“I have no big dreams for my daughters or grandchildren. But they must read and they must educate themselves. As long as I am alive I will ensure that and I am thankful that Nand Ghar here has given my grandchildren a head-start”
Soyati, Grandmother of two children attending the Nand Ghar
Soyati projects the image of a grande dame as she oversees not only her own seven children who range in age from as young as 13 to the eldest being 29 but also her four grandchildren and her two daughters-in-law who all live together in one great joint family. She certainly does not project the image of being cowed down by this male-dominated world, on the contrary. Her bearing is one of a queen surveying her domain even when she sits in a corner under the shade of a tree in her dung-plastered foyer of her compound at home, keeping a close watch on her three granddaughters, one aged 3 (Reshmi) and the other two aged 2 (Priyanka and Durga) as they frolic in the sun.
The fourth grandchild is just four months old, is sleeping, but starts crying suddenly. Her mother, Radha, the wife of Narayan Lal, a mistry by trade and is away working, rushes to the baby’s side picks her up and nurses her as she brings her out, drenching the child with the golden rays of the midday sun.
The grande dame watches all with an authority that is almost ingrained, casual. And yet despite that obvious command of all that she surveys, Kambi and Mamata, her 13-year-old and 16-year-old daughters join in the conversations freely, every fearlessly, under the grande dame’s watchful gaze.
“Before this Nand Garh was built, there was no Anganwadi in the area. Children the age of Priyanka, Durga and Reshmi would loiter in the fields and the roads when their parents did not have time to be with them. Now, at least they have a safe place to go to, get fed a nutritious meal and at the same time learn something that will be useful to them,” she says in Marwari. She waits for this to be translated before she continues, “I wish this Nand Garh had come up years ago.”
Kanu, her daughter-in-law, married to married to Soyati’s son Dalu Ram, 27, is analphabetic. Does she not feel bad that she did not go to school? It is extremely difficult, she says and yes she regrets it.
“But what could I do? My parents did not want me to go to school. Even to make a call, not being able to read, I need to take the help of someone.”
There is still time to learn though.
“Yes! There is!” Mamata, agrees. “Age is no bar for education,” she says in pure Hindi.
Why doesn’t Mamata spend a half-hour a day teaching her aunt the alphabet?
“Yes I will. I have seen that the Nand Ghars are making education a fun process. There is no reason I cannot make it fun for my aunt to learn the alphabet,” says Mamata with a smile.
The grande dame chimes in from the shady corner she has occupied.
“I have no big dreams for my daughters or grandchildren. No big dreams. But they must read and they must educate themselves. As long as I am alive I will ensure that and I am thankful that the Nand Ghar here has given my grandchildren a head-start,” she says gratefully.