On the sprawling lawns of Diggy Palace, a decrepit but charming old building of graceful proportions, some of the country’s finest authors gathered for the Jaipur Literature Festival. I arrived with my friend at 9 am sharp and looked around for some familiar faces. There were none. My Caferati friends from Mumbai were expected to come after lunch. I approached Mita kapur, introduced myself, and then settled in the high ceiling conference room that had huge chandeliers and beautiful painting on its walls. The list of participants, I was told, would include the well known writers, such as:
Salman Rushdie, Kiran Desai, Baby Halder, William Dalrymple, Suketu Mehta, Kiran Nagarkar, Amit Chaudhuri, Christopher Kremmer, John Zubrzycki, Bhanu Bharti, Seemantini, Anupam Mishra, Ashok Vajpeyi, Jerry Pinto, Ira Pande, Shashi Deshpande, Feryal Ali Gauhar, Sheen Kaaf Nizam, Ravi Singh, Marc Parent, David Godwin, Keki Daruwalla, Paro Anand, Atanu Roy, Dr. Hari Krishna Devsare, Jugal Mody, Jeet Thayil, Jane Bhandari.
The festival kicked off with a session with Baby Halder, who shot to fame last year with ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ an account of her experience as a domestic worker in Delhi.
I was moved by the film that showed her autobiographical story.Baby, a domestic help in a Gurgaon household, begins narrating shards of her life led in various parts of West Bengal, mainly Murshidabad, in almost the same flat tone as she is found throughout her book. . From her difficult childhood, spent moving from place to place, coping with domestic responsibilities thrust upon her by an absentee father and a mother who abandoned the family when Baby was just a small child, to her marriage -- at the age of 13 to a man nearly twice her age -- and becoming a mother when she was still just a child herself.
Ms Haldar's fortunes changed when she ran away from an abusive marriage and went to Gurgaon to make a new beginning.
She started working as a maid to support her three children.
Among those she worked for was Professor Prabodh Kumar, the grandson of one of the greatest literary figures of the Hindi language, Prem Chand.
The professor noticed she spent a lot of time dusting his large collection of books, especially those written in Bengali.
One day he caught her handling one of the books and asked her to read out the title,
She was a bit hesitant. The book was ‘Taslima Nasreen's Amar Meyebela’.
Professor Kumar gave her the book and asked her to read it when she had time.
She would read the book at night.
Later he gave her a notebook and pen and asked her to write her life story/
After completing her daily house hold chore, she would sit into the night and write.
For Baby Haldar, who dropped out of school, putting pen to paper was a great trial - confronting the past that she had run away from.
She wrote about her uncaring father, the mother who abandoned her, her stepmother and the man double her age she was married to when she was just 13.
Professor Kumar would read her writing, make corrections and photocopies.
and she continued to write and write.
The professor showed her writings to his friends who were moved by the memoirs.
He then translated her writing into Hindi and a Calcutta-based publisher decided to print it.
An Indian woman who used to sweep and mop other people's floors found her life transformed overnight when she became a bestselling author.
Some are interested in translating the book into other languages and she has also received an offer to turn the book into a film.
At the end of the film I did see women wiping a tear from their eyes.
Urvashi Butalia of Zubaan Publishing house chatted with her after the film.
She had no qualms about working as maid and she said that she would continue to work as maid. She wants to connect with more ordinary people and write about their life and struggles. Earlier her children were ashamed to introduce her. But now they proudly say, 'My mother is a writer'.