Saturday, April 28, 2007

A life less ordinary

Internet has been down here for awhile, and I've been taking the opportunity to do some reading. Just finished A Life Less Ordinary, an autobiography of Baby Halder, a domestic worker (it was originally written in Bengali and published [in Hindi, I believe] as Aalo-Andhari).

It's a quick read and a powerful story -- she offers a glimpse of the life a woman who was married and a mother by 14 who, after years of harassment from her husband and the community, picked up everything and disappeared to Delhi; after a few bad jobs, she found herself working for a man who caught her looking at the books on his shelves and, rather than remonstrate her for slagging off on duty, gave her a pen and a notebook and told her that she should think of reading and writing every day as one of her daily chores.

I don't have a coherent perspective on the writing/execution/style of the book (largely because I find myself confounded by the tension between literature as literature and literature as therapy or social tool), and I haven't read a great deal of other subaltern autobiographies, so I'll just highlight two passages I found particularly compelling:

"One thing that had become clear to me by this time was that man or woman, everyone was basically concerned about themselves and about having enough to eat. Had I understood this wisdom earlier, I would not have had to suffer so much."

"I like cooking for people and feeding them and even when I was with my husband, any time I made something new, I would share it with everyone around. Perhaps that was what made him so unhappy with me! I also liked looking at cookery books as much as I liked reading books and poems and stories. Reading the newspaper had become like an addiction and everything that Tatush read to me or told me about was a new discovery for me. Perhaps this was why I waited at the gate every morning for the papers to come."

Juxtaposing them, I guess what I like is that, despite an absolutely bleak outlook on the state of humanity, she still finds something, some way, to make her life positive. I've been accused of being an incurable cynic, so to try and capture some of this attitude in my life would probably be beneficial; shitty things happen, and sure, people are jerks, but there are too many good things to get caught up in feeling sorry for myself.

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