Title: Fighting For Tara
Author: Sunanda J. Chatterjee
I was in a classroom, a student of journalism. One of the other students, another female, was lamenting about the problems of being born in a family which was not very welcoming to the idea of an independent, earning daughter.
Go back a couple of classes. Mr. Ramesh Menon, our teacher had narrated an experience of his. In a village in Rajasthan, he had been courteously welcomed into a home. Tired and thirsty, he had asked for water. He was offered some milk instead.
He reiterated that he wanted just water. He was told that there was no water and was offered milk again.
Later he was told by the local person he was traveling with that he had embarrassed the host family by asking for water. Water is scarce and precious.
The women of the family walked miles for the water.
Back to the class that I started with. Mr. Menon's answer was simple - Think of those women of Rajasthan. Every single day, a large part of their day is spent to get water. What little is left is spent in cooking and taking care of the family.
Be thankful for, or at least accept, what you have, and do your best from that point on.
Mind you, this was years back. So I just remember the gist of this conversation. Not the details and certainly not how Mr. Menon expressed himself.
I thought of this and more as I started reading Fighting for Tara. It is a book that tugs your heartstrings.
My daughter is eleven. At times she would ask me a question that I think she is too young to know the answer to.
What I tell her instead is that, though I can give her an answer, there are certain thoughts I do not want in her head. There are certain things she is too young to ponder or worry over. Let it go for a couple of years.
If she insists, I do give her an answer. Usually, she lets it go.
Hansa, the protagonist of Fighting for Tara is thirteen. She is worried about a dead husband, the man who will be her second husband, the second husband's first wife, and most of all about her daughter.
She is just thirteen, I want to shout.
As I mentioned before the subject and the writing of this book moved me from the very beginning.
The one ray of light is the fact that Hansa is literate. The Rani Sahiba of the village has taught her and Hansa's thoughts reflect her knowledge.
"Somewhere deep in her heart, Hansa knew none of this was fair. It wasn't fair that in a country with a rich heritage of brave queens, where the people had elected a female Prime Minster not long ago, young girls were still forced into marriage, sometimes to men older than their grandfathers. It wasn't fair that a girl child was considered a burden on parents. It wasn't fair that she'd been born to poor parents in rural Rajasthan, a state rife with archaic traditions. It wasn't fair that she had matured early..."
Hansa is in a grave situation, and her life till then has not given her any motivation to be strong or independent.
But now she has been asked to kill her daughter, Tara - an infant that the soon-to-be husband refuses to accept.
Fighting for Tara is an amazing story of Hansa's strength.
'The combined wisdom of ancestors' - this phrase has been used in this book to describe our customs. Our ancestors clearly didn't know it all.
As Hansa chooses to defy this wisdom, her thoughts are made me smile...
"Now was the time to walk on a path she made for herself and her baby, to forge her own destiny. Her ancestors would be shocked!"
A couple in America trying to conceive, the harsh truth of the financial troubles of royalty in modern India, the life of immigrants in America, and Tara's struggles to give a good life to her daughter - Fighting for Tara is a multi-faceted story and the author makes you connect to each facet as it is introduced.
Whether you like a character or not, you understand them.
I could analyze that certain twists of this story seem to be almost impossible in reality. As you read it, you feel like 'that's too good to be true'.
Well, I could analyze it, because I thought so a couple of times while reading this book.
But I won't. Because I loved this book and I will accept it with these twists.
Also, they do say that 'reality is stranger than fiction'. This book showcases some very grim realities. I would like to believe in the reality of the smiles too.
Fighting for Tara is a story that despite its' sad subject leaves you with hope...
"...what if happiness was a choice? Events weren't inherently happy or sad. It was her reaction to them that determined her state of mind. She could choose to be happy with her circumstances, whatever they may be."
Fighting for Tara is a story that deserves to be read... because it makes you think of the social problems prevalent in our country, yes... but mainly because it is a beautiful, very well-written, emotional story of love and hope.
"...love is a language that knows no boundaries, no borders. It's universal. It's just the nuances of that language that are sometimes hard to understand."
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The italicized text in quotation marks are quotes from the book.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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How far will a mother go to save her child?
“I have no use for a baby girl. Get rid of her tonight!” He towered over her as she cringed in fear.
But Hansa, a thirteen-year-old child-bride in rural India, refuses to remain a victim of the oppressive society where a female child is an unwanted burden. Instead of drowning her baby, Hansa escapes from her village with three-month-old Tara.
Hansa soon discovers that life as a teenage mother is fraught with danger. But a single lie opens the door to a promising opportunity far from home.
Just seven years later, Hansa finds herself fighting for Tara’s life once more, this time in an American court, with a woman she calls ‘Mother.’
Will the lie upon which Hansa built her life, defeat its own purpose? How can she succeed when no one believes the truth?
A story of two mothers, two daughters and a fight to save a child, Fighting for Tara explores the depth of love and motherhood.
Read an excerpt of #FFT here:
The soft light of the lantern flickered, casting a dim golden glow in the tiny hut, as shadows danced on its windowless mud walls. Thirteen-year-old Hansa squatted on the floor beside a metal bucket and stared at the glimmering water, dreading the task before her. Her baby whimpered on the floor, struggling in the hand-sewn cloth blanket. Beside the door stood the terracotta urn that held the ashes of her husband.
