WHEN I POSTED ON THIS BLOG. THE STORY (sent by a friend) of Harakchand Salwa , who has been feeding free thousands of cancer patients and the relatives accompanying them to the Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital, Mumbai, many friends responded.
Some agreed with the post (Our Blind, Frivolous Media, Feb,13) and
on the obsession of Indian media with with frivolous hype and gossip. Others said they had read about Salwa and I was wrong to say she was not written about. One said that for decades the much maligned RSS was helping the cancer patients and relatives accompanying them, without any publicity.
They all agreed that such actions were inspiring and touched the hearts of readers. So I am reproducing here another such inspiring story – again anonymously sent by a friend. Many may have already received it in their mail box or on WhatsApp, but it bears repetition.While mainstream print and electronic media are full of frivolity like politicians foibles and celebrities’ flirtations, social media and apps like Facebook and WhatsApp make up by bringing into light stories like those of Salwa and Sindhutai Sapkal.
A TOUCHING STORY
Sindhu was nine months pregnant when her abusive husband, 20 years older, kicked her out of the house and into a cow shed in Navargaon village of Wardha District in Vidarbha.
He expected the animals her to be kicked to death like himself. But the they were better. The 20 year-old battered woman, already a mother of three, fell unconscious on the ground. When she regained consciousness, she realized she had already given birth to her baby girl. She also saw a cow standing over her and her newborn baby, sheltering and protecting them.
The scared woman picked up a sharp-edged stone and hit the umbilical cord 16 times to finally snap it from her body. Then,she musteredcourage and walked a few kilometers to her mother’s home, her just-born infant in her arms. But her mother shut the door on her. After all she was ‘chindi’ (a torn piece of cloth) to her mother right since her birth.
Sindhu, who was to later become the Sindhutai, masi (aunty) or the mother of many orphans, took shelter in a crematorium that night where a dead body was being burnt. Unable to control her and her daughter’s hunger pangs, she picked up the flour offered to the corpse (pindaan) after its relatives had left, kneaded it and baked a bhakri (chapatti) over the fire of the burning corpse and ate. Life was happening to her in ways she had not imagined.
She traveled a lot in trains singing and begging, and shared the food she got with those who had nothing to eat. “I used to be scared of men when I would alight from the trains late at night. I was only 20. I often contemplated wanted to commit suicide,” says Sindhutai.
“But one night, extremely tired, I got down from the train and sat in a corner a very big roti in my hand. I heard a beggar cry and say that he was sick, dying and had no one. He wanted someone to put two drops of water in his mouth. I walked up to him and said, ‘Baba, why die with just water? I have a roti, you eat it, drink water and then die’.”
She fed him and gave him water. The beggar survived. “He did not die ! And that set me thinking: ‘If a little help from me could save his life, why do I want to die? I can help people survive’. That day changed my life”.
Scared of lecherous men in the dark of the night, Sindhutai often spent nights at cemeteries. “People were afraid to come there at night. Sometimes, those who saw me would scream ‘bhoot bhoot’ and run away. Their fear would keep me safe. Zindabad shmashan,” she says.
One day she found a 16-year-old orphaned boy, Deepak, on a railway track. “I felt my daughter too could have met such a fate, and took him under my care. He became nay first son,” she says. Before she knew, Sindhutai had become the mother of 18 adopted children.
Her brood was growing. So, after three years, she gave away her own daughter, Mamta to ‘Shrimant Dagaduseth Halwai Trust’ of Pune. “I feared my children would feel that I loved my own daughter more than them,” she says.
A winner of over 750 awards including airhostess Neerja Bhanot Award named after the daughter of a journalist, Harish Bhanot and one from the President Pranab Mukherjee, Sindhutai continues to travel from village to village to give lectures to earn money.
“Bhashan hai to ration hai,” says the 69-year-old brilliant orator. “I share my experiences with people and tell them that I have learnt to live despite all odds, they must learn to live too.
“After the speech, I spread the pallu of my sari and seek alms to feed and educate my children. Till date, the government has not given me any grant. Even when I was felicitated by the present government, they took from me in writing that I would not ask for a grant if I was to be felicitated”.
After 15 years of homelessness, her children got the first roof on their head when a few tribals Sindhutai had helped gave her apart of their land to live on.Some people asked her for receipts for the money they gave her and
Sindhutai had to register an NGO, something she was unaware of.
So she formed and registered her first NGO, Savitribai Phule Girls’ hostel under the foundation ‘Vanvasi Gopalkrushna Shikshan Evam Kreeda Prasarak Mandal in the only hill station of Vidarbha, Chikaldhara in Amravati district.Today her children run four NGOs.
Deepak her ‘first son’ who refused to leave her on growing up, has named the second NGO ‘Mamta Bal Bhawan’ after her daughter, Mamta. Sindhutai has also formed a cow shelter Gopika Gai Rakshan Kendra to save old cows from being sold to slaughter houses. She brings them to the shelter and cares for them.
“Even today, the food, education and medical expenses of the children – all depend on maai’s speeches. The day she stops speaking, money will stop coming in,” says law graduate Vinay Sindhutai Sapkal.
“We have never seen God but for us maai is God for us. I was a one and-a-half year old when maai saw me lying the body of my dead mother at a rail station. She performed the final rites of my mother, a stranger,and adopted me She paid for my studies and got me married to a software engineer,” he adds.
Unlike in other orphanages, Sindhutai’s children stay with her till they get jobs and get married.
Ananth Mahadevan’s film on her life, ‘Mee Sindhutai Sapkal’, received four national awards. “Her life seemed so unreal,” says Mahadevan. “A cow standing over her newborn to shelter her… going to a graveyard and eating the offering made to the corpse by cooking it over a funeral pyre…shocked the wits out of me. Her life was so full of melodrama even for film that I decided to tone it down. It was difficult to decide what to keep in the film and what not to.” he adds.
Says Sindhutai, “Today, I have 282 sons-in-law and 41 daughters-in-law. In these 42 years, I have raised 1200 children”. When you ask Sindhutai where did she get her courage from, she says in a matter-of-tact tone: “From life beta. And from hunger. Hunger gave me courage”.
Tears well up in my eyes (post Big Boys Don’t Cry, Jan. 18) every time I read the story Sindhutai and others like her.
There are still good people on earth, amidst all the evil. That is why the world survives.