Kathmandu, Nepal, — Sister Shanti died last night due to chronic high blood pressure. The news made me sad. She was not meant to leave us so soon. She passed away when starting to enjoy life. Maybe, fate did not grant her, her share of happiness.
I did not see much of the ups and downs in her life. By the time I came to know her, her life was much more settled. But when my mother had to give an example of an ideal woman, she would refer to Sister Shanti. What I have gathered about her from my mother would almost make a complete picture of her life.
When Sister Shanti was 15 or 16, she married the son of a “Pundit” – the name of the Brahmans placed at the top of the Hindu caste hierarchy by virtue of their birth – named Ram Krishna. She was barely twenty by the time she had given birth to three sons. Pundit Ram Krishna was known for his greed, while his son was stupid and dissolute. Sister Shanti adjusted to her new environments as a good homemaker, performing all the duties that her in-laws assigned although she had to deal with her troublesome husband.
In a fit of sentiment, her husband brought home another wife. Even then, Sister Shanti bore the pain well. However, quarrels would often rise over trifling matters. As the new wife was the younger of the two, she naturally had more say with her husband and in household affairs.
One day, on the pretext that Sister Shanti's youngest son had eaten more than his share of food, a bitter quarrel arose between the two wives. Finally, Sister Shanti and her three sons moved out of the house and came to live in our area.
She had neither a house to live nor any means of subsistence for her family. She only had one gold ring given by her parents and no property nor cash. She began her new life by renting a room on the ground floor of our house and paid the rent by selling her ring.
In the morning, she sold vegetables; in the afternoon, she washed neighbors' clothes; and in the evenings, she prepared lamp wicks based on orders she received. It was by doing these common jobs that she managed to meet ends. Her busy schedule would start early in the morning and continue until midnight. Despite her hard labor, no one ever saw her looking sad. She may have looked tired, but she always smiled.
People doing the same kind of work that Sister Shanti did noticed that her good behavior, trustworthiness and frank dealings were increasing her business. Naturally, this made them jealous and soon they began spreading rumors that she was immoral. Later they began to malign her character and plotted to drive from the area. Some men in the area were hinted at being her secret lovers.
Even though people did not want Sister Shanti to stay in our house or even in the area, my mother took a strong stand on her behalf and in the end she stayed. With time, her sons grew up and the room became too small for them. So, she finally moved out.
All of her sons grew up to be quite talented young men. Perhaps, the sad plight of their mother, the pitiable conditions in which they grew and the need for a happy future that their mother toiled, motivation them. At age 25, the eldest son became an officer, changing Sister Shanti’s life forever.
Sister Shanti never dreamt that she would have her own house, but the unimagined became a reality. Through the collective effort of her sons, a house was built. Thus began the happy days for Sister Shanti. My mother always invited her on social occasions and family gatherings. Sometimes, we also visited them. Soon, Sister Shanti become a part our village in Nepal.
Today, I feel pain inside me. I feel I have lost a close relative. Sister Shanti was an example of how a woman can fight all alone, struggle against all odds yet provide a stable future for her children.
Sister Shanti is dead and no consolation will ever change that. However her family need the goodwill and company of those who cherished her friendship. To feel close to someone, one does not need any relationship. The mind and sentiments are enough to shower love and affection.
Today, I am accompanying my mother to Sister Shanti's house. There is no particular reason for me to go. But, I still want to go.