Hansa heard the grating snores of her drunken brother-in-law Baldev, soon to be her husband, as he slept outside on the wood-framed coir cot in the moonless night. She shuddered.
Just an hour ago, Baldev had yelled at her. “I have no use for a baby girl. Get rid of her tonight!” He towered over her as she cringed in fear.
She’d begged him. “I can’t do it!”
That’s when he’d slapped her. No one had ever hit her before… not even her elderly husband.
Hansa touched her cheek, which still stung from the humiliation and fear.
She doubted her courage to extinguish the baby’s life. Squeezing her eyes shut, she took a deep breath, hoping that dawn would bring her luck.
Tomorrow morning Hansa would travel with Baldev and all the goats they could load into his bullock-cart, and leave the village forever. She would go to a distant land, become Baldev’s second wife, learn the household chores from his first wife, and bear him male heirs… Hansa shivered, apprehensive about her future.
But before her new life could begin, she and Baldev would take a detour to the river to disperse her husband’s ashes and discard her beautiful daughter’s body.
Somewhere deep in her heart, Hansa knew none of this was fair. It wasn’t fair that in a country with a rich heritage of brave queens, young girls were still forced into marriage, sometimes to men older than their grandfathers. It wasn’t fair that she’d been born to poor parents in rural Rajasthan, a state rife with archaic traditions. It wasn’t fair that she had matured early and was given to sixty-year old Gyanchand Rathore from the neighboring village of Dharni, whose first wife and child had died in a fire.
She turned her face away from the bucket, her heart refusing to carry out Baldev’s orders just yet. A shiver ran through her body as she tried not to imagine life without her baby. Think of something else! Think about Gyani!
Gyani’s absence filled Hansa with a dark desolation, a sense of doom, as if his death itself was a living, breathing, overbearing entity.
She thought of his kind eyes, his missing teeth and graying beard, the massive orange turban which she’d tied for him every morning, and the long kurta he wore, which never looked clean no matter how many times she washed it…
But Gyani was gone. Two nights ago, his heart had stopped beating in his sleep, while she slept under the same blanket, her baby right beside her. When she awoke at dawn to the rooster’s call, she had found his cold still body. She shuddered to think she had slept with a corpse, oblivious, in the comfort of her own youthful warmth. Her first encounter with death. And if she did as Baldev asked, there would be another. Tonight.
Gyani’s death had stunned her, and grief hadn’t sunk in. She had not wept for his departed soul, and her neighbor warned her that if she didn’t mourn his passing, she would never move on. But did Hansa really want to move on into a future that included Baldev but excluded her baby?
According to the custom of karewa, Hansa knew that a young widow would be married off to her brother-in-law, so that the money remained in the family. Her neighbor had told her it was her kismet, her fate.
Hansa was brought up not to challenge the norms of society, but to follow them. If the combined wisdom of her ancestors had determined that she should move to Baldev’s village and begin a new life, who was she to argue? She had no family left, no other place to go.
Baldev choked on his spit and coughed outside, jarring the stillness of the night, reminding her of the task ahead.
But while it was her duty to follow Baldev’s orders, she would trade the impending task for eternal damnation.
Her neighbor had said that killing a baby was an unforgivable sin, even though she’d herself drowned two of her daughters the day they were born. Women are the form of Goddess, she’d said, crying at the fate of her own rotten soul.
But it was a matter of survival. Produce a male heir or be turned out on the streets to beg. A female child was a burden. Even Hansa knew that; her father had reminded her of that every day of her life.
That prejudice was her reality.
Hansa was terrified for her own soul, but Baldev said, “A mother can’t be a sinner if she takes a life she brought into this world.” And then he had gone and got drunk on tharra.
Gyani had been unlike most men in the village. He had allowed her to keep the baby, to give her a name. The baby’s eyes glittered like stars on a moonless night.
She called her Tara. Star.
Hansa looked at her baby with pride and with remorse, as every fiber of her being protested, and her stomach turned and her throat tightened.
Outside, Baldev stirred.
Time was running out.
Tara whimpered again, and Hansa turned to look at her chubby fists cycling in the still air, throwing outsized shadows on the walls. Hansa’s hands shook and her mouth turned dry. She bit her lip, forcing herself to focus on the imminent task.
The water in the bucket shimmered black and gold, reflecting the dancing flame of the lantern, mesmerizing, inviting. Water, the giver of life…
She made up her mind. It was now or never.
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About the author
Freelance author, blogger, and ex-Indian Air Force physician Sunanda Joshi Chatterjee completed her graduate studies in Los Angeles, where she is a practicing pathologist. While medicine is her profession, writing is her passion. When she’s not at the microscope making diagnoses, she loves to write fiction. Her life experiences have taught her that no matter how different people are, their desires, fears, and challenges remain the same.
Her themes include romantic sagas, family dramas, immigrant experience, women’s issues, medicine, and spirituality. She loves extraordinary love stories and heartwarming tales of duty and passion. Her short stories have appeared in short-story.net and induswomanwriting.com.
She grew up in Bhilai, India, and lives in Arcadia, California with her husband and two wonderful children. In her free time, she paints, reads, sings, goes on long walks, and binge-watches TV crime dramas.
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