They say who you meet in life is destined. It was my good karma and fortune that I was able to meet and listen to Sindhutai up-close, more than once. Padma Shri Dr. Sindhutai Sapkal passed away on the 4th January 2022.
Sindhutai, popularly referred to as ‘Mother of Orphans’ and fondly called ‘Mai’, ran an orphanage, the Sanmati Bal Niketan Sanstha in Pune where she adopted more than 1,000 orphan children. A Marathi film ‘Mee Sindhutai Sapkal’ released in 2010, is a biopic inspired by her life. The film was selected for world premiere at the 54th London Film Festival.
I was totally mesmerised as this old lady in a traditional Maharashtrian saree, started to weave Urdu and Hindi couplets into the story of her amazing life when she came to address us at our offices. I was happy and sad as she spoke unapologetically about the enormity of hardships she faced, like badges of victory. Like the phoenix she rose from poverty, harassment, torture, abandonment, to being a universal mother to many, including her ailing husband, when she offered to look after him in the last years of his life.
In one of her talks she said and I translate, ‘Darkness will come every day. Light the lamp inside you, generate your own light. Generate so much light that people will come looking for you and will want to be a part of you. That’s exactly what I have done. Don’t go near the light, generate your own light instead and the world will come looking for you.’ Unquote.
Mother to not only the many orphans she raised at her centre, but to all those who met her. Her life was a living example that one does not have to birth someone to nurture them. She raised a grand family of 382 sons-in-law, 49 daughters-in-law, and over a thousand grandchildren, they say. Being the wise and far sighted being that she was, she continued to raise and ask for donations personally even after all the global fame, recognition and connections, as she understood that people donated to her and her story and she needed to provide for her children in case of an eventuality.
She quoted in a gathering, ‘Yeh bhi kuch kam nahin, tera dar chhootne ke baad, main apne paas aaya dil tut ne ke baad.’ She further said, ‘because I was broken, I have reached where I have. I was 20, had nothing, I would beg in the trains, live in the cemetery and would be scared in the night and would sob I have nothing and nobody. Somebody then had told me, “Sindhutai, kafan ko jaeb nahin hoti, aur maut kabhi rishwat nahin leti”, meaning the cloth embracing the dead body has no pockets and death takes no bribe. I then started to shout – I am cancelling dying, I am going to live. I learnt to live and became a mother to all who had nobody of their own.’ After all, nurturing others is what being human is all about.
Married at 12, educated till class 4, she held no degrees nor privileges of any kind. She reframed her circumstances to write a new story, script and chapter for herself. Her presence came from her authenticity, being comfortable in her own skin, living purposefully, giving for the sake of giving, being smart, staying in the game, clarity, long term vision, pure intentions, bringing her true and whole self each time, staying relevant and updated and so much more.
When I asked her what advice she would give to the women of today, she said, ‘be financially independent and learn to forgive’. Her advice is universal, gender neutral and for all age groups.
Sindhutai for me will always be an inspiration and an epitome of women empowerment, whose life must be cherished and celebrated!
About: Ms. Ruby Thapar,
Ruby Thapar is a reputated branding and sustainability strategist and executive & communication coach with over 30 years of experience as a builder of coalitions within organizations and with external stakeholders to drive change agendas. She is a certified coach and EQi2.0, DISC and ADD certified and is an uncertified yoga junkie. She also sits as an independent director on the board of an NGO.
He can be contacted at : email@example.com
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