After Losing Her Own Daughter, Sarojini Agarwal Became Maa Sarojini To Many Orphaned Girls
- IWB Post
- May 19, 2017
“It was 7:30 in the evening. I was on a scooty with my beautiful 7-year-old daughter, Manisha. We were heading home, and we were tired. Suddenly I saw in the rear view mirror a car attempting to overtake us. It just swooped in front of my scooty which made me lose my balance. In a moment Manisha and I were on the road. There was blood coming out of my beautiful girl’s head. Oh, so much blood. I couldn’t do anything, but people helped us to reach the hospital where Manisha was said to have the brain hemorrhage. That was the end of her life.”
Her voice became colorless as she spoke about losing her only daughter to a freak accident like that, losing her youngest child to the inevitable circle of life. The mere thought can be mortifying. But Maa Sarojini, as she’s widely known as, has lived through this, when your whole world comes crashing down on you.
“My two sons had an exam in a week after she was declared dead. I was in the hospital due to injuries. I begged the doctor to let me go. I didn’t cry after I went home. I didn’t cry in front of my sons. I wanted them to derive strength from me.”
Sarojini ji is a strong believer in God. She believes everything happens for a reason. Remarkably so, this incident only strengthened her belief. She tells me how she prayed after Manisha passed away.
“God, you’ve taken Manisha from me. I can’t do anything about that anymore. I know you won’t bring her back. But I take a pledge before you. I will raise any girl who doesn’t have a mother like I would’ve raised Manisha. Never will they ever feel they don’t have a mother.”
Today Maa Sarojini is a mother to 800 abandoned girls.
“You must call me “Mummy”!” she ordered me over the phone. In one of the most touching conversations I’ve ever had, she tells me how she turned the most horrifying night of her life into the most cheerful morning in the lives of over 800 little girls.
“I am a positive thinker. So I like to see the good in this incident too. Yes, God took away my only daughter, but if that means many other girls can have a mother, how’s that bad? God took Manisha for a good reason.” I cannot fathom the inner strength and courage it takes to say that. Sudden grief like this can make people turn to depression and self-harm. But to Sarojini ji, it provides an immense strength that I feel few of us have.
Sarojini ji is today the founder of Manisha Mandir; the institution in Lucknow that is more like a family than an orphanage. As if that weren’t enough, she’s also a poetess, an author, and an avid traveler. Her autobiography, “Baat Swayam Bolegi,” should certainly be on your wishlist. Over the phone call, she recited for me two poems. Beautiful poems about motherhood that I wish I could recite for you. But there was a charm in her voice that I simply wouldn’t be able to replicate.
“Even today when my girls meet me, they tell me, “Mummy it’s your influence that is driving us to do good every day. We want to help poor girls, just like you do,” she tells me. Manisha Mandir takes in girls of all ages. In fact, if you were to drive-by Gomti Nagar in Lucknow, you’d see something extraordinary outside Manisha Mandir.
“We hang a crib right outside our house. It’s called the Sanjeevan Palna. The parents of unwanted children can leave their children, and we’ll legally take them in. You read many instances of parents leaving their daughters in thorny bushes or by the street. We’re aiming to stop this.”
Manisha Mandir also runs an adoption agency so these little girls can find new and loving homes. She tells me how when a girl gets adopted, it feels like losing a part of the family. They always look after their girls, even when they get adopted. “Once a family adopted a 14-year-old girl from us and then I got complaints that they were treating her like a domestic help. They wouldn’t send her to school and made her do household work. After we had found out, we got her back. Then we sent her to school and eventually married, too. After that, I decided we weren’t going to let older kids be adopted.”
But what about the girls who aren’t adopted? They stay with Manisha Mandir until they are adults, and then they go out for education. “We give these girls education and vocational skills, so they never have to depend on anyone. Then at the age of 18, we ask them what they want to do. Do they want to get married, pursue a job or continue their education? We let spread their wings from that point.”
To aid the girls who have parents but cannot afford higher education, Sarojini ji also runs a scholarship fund called, “Manisha Uchya Siksha Scholarship.” They started off by providing the scholarship to 16 girls, but today, they provide it to nearly 70 girls. As a matter of fact, Sarojini ji also gave me the number where underprivileged girls can contact if they require money for higher education. (That’ll be at the bottom of this article.)
Soon turning 81 years old, it seems to me Sarojini ji will not cease to work until all girls are well educated. But this success didn’t come without her fair share of struggles. “Initially people were reluctant to help us. They thought no one would be this altruistic if they didn’t have an ulterior motive. They thought maybe I was trying to make money off this. Gradually over 3 to 4 years, they began trusting us.” In Gomti Nagar today, people have so much faith in her, that whenever they donate, it is sent to Manisha Mandir.
“I personally feel Indians have the sentiment to help Girl Children. They get upset when they read stories of female infanticide and feticide. But they just don’t know if the money they’re donating is even going for the right cause!”
As the interview comes to an end, she tells me she has a message for prospective and current parents of Girl Children. “A Beti is very nice to have. Please don’t discriminate between her and your son. She should have the same freedoms a son has. Your daughter will emulate you; make sure you teach her well.”
It felt like I was talking to my own Nani. What touched me more is how she kept calling me, “Beta” throughout the conversation. I almost welled up. Truly there is no one better than Sarojini ji to be a mother of hundreds of girls.
“Sometimes I wish I still had Manisha. Sometimes I just picture how she would’ve looked like. How she would come running to me if she ever found out I was in pain. But that’s okay, God took away one daughter, and gave me 800.”
If you would like to donate to this wonderful organization, click here.
To apply for the Manisha Uchya Siksha Scholarship, call +91-94511 23170