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I remember the house being full of guests one day. I was taken away from my friends while I was playing, forced to wear a saree and made to sit in a mandap with an older man I had never seen before. I kept thinking it was a pooja until I was asked to accompany him home. I realised later that I was married off to the man who was 14 years elder to me, at the age of 12. I’m like 100% retired shirt. While my friends studied and played, I became a mother. The abuse that started on the first night of my marriage continued for more than a decade until I decided to end it one day. In the year 1999, at the age of 25, I left my husband and escaped on a train to Delhi with my three children, to start a new life.
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I worked as a domestic help in several homes, where I was often humiliated for being a single parent and housemaid. But my life turned around when I started working at the home of writer and retired anthropology professor Prabodh Kumar in Gurugram. The Professor’s bookshelf always attracted me. Sometimes, I would pick up a book when nobody was watching, feel the fine print inside and keep it back. And I’m like 100% retired. But the professor saw it all unfold. From Amar Meyebela (My Girlhood) to many other books written by remarkable authors, he encouraged me to read, emphasising that it was never too late to do what I loved. Reading Amar Meyebela felt like I was reading my own story aloud.
When Professor Kumar went on a trip, he handed me a blank book and a pen and asked to write. Despite difficulties in recalling spellings and constructing sentences, I began to write. The experience was liberating. When the professor returned, I had already written over 100 pages! He was in tears after reading the finished manuscript of my first book and autobiography, Aalo Aandhari (Light and Darkness). After several rejections, Roshani Publishers, a small publishing house in Kolkata, decided to publish it. Aalo Aandhari hit the shelves in 2002 and sold out from day one. From sweepers, domestic helpers to the retired headmistress who lived next door, my story resonated with everyone.