A story of grit and determination

Her name means ‘the preserver’; if there is one thing she has preserved, it is her courage. Kamlesh’s life has been a roller coaster in the true sense of the word; but in no way has this diminished this firebrand’s spirit.

Born in a farmer’s family, she grew up amidst four sisters and two brothers. Though her sisters studied until class 5, she strived to study until class 10, like her brothers. However, marriage became an impediment thereafter. At 18, her destiny was signed off to a man, who never could really take care of her or their family. Her father-in-law did offer his support, but under the condition of forming an illicit relationship with Kamlesh. Her strong opposition made matters worse, as did the imbecility of her husband. Nine months into the marriage, she gave birth to a son at her maternal home. She was no longer living at her in-laws place.

“I was on my own now and had no option but to work. Not that I regret it. My professional journey has made me what I am today. Soon after the birth of my son, I took my first job, which paid me Rs 900 per month. This was around 25 years back. But, this was not the end of my misery. My father-in-law’s threats and my brother’s opposition compelled me to give up my job, and once again go back to my in-laws place. Sick of day-to-day trials and tribulations, I decided to work again. I found my calling in social work as it would give me a chance to forget my worries and help others in need. I had small stints of work, scattered here and there, as threats from my father-in-law resumed whenever he saw me settling in at work. In the meanwhile, the birth of my second child added to the challenges. With no existing support from my in-laws, I left for my parental home, not to come back again. I decided to give work another shot. Juggling motherhood and work taught me discipline and time management,” says Kamlesh, her voice hoarse with emotion.

While recollecting her journey, one thing that Kamlesh kept repeating was her belief in God. From prayer, she says, she derives her strength. Her parents, especially her father, have been a steadfast anchor for her – during both rough and calm seas. While balancing her professional and personal lives, her children were taught by their maternal grandfather, while the grandmother showered them with care and love in the time-to-time absence of the mother. “The life-defining moment in my professional life was joining Sehgal Foundation – an NGO which works in the areas of food security, water management and good rural governance. I was one of the first ones to join the foundation team. It has been 17 years now, and I still feel like a part of an extended family. The nuances of sustainable development were taught to me here; it is here that I found my path. I have received numerous awards for my work and contributions, but my biggest rewards have been the achievements of my children and the love, blessings and respect the community gives me. My son has completed his Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) and my daughter is studying to be a chartered accountant. I now hope they settle in their lives,” adds Kamlesh.

-Sarah Berry


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