I was born in Punjab but due to my father’s transferable job, I grew up in many cities. As I finished college, India witnessed a ‘Computer Kranti’ and it became the new craze. Following the trend, my father got me enrolled in a Diploma course. We were in Rohtak then. I was the only girl in my batch but he encouraged me to continue despite some objections from others. He stood by me and I can proudly say that today it’s a rarity to find a computer expert among women of my age. I worked as a computer instructor, finished Bachelors in Education and worked as a teacher. All this while, my father was my greatest support. I read and worked to my heart’s content till I got married.
“Amma”. My Mother-in-law, My Friend
I got married into a big joint family. My husband were 12 siblings and he was the youngest! Since I was raised in a nuclear family, I felt both thrilled and intimidated at the same time by the number of members in my new home. My mother-in-law may have sensed my anxiety and came to rescue. I remember how at my ‘muh-dikhayi’, a wedding ritual, a group of women from the neighborhood asked me to show my skills at the ‘dholak’ – a traditional percussion instrument. In those days, it was customary for the bride to do so. Realizing that I didn’t know how to play it then, she intervened and bragged about how we were a great team together. She asked me to sing while her hands moved deftly on the dholak. I looked at her and smiled. We both knew we have found each other for life. I lovingly addressed her as ‘Amma’ and our bond slowly transgressed the typical ‘saas-bahu’ relationship. She became my best friend in the family!
Aware of my qualifications and passion for work, she encouraged me to take up teaching again. I loved to see how at her age, she didn’t fit any stereotypical definition. She was God-loving but not ritualistic. She was a full-time homemaker, yet wanted me to grow professionally. She wanted us to be rich without being attached to wealth. I became a mother to two sons and Amma ensured my work didn’t suffer.
When Amma was bed-ridden for almost 3 years, I decided to quit my job to take care of her. Despite our large family, I wanted to stay home and do my bit. I also knew that she would love to see me around. She didn’t say it but I knew. When I visited her at the hospital, she would suddenly become excited and introduce me to fellow patients and their families in the ward. It embarrassed me, but Amma wouldn’t take any interruptions.
I had a deep realization that our bond would inspire me to do something. But the idea of writing had not dawned on me till then.
After a few years, Amma passed away peacefully in her sleep leaving behind a deep void. Since I had already quit my job after 20 plus years in teaching, I found myself wondering what I wanted to do next. Around the same time, I remembered an old friend and searched her name on Facebook. We had done junior high school together and I recalled that she wrote in her diary every day. I used to tell her that she’d be a writer but she never believed me. When I looked at her profile, I was delighted to see her name – Rachna Bhola Yamini, the author!
I scrolled through her page and read a few poems. They touched me deeply and, in that moment, I found the purpose of my life. I knew I wanted to write and it was surprising that I had never thought of this before. She had unlocked the writer in me and set it free.
‘Strirang’ – Shades of a Woman
I simply created a page on Facebook and began uploading my thoughts in few lines. Writing on an open platform felt surreal. With surmounting self-doubt regarding who’d read my musings, I preferred being anonymous. To give the right face to my emotional expressions, I chose a different name and profile picture.
As an ardent admirer of Nripen Nath’s paintings, I followed his page regularly – a virtual art gallery of his splendid work. He is gifted with an eye to reveal the spectrum of colors a woman hides within herself. It was in one of his paintings that I found myself. The bold strokes on the woman’s face narrated my story. I instantly saved the picture and decided the name for my page – ‘Strirang’, The innumerable shades of a woman. At first, he wasn’t sure why would I choose his artwork for my page. But after reading a few of my poems, he said that it’s the first time he’s reading his painting in words. That became my first reward for writing. Adding to the honor, he kept that canvas aside for me and never sold it to anyone else.
Exploring a New World
My works celebrated people I loved, movie scenes, timeless melodies and situations that we face in our everyday lives – ordinary and otherwise. Since there were no strict literary guidelines to follow, I wrote my heart. Amma, my mother, my father – everyone became my muse. My husband and sons gave me the confidence to explore the world of writing and slowly, it became popular. My ‘posts’ were shared widely and the ‘messenger’ was flooded with compliments. My poems had never revealed my identity on the page. As my readers grew, people wanted to know my name. They wanted to know if it was a man or woman hiding behind a painting. Eventually I revealed my name.
In three years, my work found recognition on various platforms, many publications and were even shared by (late) Kamla Bhasin, the iconic activist and poet.
Responsibilities as a Writer
For a writer, writing on social issues is a responsibility and a challenge at the same time. An honest writer always holds a mirror to the society and should never be discouraged with the reflections. We’ve been conditioned to hide our plight and any prose transcribing it, is seen as a revolutionary act. In my own experience, my general observations were taken personally by some people but thankfully, my family has always had my back in such times. Despite the discouragement from a few, I continue to be the voice of many women from all walks of life. Writing empowers me, and I derive my strength from those who tell me that in my poems, I have written their story.