There was a girl called Kali and she was from a remote village in the western Rajasthan. The heat there is unbearable you know, especially in the peak summer. It is a clear blue sky and a parched earth where each and every particle is moaning in pain. Surviving there is a challenge. But she was used to it. She worked for 12 hours in a day in the heat. Work was not a very easy environment either because she was a construction laborer. She didn’t complain much and why would she? Who would even listen? She knew this. When she was born no one was happy. She grew up to be pretty, not in the conventional sense, but she had a beauty that came from a resolute to not give in to the tragic surroundings. She had big and all- seeing eyes. Had she been born in a more privileged house she would definitely have had a lot of young chaps besotted with her grace. Yet she was unaware of all this. For her growing up meant helping mother in the kitchen, bringing up the younger siblings and staying as far away from a drunken father who was an unemployed land tiller. Whatever money they had came from her mother’s hard work. She used to beg outside a temple and then in the evening clean the sarpanch’s house. Contrary to the common belief Kali understood that it is a woman who runs the house and despite of what everyone said about the importance of a man in the house she had not seen a household where a man was providing for the house without making the women feel burdened or oppressed. In her village, which used to be once a prosperous agricultural land, rains had failed continuously and farmers had had to sell away lands piece by piece just to make ends meet. Eventually though patience had ran out and instead of facing the responsibilities these men of the village had given up and taken all sorts of malicious activities.
Kali had four siblings. Sometimes she would wonder why her mother had not told her father off; after all she was stronger him. She could beat him to senses just like he used to. Once she grew up a little more she understood that a person, after a point of time in life, accepts things just the way they are and has no will to alter it. At 15, a contractor told her father that he would pay good money if she came to work at a construction site in the city. Her greedy father agreed, as long as the entire money went to him. He didn’t mind it if the contractor paid less than half the promised amount as long as he had money to buy his daily quota of liquor. So she went and worked every day and never complained. She liked being away from home and whatever little time she got from the construction work she would spend it walking around the city. As long as the work went on she had to stay at the site and sleep in the shady corners with the other workers. Although she missed her mother she would more or less be happier there than at her home.
One day she met an old librarian on the street who introduced her to what was to become her life—books. He was an old sort of man, as old as one can get without looking any older how much ever one might age. He had a passion for learning and teaching. He took her under his wing. He taught her the alphabet and then slowly progressed to improving her reading skills. Her work became a mode for her to get away from home and meet her teacher. She was a diligent worker. She spent days at the site and evenings with the old man and the nights on practicing herself. She was extremely receptive but very cautious. Her constant efforts to stay at an arm’s length from a father to avoid beating had also taught her that people could not see other people progress. She had caught sight of the few laborer boys who would look at her and her books with spite in their eyes. She found a spot at every site she worked, where she could hide her things and get lost in the world.
At the age of 23, her teacher decided it was time to present her to the real world. She was anyway of legal age to take her own decisions and she felt empowered enough to not be bullied by her father. She had stopped going back to her village two years back and had spoken to the contractor; more like fought with him and convinced him to not send any money to her father. So everything she earned was hers. She wrote to her mother and her mother convinced Kali to not give up her dreams and not worry about the household. Still Kali used to send some money back home to pay for the fees of the village school where she had got her siblings enrolled. Through her teacher she saw a world of possibilities. She appeared for the tenth board exam at the age of 25 and then somehow got employed at the library in the district which opened up her avenues and broadened the resources to her disposal.
After her teacher’s death she managed to start a book shop with whatever money he had left her and by the time she was 35, the shop had expanded and become a big thing. Her father had passed away soon after she gave her board exam, for the body can take up only so much abuse. She didn’t regret his death or miss him. Why would she? Apart from giving birth to her he had not done her any favors. Her family had moved to the big city and the siblings had all come together to expand the book shop and eventually they had managed to start their own press.
Kali’s story’s beginnings are similar to many in the country— an abused and unwanted child struggling in the unjust and biased world. But her success is her own. The teacher provided the resources but she was the one who took up the challenge that life posed ahead of her. She triumphed over all the odds. She became a symbol of strength and perseverance for her family and her society. She became an inspiration for many.