‘At 12, she was married off to a man 14 years older to her. At 13 she had her first child ‘
Baby Halder grew up in Murshidabad, a town in West Bengal. She was abandoned by her mother when she was 4. At 12, she was married off to a man 14 years older to her. At 13 she had her first child and soon she had two more children.
‘At 25, she fled to Delhi with her children and found work as a maid’
After years of abuse at the hands of her husband, she fled to Delhi in a train with her children, when she was 25. There she worked at the homes of several exploitative people, before she found work at the house of writer and retired anthropology professor Prabodh Kumar, a grandson of noted Hindi literary figure Munshi Premchand.
One day Pramod Kumar found her browsing through the books on his bookshelf while dusting it. She was scared she would be scolded, but instead he encouraged her to read books in her leisure time. Ms Halder was deeply moved by Taslima Nasreen’s book ‘Amar Meyebala (My Girlhood), and began reading other authors.
Later Mr Kumar also got her a notebook and a pen and encouraged her to write. She started writing each night, after finishing her household chores. He was struck by what she had written and sent her writings to his friends in the literary circles, who liked it very much. When her manuscript was ready, he also helped editing it, and managed to find her a publisher.
‘New York Times took notice when this woman, working as a maid, penned down her life story’
Her first book ‘Aalo Aandhari’ (Light and Darkness) was published in 2002 in Hindi. Written originally in dialect Bengali, it was translated into Hindi by her employer, Prabodh Kumar in 2002. In 2006, it was published in English, titled ‘A Life Less Ordinary: A Memoir.’ Even the New York Times took notice when this barely literate woman, working as a maid in Delhi penned down her life story.
Her books have been the subject of critical acclaim, and she has been invited to several literary festivals across the country. She has been on book tours to cities such as Paris, Frankfurt and Hong Kong. Her books have also been translated into 12 foreign languages — including French, German and Japanese.
‘At 40, she still works at the house of Mr Pramod Kumar’
At 40, she still works at the house of Mr Pramod Kumar, whom she considers a father – figure. Halder says she writes between cooking, sweeping and swabbing and it took her a year to finish each of her books. “I am not organised or disciplined as far as writing is concerned. I write anytime, anywhere,”.
It is surprising to many that she still works as a domestic help , “I feel scared that I won’t be able to write if I change the way I live.” says Ms Halder.