Aabir – Fresh beginnings

Fresh beginnings. 

As Binodini began her life in Vrindavan, she realized that life was not easy for the widows there. The city housed more than a lakh widows in its multiple ashrams, where living conditions were not ideal. Though the ashrams were run by various charitable trusts, the tenants had to pay rent, even if it was not much. Apart from that, they also had to provide for themselves. While the older widows begged for a living, the ones who were younger and physically-able, worked as maids in households; some were even sexually exploited. 

Binodini’s life at Gokul Ashram, like the other resident widows, was down to the bare basics. The ashram was a poorly constructed building. Toilets were few and shabby, causing many and frequent ailments among the women. Binodini emerged as the de facto warden, a kind of a monitor, of Gokul ashram. Her personality was pleasant yet strong. Even the older widows admired her demeanour; her contemporaries and the younger lot respected her. She was loved and adored by everyone at Gokul ashram. 

Binodini had a god-gifted voice for singing. Now, she could utilize this talent in the service of her God. Donning a tilak on her forehead, she would go around neighbouring localities, singing kirtans and bhajans of Krishna. This way, she earned her bread with dignity, happily accepting whatever people donated in cash or in kind. Her singing was appreciated by everyone who heard her. Binodini was always called to sing bhajans whenever there was a religious function in the city. At those occasions, Binodini managed to earn some more money, apart from her daily income. 

Often in the afternoon or in the evening, she would narrate stories to other women in the ashram. These were the same stories that her Dadi had narrated to her when she was a girl. As she narrated the tales of Radha-Krishna and Shiv-Parvati, Binodini’s listeners would get transported into a mythical world of ages past. In fact, during those recitations, Binodini herself would relive those carefree days of her childhood, when her grandmother had told her all those stories. 

Photography: Jassi Oberai

Location: Vrindavan, Mathura, India

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