The life of Baby Halder, the author of A Life Less Ordinary (Zubaan-Penguin), has been summarized in the international press: she was born into poverty in West Bengal, abandoned by her mother at age seven and married at age twelve, walked away from an abusive husband with her three children and went to Delhi, where she entered a harsh life as a poor single mother and domestic worker.
The story of her life, her acquisition of literacy and her discovery of narrative writing are movingly told in her compelling memoir, which became a best-seller in India and has been translated into twenty-three languages (the English translation is by Urvashi Butalia). Baby Halder’s narrative skill is astonishing; she tells her story conventionally and skilfully in the first person, and employs the third person to render states of altered reality, such as giving birth to her first child at age thirteen, or lingering in the precincts of memory: “Baby remembers her childhood, she savours every moment of it, licks it just as a cow would her newborn calf, tasting every part.”
A Life Less Ordinary is a hard life, and much of it is painful to read; but the book itself is evidence of an extraordinary flourishing that may be within reach of those who seek to understand themselves in the world. The last paragraph of the book contains a blessing (in the third person), and is itself a blessing on those who read it. This is a book that wants to be owned, and given away to friends.