Vandaneeya Mausi ji was one of the great inspirational women of India. Even though she was born over a hundred years ago, she is still a role model for millions of people today. She was full of good qualities – bravery, determination, and kindness – and dedicated her entire life to serving the society.
Vandaneeya Mausi ji was born in 1905 in the state of Maharashtra in India. When she was born, she had a beautiful glow on her face like a lotus flower, so her parents decided to name her Kamal (which means “lotus”). Kamal’s mother’s name was Yashodabai and her father’s name was Bhaskarrao. As Kamal grew up, she had many friends and everyone loved her. Kamal liked going to the temple with her aunt, whom she called “Dai.” At the temple, she enjoyed singing bhajans and shlokas, and listening to stories about all the gods and goddesses. She grew up loving her culture.
Soon, it was time for Kamal to start school. But there was only one school near Kamal’s home, and that was a Christian Missionary School. All the teachers in this school made fun of the Hindu culture. Kamal did not like this at all, but she tried to ignore it for the sake of learning. Then one day, Kamal stood up to the teachers. When it was prayer time, the teacher said, “Class, close your eyes and pray.” Kamal was curious to see whether the teacher practiced what she preached. So after a few moments, Kamal opened her eyes and noticed that the teacher was not closing her eyes or praying. “Kamal!” yelled the teacher. “Why are your eyes opened? Close your eyes!”
Kamal was so brave that she replied, “But Madam, why aren’t you closing your eyes. If you’re asking us to close our eyes and pray, shouldn’t you be doing that yourself too?” The teacher became very angry and slapped Kamal across her cheek. When Kamal went home after school, she was very upset. Her mom noticed the imprint of the slap on her cheek and asked, “Kamal, why is your cheek so red?” Kamal told her mom the whole story and said, “I will not go back to that school again! They make fun of my Ram and Krishna and look down upon the Hindu culture.”
From then on, Kamal was taught at home by her mom and Dai. In addition to teaching her all the subjects like math, reading, language, and science, they taught Kamal about Hindu culture, good samskaars, and patriotism. Kamal grew up loving her country very much. At that time, India was ruled by Britain. The British rulers treated the Indian people very badly and unfairly. They treated Indian people almost like slaves in their own country. Kamal did not like this at all and wanted to do something about it.
Her mother, Yashodabai, also disliked the British rule. She used to gather all the ladies in the neighborhood and hold secret meetings with them. They would read Kesari, a patriotic magazine that was published by Lokamanya Tilak, a famous freedom fighter. They discussed about the problems of the British rule, and how to help their country. These discussions influenced Kamal and increased her feelings of patriotism.
Once, during one of the Kesari meetings, a British officer knocked on the door and interrupted the meeting. “Buying Kesari is illegal!” he said to Yashodabai. “Your husband is a government worker. You cannot use his money to buy Kesari.” Some of the other ladies were frightened when the officer said this. But Yashodabai was so brave that she replied, “No! I buy Kesari with my own money, and I am not a government worker!” The British officer could not argue with this statement, and so he left. Kamal greatly admired her mother’s bravery and boldness. She learned that you should always be strong in standing up for your beliefs.
Kamal loved playing outdoor games with her brothers, and she also enjoyed playing dolls with her friends. She was very good at sports and games. She was also very good at resolving arguments. When the kids were playing, if an argument or fight ever broke out, she would give an inspiring speech to patch things up and make everyone friends again. “Look here, let us forget our petty arguments. No one is better or worse. We are all important in our own way. We are all friends, so let us not waste our time arguing,” she would say. Everyone was mesmerized by Kamal’s speeches and they would immediately stop fighting. Kamal learned at a young age how to solve problems between people. This helped her later in life as well.
Kamal was also very kind to others. She enjoyed helping people in need. Whenever someone was sick, she and Dai went to their homes to help them out and take care of them, without looking at how rich or poor they were. Kamal also helped in a campaign to save cows from being slaughtered. She and Dai used to go door-to-door to people’s homes to ask them for their help in saving the cows. She learned that it is very important to spend time serving others, without asking for anything in return.
Soon it was time for Kamal to get married. During these days, there was a tradition called “dowry” in India. The bride’s family would have to give a gift to the groom’s family in order to get their daughter married. Kamal’s family did not have much money, so they were having a hard time arranging for the dowry. Kamal did not agree with this tradition, so she told her parents that she refused to get married to any man who asked for a dowry. At first her parents disagreed, but Kamal replied, “No, it is my final and firm decision. I will not get married to any person who values money more than an individual.” This was a brave and bold decision, especially in those days. But Kamal was determined to stand up against bad practices in society. She believed that we should not do bad things just because “everyone else is doing them too.”
