“We May Encounter Many Defeats But We Must Not Be Defeated.” – Maya Angelou
One thing that has survived the era of smartphones, tablets, and other technological gadgets and yet remains unparalleled is Mother’s love. Most of us do not realize its importance until it’s beyond our reach and the people who miss it the most are the ones who never experienced it. When we see orphans or hear about them from somewhere, what do we do? Feel sad about them for five minutes, pray for their well being and then save the process for the next time because we feel that we cannot do any long term benefit to them. This is why it becomes all the more important to know about Sindhutai Sapkal, mother to over 1100 children and grandmother to over 1050. If the numbers surprised you, hold your breaths for after reading her story you would say ‘Goosebumps guaranteed’.
A Beginning No One Expects
Born in 1948, in Maharashtra, to a cattle-grazing family, Sindhutai had to face the initial challenges of being a girl. Be it education, health, or any other thing, it wasn’t easy for her to get the right share which made every moment of her life, a struggle added to it was the poor financial condition of her family. Her present circumstances were dark but little did she know that the future will bring even tougher days.
At an age when we all strive for support and love from our mother, the little girl was facing exactly the opposite situation since her mother was against the idea of Sindhutai receiving education even when her husband backed and supported it. The patriarchal mindset, prevalent at that time, had covered the thought process of not only men but women as well. Defying the odds of poverty and gender discrimination, she managed to study till the fourth standard but the miseries were far from over.
“Quitters never win. Winners never quit!” - Dr. Irene C. Kassorla
Unwanted Child, Unwanted Bride
The sad part is not being useless, it is when you are made to feel that you are useless. She was always an unwanted child as her wishes, choices, dreams, ideas, and thoughts never really mattered to anyone. This was reflective when she was married to a 30-year-old man just at the age of 10. With little sense of the world, the child didn’t know that she was just being passed from one cage to another and that she was supposed to quietly follow the line without asking questions. What followed her marriage was the authoritarian behavior, inclusive of abuses and beatings, of her husband that was enough to destroy the child left in her. Nothing was going right but she had made up her mind to take whatever destiny offered and the offerings weren’t quite amusing either.
Her nature was that of a candle that would itself stay in darkness to light the lives of others and this was evident when, despite all the odds, she decided to help local women of her area who were being exploited by the landlords and forest officials. She made those faces smile who was being harassed in the name of authority but the sad part is that sometimes when nothing is going right for you, even good deeds land you in trouble.
“Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.” - Bill Bradley
The Biggest Challenge
Sindhutai was 20 and nine months pregnant when her husband beat her, more than the regular, on the insistence of the village’s strongmen who were unhappy with her dissenting voice. She was thrown out of her home and was left to die with a baby in her womb. This took the intensity of her problems a notch higher and posed in front of her, the toughest question ever. When she had a strenuous life, how could she let another one enters her distraught world?
Striking off negative thoughts, she delivered a baby girl on her own. A cow shelter became the hospital and she was the doctor cutting the umbilical cord to fetch an angel, the cries of whom made her smile for the first time in years. It was a difficult smile and even tougher to sustain it. With a heavy heart, she left for her mother’s place but faced an outright denial from her and this choked the brave lady’s final hopes of getting a shelter.
Her parents married her at a tender age, her husband left her to die when she was pregnant, and now she was denied mercy from her mother. All the doors were shut and the inspiring woman’s perseverance was about to end since she couldn’t manage food for herself and therefore, was unable to breastfeed the baby properly. For the first time in her life, she found an easy option to choose- Death!
“Do something today that your future self will thank you for.”― Sean Patrick Flanery
Begging for life
On the contrary, she decided to live since easy things were not her cup of tea and the difficult ones had become her close friends. The task at hand now was to survive independently so that her daughter doesn’t have to go through all that she had. When you don’t have anything, everything that comes your way is gold and for Sindhutai, it was a crematorium for shelter and food offered to the corpse became her meal.
The one who fights it out and punches difficulties in the face is the real fighter and after fighting for so long, finally, she found a solution, begging. It was the only way to survive in a world full of helplessness and regardless of the scorching heat, frosty winters, and heavy rains, she started begging near, and on railway platforms. She had faced many challenges earlier but this was different since now she had another life to care for. But again, destiny had a different plan.
Begging at various places brought in front of her a cruel reality that of orphan children begging for livelihood. Among them were also children abandoned by their parents and who better than Sindhutai to feel their pain, she could see through the hungry, innocent eyes searching for food, love, and care. Unlike most of us, she didn’t walk over them and instead decided to adopt. It started with Deepak, whom she found on a railway track searching behind the stones for food, and the number just kept on increasing. She had no money but had willpower, she had no resources but had grit and determination. But how was she going to look after them?
“Our character is not defined in the good times, but in the hard times.”- Paul Brodie
Like people work overtime to earn extra, the warm-hearted lady decided to beg even more and devoted herself to begging so that she could serve food to the children she had adopted and fulfill the responsibility of being a mother. Every passing day saw more and more children getting added to her family and that’s how she became ‘Mother of the Motherless’.
Earning By All Means
Apart from being a caring soul, she was also a good speaker and she hunger made her speak. She acquired good communication skills which helped her influence people and earn through public speeches. By this time she had adopted hundreds of children and looking after them was becoming an increasingly difficult task but she didn’t let her hardships stop her from being a helping hand for children.
With some financial help, she started her first ashram and soon, there were more people interested in donating money to her. But the problem was, everyone wanted a receipt of donation and thereby the need for starting an NGO arose.
“Do What You Can With All You Have, Wherever You Are.” – Theodore Roosevelt
The Next Stage
Savitribai Phule Girls’ Hostel was the first NGO formed by this strong-willed woman. She now has more than thousands of adopted children to her name, more than 200 sons-in-law, around 50 daughters-in-law, and is a grandmother to so many children.
She never gave up on her children, even after they were able enough, and still takes care of each one of them. Many of the children adopted by her have gone on to become lawyers, teachers, doctors, etc. and some of them have even set up NGOs so that they could help her cause.
She wanted herself to be impartial, therefore she allowed her biological daughter to be adopted by Shrimant Dagdu of Pune.
Years after he threw her away to die, her husband came back to accept his mistake and apologized for the same. Being a humble soul and believing in forgiveness, she didn’t disappoint and accepted his apologies for the better.
“Failure Will Never Overtake Me If My Determination To Succeed Is Strong Enough.” – Og Mandino
Sindhutai deserves all the respect in the world for she got only hardships but gave back love to society. The work that she has done for the underprivileged, orphaned and abandoned children is beyond our definition of ‘help’ and has only been possible because of her self-determination, positivity, grit, perseverance and what not. Known by various names like ‘tai’, ‘maai’, and ‘mother of orphans’, she has gained the love of people across the globe and that is the most difficult and precious thing to have.