Magazine article New Internationalist

No Requiem for Rajkumari [Commemoration of the Life of a Woman in India Who Lived and Died without Recognition]

Magazine article New Internationalist

No Requiem for Rajkumari [Commemoration of the Life of a Woman in India Who Lived and Died without Recognition]

Article excerpt

I HEARD about Rajkumari's death the day after Princess Diana's. The coincidences were so remarkable. Rajkumari was about the same age as the Princess. She was married in the same year; her two sons were similar ages.

But she was not born into a noble family. She fell in love at 18 and ran away from her average working-class Hindu family to marry a Christian motor mechanic. Her family disowned her. She was inordinately proud, so she didn't go back to them to beg pardon or to ask permission to return to the family fold. Later, after the children were born, they relented and relations improved.

When I met Rajkumari her arm was in a sling. I gathered - although she was too proud ever to admit it - that her husband, in a drunken temper, had shoved her and she had fallen down and broken her arm. Although he was a wonderful mechanic, they had been cheated by a friend with whom they had planned to start a business. They left Bangalore to escape their creditors and we found them living in a corner of someone else's one-room tenement, homeless and totally down and out.

They joined our team. He fixed the Jeeps. She cooked for our meetings and training programs. There were days when she started preparing for 150 people and 250 showed up. We'd creep into her kitchen and ask, embarrassed: 'Should we send them to the corner cafe to eat?' She'd grunt and reply: 'No. It's OK. I'll manage.' I never once heard her complain about the numbers. She had one person to help her cut and chop the mountains of vegetables. She could be rude, overbearing and insulting. But she managed, always guarding her family fiercely and protectively.

She was making money, cooking for our sessions. She became bloated and took on the look of an Amazon queen. He started drinking.

Our team was launching an anti-liquor campaign, so alcohol was strictly prohibited. We told Rajkumari and her husband, and she turned on us ferociously, determined to defend her husband. 'He works all day, doesn't he? Fixes your Jeeps at any time of the day or night, doesn't he? So what's your problem? You don't own him body and soul. If he wants a drink in the evenings it's his business, not yours.'

We were taken aback - given their past history, her defence of his drinking seemed bizarre. …

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