Kamal was eventually married to a man named Purushottamrao Kelkar, who lived in Wardha. After getting married, she changed her name to Lakshmibai Kelkar. She lived a happy life and eventually had seven children. But her life with her new family was very different from the one she was used to back home. Purushottamrao was not very patriotic. In fact, he liked the British rule and spent a lot of his free time playing cards and billiards in the evenings.
Purushottamrao encouraged Lakshmibai also to attend the ladies club, where they used to play cards in the evening. Lakshmibai started attending and soon inspired all the ladies with her thoughts. She told them, “Look, we should not waste our time playing cards while our country is ruled by foreigners. Our countrymen are giving up their lives for freedom. We should support them.” The ladies agreed with Lakshmibai and soon started reading patriotic newspapers and discussing about national issues. In this way, Lakshmibai was able to inspire everyone she met.
During that time, the independence movement was going on to free India from Britain’s rule. Mahatma Gandhi was one of the leaders of the independence movement. Once, Gandhi ji was visiting Wardha and there was a huge public rally organized with all the freedom fighters. Lakshmibai also wanted to attend, so she went there with one of her daughters. After the rally, a volunteer came around to collect money from people for the independence movement. Lakshmibai was so inspired that, without thinking twice about it, she donated her very valuable gold necklace. She always cared more about the country than about her own personal happiness.
Unfortunately, Lakshmibai’s husband soon became very sick and eventually died of a disease called tuberculosis. And just a little while after, her eldest daughter, Shanta, was also diagnosed with tuberculosis and also died. This was a very sad time in Lakshmibai’s life, but she was able to overcome her sorrow and take care of the entire household. She took care of her seven children, managed the entire household, and still had time left over to spend on social work.
Lakshmibai noticed that women faced many hardships, and this bothered her a lot. During those days, many times, girls could not even attend school and they did not have equal opportunities as boys. Women were often not allowed to leave their homes. They also faced problems of safety and security. Lakshmibai wanted to do something about these problems. She helped start a school for girls in Wardha, which helped girls who before were unable to attend school and get an education. But she felt that this was not enough. She wanted to do something more.
The answer came to Lakshmibai from her own children. Two of Lakshmibai’s sons attended the Sangh shakha every day. In the shakha, people would come together, play games, sing patriotic songs, and learn about their country and culture. Lakshmibai liked the shakha very much. She noticed that her sons learned a lot of good things from shakha, such as patriotism, discipline, confidence, and knowledge about their culture. But, at that time, only boys attended shakha, not girls. So Lakshmibai decided that she wanted to start shakhas for girls. She thought that if girls and women could also attend shakha and gain these same qualities, they would be able to fix many of the social problems that they were facing.
Lakshmibai met with Doctor ji, the founder of Sangh, and after discussing the idea with him, they decided to start Rashtra Sevika Samiti, an organization that would run shakhas for women and girls. The first shakha was held in 1936 on the day of Vijay Dashmi. Many girls and women started attending shakha and became known as “sevikas.” During these days, women did not usually go out and take part in these kinds of social activities. So shakha was really something new and groundbreaking. Lakshmibai became like a mentor and role model for all the sevikas. They affectionately called her “Mausi ji,” which means “Aunt.”
Mausi ji traveled all over the country starting new shakhas and inspiring women to work for the society. At first, she was very shy and nervous when speaking in front of a lot of people. But soon she realized that if she really wanted to inspire people, she would have to overcome her nervousness. She practiced public speaking and did not give up. She soon became a very good public speaker and inspired thousands of people through her speeches.
Soon, there were shakhas all over the country. Mausi ji inspired the sevikas to work not only for their own families, but also for the entire society. Many sevikas participated in the freedom movement and did community service, such as starting nursery schools for children and helping those in need. Mausi ji taught all the sevikas that they should develop good qualities in themselves. She said they should be strong like good leaders, efficient like good administrators, and caring like good mothers.
We can learn many different things from Mausi ji. One is determination, which means to never give up. Mausi ji faced a lot of hardships and challenges in her life. Her husband passed away at a young age, and she had to raise seven kids on her own. But she still raised her family wonderfully and also found time to work for the society. Another thing we can learn is to always stand up for your beliefs. Mausi ji was very proud of her Hindu culture, and stood up to anyone who tried to insult it. Mausi ji also taught us that we should give time for helping our community. Today, we remember Mausi ji as a brave, determined, and strong woman, who dedicated her entire life to serving the society.