, but another woman was not an idea she was ready to fight.
Something happened to her. She began behaving in strange ways, almost as if she wanted people to believe that she was mentally unstable. One day, when her child was playing in the verandah, she wondered whose child he was.
Gradually, the situation worsened and so did her mental health. Her mother took care of her like a mother. One day when her mother was working in the kitchen, Sarojini slapped her. After that, the other family members took a call to lock her in a room so she couldn’t hurt anyone by accident.
Her husband abandoned her and took the child away. Sarojini’s room was a small space with prison like bars, to keep her company with the outside world. Her mother would often cry and say, “O Sarojini, I wish you die before I die. Because who will love you and take care of you as much as I would, after I die.”
Maya wished she could do something but financial dependency on male members in the family always stopped her from extending a helping hand.
Their mother died in 2005 but Sarojini lived. She lived for 16 more years – a reality that her mother had always dreaded and rightfully so. Sarojini’s child grew up to be a nice man but he had no memories of her mother. After losing her father to an accident, he made some efforts to reunite with Sarojini. He took her home and took care of her. Sarojini was never OK, she was always locked in a room, like a body that just breathed.
But everytime, Maya called her to ask how she was doing. She would reply, “Everything is good, Maya…everyone is nice.”
Sarojini left the world on a hot summer day of 2021. Her death was painful. She was unwell and she was not taken care of as she should have been. As Maya reminisced her stories, tears kept rolling down her cheeks.
Sarojini was my Maasi (my mother’s sister), Maya is my mother. I remember Sarojini Mausi as a woman in the pink gown sitting beside the bars in her room, looking at me with a faint smile and wrinkling eyes, calling me near her and whispering if I could get her some peanuts. She had short hair, she would yell at Nani for food, she would say something very fast and would suddenly stop. I was too little to understand who she truly was. One day, I asked Maa, “Was Sarojini Maasi born like that?” And my Mom replied, “Do you think someone with a crazy mind would be sent to college in the times when even boys struggled to get through school?”
As I write this, I feel helpless and powerless. Not particularly for myself, but for my Maasi, my Mother, my Nani (my grandmother). There are so many things, so many reasons of pain and hurt that I want to elicit, but I will stop myself right with this one, for now –
I wish Sarojini Mausi had not said that everything was fine. I wish the first time she felt traumatized or assaulted or ill, she told everyone that it was not nice that she was not well.
I don’t know to what extent it would have helped her, but guess what, now, we will never know.
We have come a long way from 1955. But we haven’t come very far when it comes to communicating our emotions. We hide behind the lies that we, ourselves, slowly get convinced of.
My request is – share your true emotions with the ones you are comfortable with. And that includes ‘you’. Share your emotions with yourself. It doesn’t matter if someone is listening or not. You should always listen to yourself.
Don’t allow yourself to be in an abusive relationship. It’s not right.
I hope to learn a lot from Sarojini Maasi’s story and I hope everyone who reads this does too.
Also, a message to Sarojini Maasi, “You are so beautiful in all my memories, in that pink gown and short hair. You always were.”