Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"It just keeps coming": one woman's life in Nepal

Parbati's pitiful childhood was a precursor to an extremely difficult life as a woman.

"My father passed away when I was very small. Three of my brothers also passed away with unknown diseases. My mother and my eldest brother worked in a coalmine with very meagre income. I had to make food, take lunch for my mother and brother in the coalmine, fetch water from far off places, cut wood, in short do every house chores including looking after my younger sister."

In Nepal, girls are often expected to take care of their house at an early age, generally at ten or eleven, however for Parbati it started much earlier than that. She started doing all the house chores when she was either five or six (that she can't remember properly). She never went near a school.

When she got a little bigger, she joined her mother in the coalmine, unloading heavy baskets of coals. She also started working in other people's fields for extra income, or going with her mother wherever she went for work.

In the course of going to other people's field and working, Parbati met and fell in love with labourer Sanu Kancha, and they eloped when she was hardly 19. This was so appalling to her family that they stopped talking to her.

Parbati was so happy with her newfound love and happiness she did not think she would mind the loss of her family. But within days, she found Sanu Kancha's true colours.

He was a chronic drinker, as was his mother with whom they lived. Both of them made Parbati's life a living hell. Parbati was put to work at home but at the same time, she was expected to work outside and earn money. Both the son and the mother would then use the money to buy their daily dose of alcohol.

Drunk Sanu Kancha would then beat and abuse Parbati, unprotected by her mother-in-law, who was always unhappy with her no matter how hard she tried. Parbati became an unpaid servant in her own home.

Parbati says, "My mother-in-law was such an impossible woman. She was a widow so she was already bitter and nothing made her happy. She would sit home the whole day and start drinking from the morning. If I couldn't make money for a day, she would sell food rations stored at home and buy alcohol. She would then come home and start scolding me for no reason. I had to many times hide the food when I went to work."

The curse of a girl child
In order to carry on the family legacy, in Nepal, women are expected to produce sons. If they cannot, there are many reports of killings of newborn daughters and in some cases the mothers too.

Since Parbati's first born was a daughter, Sushmita, her mother in law started mistreating her more. Sanu Kancha would also add to it. He went out to work while Parbati looked after her child, but kept most of the money he earned. There were times when Parbati, struggling to breastfeed her daughter, went to bed with an empty stomach.

Adding more suffering and grief to Parbati's life, Parbati bore another daughter Urmila.

Parbati says, "The second child was also a daughter. My mother in law started despising me totally. My husband would also listen to her and never support me. He would also blame me for the misfortune. My mother in law became too unhappy with me that day in day out, she would just scold me and curse me with foul words."

A little light of hope, Parbati's third child was a son. Everyone at home was happy, even her mother in law. They named him Deepak - meaning light. But this happiness was short-lived. Deepak, at the age of 3, passed away.

Parbati recalls, "Deepak was a very small baby. His legs and arms were really thin. He couldn't breathe properly and all of a sudden his body became as hot as fire. We had no money to take him for treatment. When we tried to borrow money from neighbours, no one was willing to lend us any. It was very difficult for Deepak to breathe, and all of a sudden he just stopped."

The grief of Deepak's loss was not healed properly for Parbati before she bore another child, a boy, Maila, who resembled Deepak but also passed away at the age of two.

Parbati says, "Despite everything I tried, I couldn't save him. If only we had enough money to take him for a check up! My mother in law tried her hand with all kinds of traditional healers. They also failed and told us to take him to a hospital. My husband worked more hours than ever before then and made some money but I guess it was too late. Maila also died in front of my eyes. Just a swollen leg took him away from us."

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Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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