Every morning, former minister and present Chairperson of the National Commission for Women, Girija Vyas, pours herself two cups of tea: one in the name of her mother and the other for herself. Even seven years since her mother’s death, ‘Babli’ finds it difficult to sip tea on her own. So she breaks into a soliloquy, pouring her heart out to her ‘omnipresent’ mother.
Vyas had wept over her mother’s body when she died. But earlier, in Kilchipur village, Rajasthan, she was there when another loved one passed away. Badi-bi, whose family had abandoned her because she refused to migrate to Pakistan after Partition, lived by herself. She only drank water from the well and Vyas often walked with her to fetch it. One night, Badi-bi ran out of water. Her throat was parched. Seeing her state, Vyas walked to the well and fetched water which Badi-bi drank to its last drop. Elated, Vyas felt that she had “conquered the world”. She did not know when Badi-bi died. It was only when Vyas’s mother came calling that a chill ran through her spine — she had slept all night next to a lifeless body.
Vyas’s mother Yamuna was a social worker in her own right. Even in the conservative 1940s, she had taken up the cause of child-widows. Her father, Srikrishna, was disowned by the family because he joined the freedom movement. Hobnobbing with the British like most other successful businessmen of those days, her grandfather banned his ‘wayward’ son from entering the village. Vyas’s formative years were, consequently, a cross between politics (courtesy her father) and social work (because of her mother).
In her mother’s imagination, young Girija was a “little nightingale” who would grow up and heal wounds — study medicine and be a doctor. But Vyas had other plans. She wanted to be a dancer. She was formally trained in Kathak for 15 years as well as in classical music. Both, however, had to be abandoned because of the dearth of good teachers willing to conduct classes at home. Reluctantly, she settled down into academics, qualifying for the administrative services which she did not join. “I valued my freedom and wanted to be on my own,” she explains.
It was independence, more than anything else, that may be the reason for Vyas to have remained single. She packed her bags and flew out of the country when she sensed that marriage could be a reality. Abroad, she researched the Gita and the Bible. One thing she is firm about not sharing is her “loneliness” — her private space.
She has been writing poetry since she was three and she writes in three languages, Hindi, Urdu and English. “I am not a big banyan tree/ I am a less green bush/ The more you cut/ The more I grow.” These lines were written after she was stripped of her portfolio as a minister.