The death of her husband on 26/11 had brought Moumina Khatoon's life crashing down. Today, she is fighting against tremendous odds and barely managing to hold it together, finds Ganesh A Nadar
When Moumina Khatoon saw the news item on television -- about a taxi that had exploded near the Mumbai airport -- on November 26, 2008, she immediately realised that it was the one driven by her husband Mohammad Umar.
Umar was at the wheels of the cab that had picked up the Pakistani terrorists from near their landing site in Colaba and dropped them off at their desired locations. He was naware of the murderous rampage they were going to carry out.
Umar was also unaware of the fact that the merciless terrorists had placed a bomb inside his cab. Soon, Umar picked up another passenger.
As the cab neared the Mumbai airport at Vile Parle, the bomb exploded, ending the lives of both men inside.
Her husband's death brought Moumina's life crashing down. Illiterate, with three small children, she had come to Mumbai only eight months before the tragedy.
Her husband had insisted that she leave their village -- Dafarpura in Siddharth Nagar district, Uttar Pradesh and join him in the metropolis.
"Our children will receive a good education in Mumbai," he had argued.
Moumina was pregnant when her husband was killed. Today she lives in a slum in Govandi with four sons and no income.
After her husband's death, she received compensation of Rs 5 lakh from the government and Rs 2 lakh from the Taj Hotel group. She had sensibly put the money away in the bank initially.
Her father-in-law had wanted to use the money to marry off his daughters. Her brothers wanted to start a business with that money.
Moumina refused to give in to their wishes.
None of them keep in touch with her now. Only her father, who now works in Mumbai, visits her once a month.
A year after she became a widow, Moumina was asked by her landlord to vacate her house.
Instead of renting another tenement, Moumina used her savings to buy a house in the slum colony of Govandi, in northeastern Mumbai, for Rs 6.5 lakh. She stays on the ground floor of the tenement and has rented out the first floor for Rs 1,200 a month.
Moumina may be broke but she still manages to smile. She doesn't know what to do. She can't take up a job as she can't read or write. Moumina's sister-in-law lives with her to help her out.
"I can manage with Rs 5,000 a month, can you help me? If you don't help me, who will," urged Moumina, on the verge of tears.
She was married when she was just a girl, widowed in barely four years and has four children to look after.
Outlining her plans, Moumina says, "My husband said our children should get the best education in Mumbai. I will ensure that they get admission in an English medium school. I will not go back to my village till that is done. I will send my eldest son Arbaaz to work after he completes his tenth standard".
"I have paid the broker Rs 4,000 for a ration card. I will pay him Rs 3,500 more when he delivers the card," she informs.
When I point out that she is paying Rs 7,500 for a ration card that is supposed to be given free, she implores me, "Please don't do anything to my broker till he gives me the card".
The reality of grim poverty and the desire for a better future for her children may eventually force Moumina to sell her house.
Image: A file photo of Moumina Khatoon with her children | Photograph: Ganesh A Nadar