“I still have a few days of my life left,
and all I want is to spend them happily,”
It has been about six years since Ram Pyari had decided to never go back to her husband. It has been that long since she had come away with her children from Lalatpur, a small village in the suburbs of Madhya Pradesh, to this big city. Her life today is in many ways, like her mother’s. She too was all by herself when she was raising her nine children. Ram Pyari was the youngest among them.
Ram Pyari was twelve when she had been married off. And when she conceived, she was too young to understand how one became pregnant or what it really meant. Most of her life experiences only revolved around working hard at her in-laws’ – cooking, washing, fetching water from the well – and getting screamed at for small mistakes. Or it was of getting physically assaulted by her husband at the slightest pretext. Ram Pyari’s husband was an alcoholic who did not work, and to sustain his drinking habit, who had even sold off all his family land, leaving the family penniless. Not even for once did Ram Pyari feel that she had a husband. Her cries and tears were always unheeded. Those around Ram Pyari always turned a blind eye.
Like this, years had passed and Ram Pyari had raised her children the best she could, with no help from her husband. The hard physical labour, coupled with early pregnancy had made her frail and weak, and one time when she fell ill, her son had taken her to the nearest city hospital. Here she had had to undergo an operation and stay for around two weeks. And when finally she was ready to make her way back to the village, she had received a call from her husband. “If you dare show up here again, I’ll douse you in acid and set you on fire,” he had threatened. He was livid because Ram Pyari had not ‘asked’ for his permission before leaving the house. She was his property after all! How could she decide to do something like this all on her own! Ram Pyari had felt shattered. She could neither return home nor reach out to her mother and brother – they already had problems of their own! And this is when Ram Pyari had made the decision to never ever go back. “Earn by myself, fend for myself,” she had vowed and come to Delhi with her children.
In Delhi, Ram Pyari had found a new beginning when she set up her tea shop at INA, where there is a bustling market. The city, she says, enabled her to stand on her own two feet. But its predatory nature also caused her endless problems and continues to do so. From alcoholics to goons, all kinds of people come to Ram Pyari’s shop, and she has to deal with them. Receiving them with patience is not just work ethic but also a means of survival. And though she is often forced to ask herself, “What if someone were to harm me?” she knows she needs to keep on because her shop is her life and her livelihood. Sometimes the police and NDMC personnel threaten her. They ask for ‘kharcha paani’ (a bribe) in return for allowing her to continue running her shop. She tries her best to explain how the shop fetches her a meagre six thousand rupees a month, but they never care.
Living under the constant fear of losing her shop and her only source of livelihood often takes a toll on Ram Pyari. Being a woman without support or an ‘akeli aurat’ also makes her constantly vulnerable to being taken advantage of by ill-meaning people. But what hurts Ram Pyari above all is that no one from her village ever calls her. That they have never enquired about her – not even once.
Ram Pyari remembers her family and the house where she spent her childhood. They fill her with it a sad nostalgia and longing. But she still dreams – of a better life and a bigger shop one day. “I still have a few days of my life left, and all I want is to spend them happily,”
Image source: Jessie Wang