Suli Bai had lost her husband, to be left with five children the youngest one just 6 months of age; about 25 years ago. Luckily enough, the eldest two children were daughters aged 8 and 7 years of age, which helped her go for daily wage work or to the forest to collect some food stuff.
She had the choice to become a second wife to anybody, as is the tradition in the area. but that could have left the children to the streets.
She had an acre of land which she now cultivates to produce paddy, pulses, and vegetables apart from banana, custard apple and mango. Since she lived near to the forest, she was once attacked by a leopard as she describes when asked about the scar in her hand. It was the metal bangle that saved her from getting her hand chewed by the animal.
She has a two-room hut and lives with her youngest son, daughter in law and a granddaughter. Because of so many distressful incidents in her life, she is now open to ideas, whichever gives her an edge to nudge ahead. One was to use cow urine as a pesticide for which she bought a non-milching cow for Rs. 900/-. That was organic enough farming for her. She had 30 plants of chili, which produced about half a kilo of produce daily for the last 5 years, which she could, of course, sell for at least Rs. 30, a good amount for handy cash. She now uses two kilos of seed rather than 30 kilos earlier to have SRI which does not need much water either. The only time she did not take the idea of planting bitter gourd because her son was objecting that the drip irrigation system would kill the vegetables. We managed to convince her that it was a case of nematode in the soil which could be treated with neem oil.
She was somehow deprived of water in the village which was a pain point to her, which introduced her to us. She had her well now. Looking at her from outside perspective, one wondered as to why she was always fighting some unseen battle. One had to add many pieces to understand the problem and the usual coping mechanism she had devised. Having been widowed early in life, she had to depend on the goodwill of many neighborhood families who fed her family a meal occasionally or gave some clothes. She had to be inside her hut after sunset so as to avoid the wild animal attacks. She had to clear the custard apple bush to keep the wild pigs away.
A stark observation was to notice her granddaughter becoming 7 years of age, without a sibling while it was usual in the village to have at least 3 children quickly. May be a lack of family planning awareness. The village ladies go to the forest for firewood to the forest, which is when they had to bribe the forest guard either by cash or kind. Payment by kind included the aspect of trading femininity as well. Somehow, her daughter-in-law attracted the fancy of many forest guards and maybe she had to oblige more than one in a single day, to have her firewood and other useful material from the forest. Since this was an accepted fact in the village, many were jealous of her.
But it also meant that she had health problems. Sulli Bai told me that she bleeds about 15 days or more in a month, and the doctor’s medicine was not much helpful. She thought that Gunja bai had done some witchcraft on her daughter-in-law. Gunja Bai had supported her during her worst times. Why should she mean anything foul now? There was no explanation.
About a year back, her son was arrested on a murder charge; of killing Gunja Bai. Gunja Bai’s body was found near the forest gate. He is now serving a long imprisonment sentence. No news of her wife and granddaughter after that and Sulli Bai lives alone.
She still sells at least half a kilo chiili along with some vegetables to make a living.