Halder, Baby 1973(?)- (Bebi Haladara)
Halder, Baby 1973(?)- (Bebi Haladara)
Born c. 1973, in Murshidabad, West Bengal, India; divorced; children: three.
Home—New Delhi, India.
Writer, memoirist, and domestic servant.
Aalo Aandhari (title means "From Darkness to Light"), Zubaan/Penguin (New Delhi, India), 2006, published as A Life Less Ordinary (memoir), translated by Urvasi Butalia, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Author's work has been translated into several languages.
Indian writer and memoirist Baby Halder is the author of A Life Less Ordinary, a book that describes the harrowing hardships of her life in India as a female member of the mistreated lower classes. Originally published in India under the title Aalo Aandhari, which means "From Darkness to Light," the book "offers a window into a world that shocks many Indians, one in which women, and particularly poor ill-educated women, remain second-class citizens," commented Scott Baldauf in the Christian Science Monitor.
Halder was born and grew up in Murshidabad, in West Bengal, India. She was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go to school, which enabled her to learn how to read and write in her native Bengali. Her early life was relatively stable and pleasant, but she found her world unraveling quickly by the time she reached the age of seven. It was at that point that her mother, unable to withstand the problems and pressures of her family, abandoned her husband and children, going off to the market and never returning. Her father, never a stable presence to begin with, began to disappear for days at a time, returning erratically, with a string of unpleasant new women. Halder was married off at age twelve to a man twice her age, a person so abusive that he bashed Halder in the head with a rock when he caught her talking to another man. By the time she was fourteen she had become a mother, and she would have two more children with the same man. She began working as a maid and domestic servant for a number of selfish and unpleasant employers. One employer forced her to keep her children locked up in the attic during the day, and would demand massages and food services at all hours, depriving Halder of time to spend with her children. Finally, unable to withstand any more, she gathered up her children and walked out, heading to New Delhi to find a better life.
Life in New Delhi was an improvement, and Halder found work with a man named Prabodh Kumar, a retired academic. Kumar was a kindly man who treated her well; Halder responded in kind, finding in Kumar a cherished mentor and father-figure. When he noticed her lingering over the dusting of some of his bookshelves, Kumar asked Halder if she could read. She admitted she could, and he allowed her to borrow books. Soon after, he supplied her with a pen and paper and asked her to write down her life story. Encouraged by Kumar and several of his friends, Halder did so, eventually resulting in her memoir, A Life Less Ordinary. which Kumar helped her edit and publish.
Halder "recounts her life story in plain language, without a trace of self-pity," noted New York Times reviewer Amelia Gentleman. However, Balduf stated, her "book forces consideration" of a society where women are treated poorly, and class and caste are still powerful social forces that oppress millions. "Halder's life is a parallel world where domestic abuse is acceptable, hunger is unremarkable, women are bound by rules of family honor, survival is uncertain, and education is an extravagance." Halder's story is "the story of the marginalised," where "being a woman is in itself a form of abuse," stated Mita Kapur in the Chennai, India, Hindu. Halder "never articulates her rage directly and rarely blames her father or her husband for the cruelty she experienced, but the facts stand powerfully for themselves. This is a simple description of a grim existence that has no need of embellishment with literary tricks," Gentleman concluded. Halder's book, commented a writer on the India Together Web site, is "a story which saddens us with its matter-of-fact narrative of a life of tribulation, but also makes us rejoice vicariously in its extraordinary triumph."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Halder, Baby, A Life Less Ordinary, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Booklist, May 15, 2007, Hazel Rochman, review of A Life Less Ordinary, p. 8.
Christian Science Monitor, August 7, 2006, Scott Baldauf, "Indian Housemaid Pens Dickensian Memoir of Poverty," profile of Baby Halder.
Daily News & Analysis (Mumbai, India), July 16, 2006, "From Maid to Star Author," profile of Baby Halder.
Dawn Newspaper (Karachi, Pakistan), October 8, 2006, Shazia Hasan, review of A Life Less Ordinary.
Hindu (Chennai, India), June 4, 2006, R. Krithika, review of A Life Less Ordinary; April 15, 2007, Mita Kapur, "In Conversation: ‘Writing Has to Be Classless,’" interview with Baby Halder.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2007, review of A Life Less Ordinary.
Library Journal, May 15, 2007, Lisa Klopfer, review of A Life Less Ordinary, p. 97.
London Times, May 12, 2006, Amrit Dhillon, "Grime Pays for Servant who Wrote a Bestseller," profile of Baby Halder.
New York Times, August 2, 2006, Amelia Gentleman, "In India, a Maid Becomes an Unlikely Literary Star," profile of Baby Halder.
School Library Journal, August, 2007, Jennifer Waters, review of A Life Less Ordinary, p. 145.
Sydney Morning Herald, June 8, 2008, Claire Scobie, review of A Life Less Ordinary.
Tribune (Chandigarh, India), July 23, 2006, Arunima S. Mukherjee, "In Celebration of Being Alive," review of A Life Less Ordinary.
India Together,http://www.indiatogether.org/ (November 29, 2006), Neeta Deshpande, review of A Life Less Ordinary.
Reader's Club,http://www.readersclub.org/ (January 27, 2007), review of A Life Less Ordinary.
South Asian Women's NETwork,http://www.sawnet.org/ (January 17, 2008), biography of Baby Halder.