My name is Karuna, and I’ll tell you a little bit about my life. I was born into an extremely unstable family, and my mom and grandmother dedicated themselves to raising me. They sold bangles on the streets to make enough money to help us survive. My father left every so often, completely unannounced, so we could not depend on him. When I was seven years old and my dad was with us, he would show his painted scrolls and sing—I’d be at his side, holding his bag and helping him with his work. Two years later, he left again, and the women of my family were left to fend for ourselves.

At age thirteen, I married my husband, but no one painted or sang in my marital home. They tended to make clay dolls and birds and sell such things. It was rather boring. And what’s worse is that my husband was dirt poor and had no land to call his own. We lived with my brother-in-law, and his wife used to beat me. She and her husband told me that my husband and I should live separately. We didn’t tolerate their abuse, and we decided to move to Naya. Soon after, my mother-in-law came to Naya to beg us to return to their home, and we did. In the mean time, my sister-in-law continued to beat me, and I had a few children under those awful conditions. I’d work as a day laborer, make and sell clay dolls and do a lot of things, but with so many kids, we just couldn’t manage.

Then, I became really sick. I started bleeding profusely, and it seemed to everyone in the village that I had a tumor of some sort. Both my husband’s and my family could not figure out what to do, and there was a lot of conflict regarding which hospital I would go to, and how much the needed operation would cost us. My husband told me that we could not afford it. But my brothers rushed me to the hospital in Midnapur, and they admitted me immediately. From then on, there was a lot of quarreling between by brothers and mother-in-law about how to care for me. Finally, my husband stepped up and brought my children to me—he pulled the money and time together, and cared for me as I recovered. During the time that I was sick, one of my daughters died. Soon after, one of my sons died in a car wreck. The turn of events was really depressing, especially since my recovery and my grieving for my children happened at the same time.

When I returned to Naya from the hospital, I started learning the scroll songs and mythological painting from Dukhushyam, and my elder sister, Jamuna. My husband also began writing and creating scrolls that dealt with contemporary social issues. We’ve picked up a number of themes purely from observation. My two sons paint as well, as well as their wives. And we’re surviving without too much trouble on the income that we receive from singing and painting. Gradually, we’ve been able to buy some land. We have moved away from the dam, and we have a new home. We’re 30.000 rupees in debt, but we have a home! It’s wonderful, and despite all of the hardships that I have suffered in my life, I have grown to be content with my family and myself.