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Showing posts from 2015

A Woman of All Shades

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If you ever get to meet my mother, Sarophina, you’ll notice the way her accent lugs her attempt to speak English. Each word is calculated and every sentence weighs down with  her determination to get it right. She picked up a little bit of the language when she was  working as a housemaid abroad.
My mother gave up on education at the age of fourteen. She was forced to join the family’s local business as a liquor hunter. At dusk, she would pick up a fairly large rubber tube and set out to fetch liquor from sellers. Dressed in her older brother’s faded khaki shorts and pants she looked like a little ruffian who meant business. But the danger of getting caught by the police always followed her like a shadow. Her charm and cunning ways at full display, older men could not turn her down. “It’s the way you approach people and speak to them that makes the difference,” she’d tell me in later years.
My mother has been good at imparting advice, having imbibed life’s lessons the hard way. I hardly…

Meet My Father, Anthony

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Hopes of a good future for me were planted the day my father – Appa as I call him -- decided to send me away to a boarding school called Shanti Bhavan. Despite my mother’s ardent protests and pleadings that she would raise me on her own, even if it meant begging on the streets, he was adamant that I study in a school that he believed would offer me a brighter future. I don’t know how a man who hasn’t had any formal education and had never seen professional success could foresee and trust that an education could save me from the poverty-stricken life he and his family had endured for generations.   Others in my family say that my father wanted to get rid off me because I was born a girl child, and hence he didn’t hesitate to give me up to strangers who came looking for children to admit into their school.  Upon my birth he had openly spoken about throwing me into the nearby garbage pit. Whatever his reasons might have been, I am grateful that he had the wisdom to admit me into Shanti B…

A Wild Past

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My village, Thattaguppe, has a history as wild and bitter as the poisonous seeds of the Datura plant.
My own past was borne from it.
My grandmother loves to narrate the story of my birth. Seeing me the way I am today, she thinks my story has a happy ending. She was the one who sternly scolded my father for rejecting me when he found out that I was born a girl. She often tells me with pride, “When your father wanted to throw you in the garbage pit, I gave him a piece of my mind.”
When a girl child is born, no kerosene lamps are lit to brighten the hut, no coconut sweets are distributed to the neighbors, and no meat is cooked to celebrate. Instead, there are only tears and quiet whispers on how to get rid of the baby. It was not uncommon for the midwife to be bribed with goodies of all sorts to secretly carry out the unspeakable – murder. A girl child is considered a burden to the family. She brings no wealth and the parents have to give dowry to get her married.
So, there was an easy w…

Growing Up With Stories

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Ihave always been a lover of stories. Stories fascinate me. I grew up with stories. As a little child, I chased after stories with fierce yearning. Stories were not hard to find in my home. Men and women who came to my maternal grandmother to buy liquor brought with them numerous stories of all kinds. Some days I’d hear stories of landlords taken into custody by the localpanchayat(governing body in the village) for beating their coolies almost to death for not having repaid the money they borrowed. On other days I’d hear stories of young girls having eloped, cattle having been stolen, fire breaking out among the huts on the top of the hill, a religious ceremony being held to celebrate the coming of age of a girl, a young boy  drowning himself in the lake, a man killed during a fight over water, and on and on. In their drunken stupor, some customers even boldly confessed tales of their extramarital affairs. My grandmother, a local liquor seller, was a faithful guardian of their secrets. …

Reflections on My Memoir

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Dear Friends, My name is Shilpa Anthony Raj and I am 22 years old. I am excited to share the news about my forthcoming book, The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter, awaiting publication sometime next year. This is my memoir – a glimpse into the life of a young girl born into poverty in rural India who was given an unprecedented chance at success. Through these blogs, you will have the opportunity to get an inside look into the characters and places in the book—a world that is distant for most, but very close to my heart.

In my book I describe the two lives I have straddled throughout my life– one of poverty and social indignity as a girl born into an impoverished “untouchable family in rural India, and the other, one of opportunities offered by a boarding school started by an American philanthropist for children like me. My hope is for my readers, even those thousands of miles away, to find connections with the people who have been a part of my life and with my struggle to find my own identi…