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'My Daughter Is Worth Something'


Feb. 19, 2020

Grandfather’s radical view of girls.
by Shefali O'Hara Leave a Comment
Grandfather left home against his father’s wishes. It was India in the 1930s and Grandfather wanted to join Mahatma Gandhi’s movement.
His father wrote Gandhi several letters asking that his son be sent home. Gandhi wrote back. My mother has kept these letters.
Grandfather was a bit of a rebel. He not only disobeyed his dad, he also fell in love with a girl he wasn’t supposed to.
He was a Brahmin from Gujurat. She was a Kshatriya from Hyderabad.
Grandfather’s courting Grandmother was like a white New Yorker wooing a black person in Alabama during Jim Crow. It was unheard of.
She also loved him. They risked not just social ostracism but physical violence to marry.
They had a partnership. Together they worked for Gandhi. He sent them into rural areas to talk to villagers.
My grandmother was only 18 at the time. It was a remarkable thing, for a young Indian woman to travel and work as she did.
Sometimes villagers would welcome my grandparents into their homes. But other times they would have to fend for themselves. They camped in temples or outdoors. It was a hard life for a well brought up Indian lady, but my grandmother never complained.
She wasn’t the only one who made sacrifices for Indian independence, though. My grandfather marched to the sea with Gandhi, to make salt. He was arrested for protesting British rule. His knees were broken in jail.
I have a framed newspaper article that shows my grandfather with Indira Gandhi, the first woman prime minister of India. He and his fellow “salt marchers” were commended for their service.
When my mother was born, my grandparents named her “Vijayakranti” which means victory in the fight against evil.
Even though most Indian parents favored sons, my grandfather adored his daughter. Mom said he would carry her to work so he wouldn’t have to be apart from her.
Nevertheless, because her parents had to travel so much, Mom was sent to boarding school when she was 6 years old. My heart went out to that tiny girl, far from home, but Mom said the nuns at her school were kind.
She became an athlete. There are pictures of her proudly displaying trophies for table tennis and badminton. She also loved art. That is the subject she studied in college, where she got first a BA and then an MA.
Though she always had a few close friends and was accomplished, she was a quiet girl, an introvert. She liked to stay home and work on her own projects.
She loved to paint and work with her hands. She helped raise money for her school’s new roof by selling hand-painted cards and sweaters she knit.
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