“Dukh aata hai to jaata bhi hai” – (“tough times come…. but they also pass eventually”), said octogenarian, Santosh Goyal. As I listened to the story of her life, in her calm reassuring voice, I was thankful to her and other strong women of her generation, who laid the foundation stones for future generations of independent thinking women. A prolific writer and a born fighter, she never gave in to of any of challenges life threw her way.
Born 1939, in Delhi, she was the second of five siblings and grew up in an open and progressive environment. Her father, a businessman was also a voracious reader and much interested in Hindi literature. His love for books planted the seed of her future writing within her. They would spend hours reading and discussing books. Her mother, a very bright and quick minded person, also had a deep influence on her. The little girl not only loved literature, she also loved mathematics and found that solving mathematical equations opened her mind!
A shining star, she topped Punjab University in Grade 10 at age twelve and won a gold medal in her Masters program. She got married at age 22 to a professor of physics and went on to complete her own PhD in Hindi by age 26. Ambitious since childhood, she went on to a teaching career and started teaching in Delhi University. It was not easy with small kids but her husband was fully supportive and she managed despite the difficulties.
Life was going well, when suddenly one fateful day in 1986, her husband suffered a cardiac arrest and passed away within seconds. Her marriage of 25 years came to and end and she found herself lost and gasping for air. “It felt like I was caught in a tsunami…tossed about in wave after wave of grief…I wondered many times whether there is any point in continuing to live.” But then she looked at her children and knew that she had to live on for them. Her daughter and son were both doing their higher studies and were at a critical juncture of their lives and Santosh needed all her strength to continue to give them the stability they needed.
Family rallied around her and her parents offered her to move with them. But fiercely independent as she was, she did not want to be dependent on anyone and wanted to stand on her own two feet. If she couldn’t even do that, how would she teach her children to be self dependent? And today she knows she took the right decision when she looks at her children, who have grown up to be self thinking, independent individuals.
…handling depression…finding a motive….
But despite the brave front she put on, it was not easy to handle the deep depression she found herself in. She couldn’t sleep at nights, suffered from high BP and was on anti depressants. Her elder brother was the biggest pillar of support in those days. He not only helped her with all the paperwork required after her husband’s death, he even slept at her house for nearly two months, till she learnt to fall asleep on her own.
She vividly remembers those early days. How she went about life in a stupor, doing whatever was required of her mechanically, as if under intoxication. Her job was a big help, her anchor. Almost five years went by in this state when she decided that things need to change. She planned to take up a challenge and hoped that it would give her a purpose and help pull her out of her depression.
Being a professor of Hindi in Delhi University, she had always felt that there were barely any encyclopedias in the language and very less attention had been paid to Hindi novels. She came up with the idea of making an encyclopedia of these novels, chronicling all novels written and published over the last century.
And then joined by her two friends, she started this marathon task, that took a good ten years to finish. She and her friends read hundreds of novels, visited libraries from Agra to Banaras to Calcutta, searched information on novels that they couldn’t find and finally compiled information on 7-8,000 novels written during the years 1870 – 1980. Finally, this colossal piece of work was published in three parts, which is as yet an unparalleled contribution to Hindi literature.
Along with the feeling of accomplishment, this task also released her from the clutches of despair.
…from the ashes arose the phoenix…..
Since then there has been no looking back. This immersive task unleashed the creativity within her and she discovered her passion to write. In the past 30 years, Santosh Goyal has written more than 40 books and numerous stories and poems. Her stories stem from her own pain, suffering, loneliness and helplessness. She has won many awards for her writing and her latest book was released as recently as November 2020.
….advocate of women’s rights and equality…
Her writing reflects her indomitable spirit as well as her belief in women’s freedom and independence. As we spoke, she posed a simple question, “mahilayein kab tak apni identity ke liye fight karengi?” “Till when will women need to fight for their identity?” and to her, having an identity means that women are able to take their own decisions and act on them. No one else should be able to dominate them, their thinking or their decisions. She observed that in many households, it is common to ask women their opinion, but ultimately the decision is made by those who ask. Till the time, women do not have the means to make their decisions, they will continue to remain dependent and shackled.
A common theme in her books is women’s freedom and their rights and duties. Many of her stories focus on the hierarchical levels in our patriarchal society and it’s inherent psychology.
…Never say die…
At an age when people start thinking about retirement, she continued to hone her skills and also create meaning for others. She introduced a course on functional Hindi that would help people work in the language. She wrote a number of books on PR in Hindi, which were mainly available in English. Then she went on to write a book about computers in Hindi so that people who mainly spoke in this language could also study this upcoming topic. To do this, she first did a course on computers from IIT during summer holidays. She also followed it up with NLP – a teacher’s training course in 2002-03.
Her life has not been easy, but she says simply, “everyone has challenges in life, some more, some less – but what matters is how you deal with those challenges.” And I would think, she had more than her fair share of challenges. After unexpectedly losing her husband, she went through a prolonged depression, but not only did she manage to pull herself out of it, she launched her life into another orbit. She has had multiple health problems – from a bypass surgery to knee replacement to retinal detachment. As recently as the first week of January, she was critically ill and hospitalised.
But February saw her engrossed in painting her latest canvas….
As I close my interview with her, all inspired, I wish her many years of health and happiness and that she continues to paint this world into a better place. Amen.
I hope you were as inspired by Professor Santosh Goyal’s story as I was. Please read, comment and share. And if you have been inspired by a woman, let me know, so I can write about them too!
If you would like to read about other inspiring women I have written about, please see below:
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Regards, Sakshi aka tripleamommy
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