Quote -‘Oh God, teach us how to laugh; but let us not forget that we had
also cried once upon a time.' – Unquote
These words are etched on the wall behind Sindhu tai's chair at the Sanmati Bal Niketan, Hadapsar, Pune.
Beginning with her first ashram at Chikhaldara in Amravati district, Sindhu Tai went on to set up five homes.
A home for destitute women, The Nadarmai Mahila Adhar Kendra, functions out of the same building that houses orphans at Chikhaldara. Her homes survive on donations and grants, and she unabashedly begs in village after village to put whatever they can into a cloth she spreads out on a table after her speech.
At the Krantijyot Savitribai Phule Hostel for girls at Chikhaldara,42 of the 50 inmates receive a grant of Rs 335 a month . "We bear the other girls' expenses," says Sindhu Tai’s son Arun Sapkal, who heads the institution and is a co-opted BJP municipal councillor. With money from Arun's curio business and money sent by Sindhu Tai, the inmates get by.
For Mai's children, the sorrow of being abandoned or orphaned gradually fades from memory as they follow the home's regimen. The children are divided into batches which alternately study, work and play.
At the Mamata Bal Sadan, at Kumbharvalan, home to 70 children, if one group is in the classroom, another will be tending the tomatoes, vegetables and chillies in the gardens.
At the Gangadharbaba Chhatralaya at Guha, which houses 45 children, the kids even grow wheat.
Deepak Gaikwad, the first child she took under her wing in the 1980s, in his thirties now, has taken over the charge of Mamata Bal Sadan from his Mai. Mai set up the ashram on a piece of land which Deepak inherited from his uncle. “ Donating the land, Deepak told me that, had I not taken care of him, he would have been nowhere," says Sindhu tai. It was the second home she built.
The boys and girls are segregated after the 8th standard. While the boys go to Gangadharbaba ashram, the girls are sent to the girls' hostel at Chikhaldara. There are exceptions though. Vishwas Chaphale, 14, stayed on at the Kumbharvalan ashram to help look after the Small children, who run to him to get their cuts and bruises bandaged. For a boy who wants to become a doctor, he is starting young.
Quite a few people opt to live and work for Mai. Babasaheb Dushing, 35, left his job as a hotel watchman in 1997. After his wife's death he had sent his children to Sindhu tai. "But
then I realized I could not stay away from them," he says. "So I asked Sindhutai if I could come here." Since then, he has been working at the Kumbharvalan ashram.
Gangadharbaba Chhatralaya at Guha is a bungalow on 10 acres, all donated by former Bombay High Court judge B.G. Kolse Patil in 1997. Though he wasn't an orphan, Patil had grown up in a home for the destitute. "It is totally selfless work," he says. "She is a living example of what a woman can do."
Some of the destitute women who land up at Mahila Aadhar Kendra are sent as gruhamata (mother of the house) to the children's homes. Kavita Gavand and Lalita Magar are gruhamatas at the Chhatralaya at Guha. While Lalita is a widow, Kavita walked out on her alcoholic and abusive husband. Their children do not stay with them, but at the ashrams in Kumbharvalan and Hadapsar. "It was a deliberate decision to keep the children away," says Deepak Gaikwad. "Most of our children are either orphans or abandoned.
What will they feel if some children began staying with their mothers?" Vacation time, however, reunites the kids with their mothers.
Although the children are not given in adoption, there have been cases where couples come forward to sponsor them. For instance, Udaysinh Mohite Patil and his wife, waymprabhadevi, have undertaken the responsibility of educating Pawan, who lives with them in Akluj, Solapur district. "My wife had organised one of Sindhutai's functions in our village some five years ago," says Patil. After Sindhu tai's talk, Swaymprabha devi decided that they would contribute by sponsoring a child's education. "He studies here and goes to Sindhutai during vacation," says Patil. The couple have decided to sponsor another child as
soon as Pawan completes his studies.
Like Deepak, most of her kids once they grow up support Mai in her work.
Uttam Yevale, 27, who grew up in Mai's ashram at Chikhaldara, is a college teacher in Ahmednagar. "She is like my mother. In fact, she is my mother," he says. On the days he is free from work, Uttam potters around Gangadharbaba Chhatralaya at Guha.
Prakash Sapkal, 24, who grew up in the Chikhaldara ashram, heads the Chhatralaya. The history graduate took up the work after failing to get a government job. "Maybe I will not get money, but all my needs are taken care of," he says. "Besides I am proud of contributing to Mai's work."
Influence to her thinking & how:
"Great strength comes from faith in God."
~ Zechariah 12:5 ~
This has been true with Sindhu tai too.
On the streets of Chikhaldara, she has been singing bhajans of great saints like Sant Gadgebaba, Tukaram, Namdeo, Tukdoji Maharaj and Varkari saint Bahina bai. She has so much love of poetry that she very easily and fluently quotes Bahina bai, Jana bai and Suresh Bhatt and offers amazing anecdotes. All this learning comes from scraps of newspaper used for wrapping grocery that she read and secretly treasured.
To this day her speeches are fiery, thoughtful and inspiring. One of her very catchy slogans is “Bhashan naahi tar rashan naahi” which means ‘Without speech no food for my kids”. No wonder, the response is immediate. Her sari pallu rapidly fills up with coins and currency notes! But Sindhu tai humbly says “My hunger taught me to speak and the pain within me taught me to sing.”
So inspiring has her life been that the Karnataka government included a chapter from her autobiography - Mee Vanvasi, released in 1988, in its Marathi textbook for 10th standard students.
Today Sindhu tai proudly states that she has 36 daughters-in-law and 177 sons-in-law. Most of her children are well placed in life. Sham Randive is a lecturer in history at Mhasvad in Satara district. Seema Kokare is an Ayurvedic doctor and settled in Aurangabad. The list goes on. But at 61, Sindhu tai says she still has plenty more to accomplish. "Let me tell you I am not Devaki who gave birth to Lord Krishna, I am just trying to be a perfect Yashoda."
This mother's ability to work is just amazing. She can work tirelessly for 8-10 days at a stretch. There have been times when she has travelled throughout the fortnight, came home for a while and then set out again. She is ever willing to respond to a plea for help from an orphan or a destitute. She refuses to take any rest saying she cannot afford to till every institution she started becomes self-sufficient.
The Marathi film Mee Sindhutai (2010 ) is a bio-pic inspired by the true story of Sindhutai Sapkal. The film was selected for world premiere at the 54th London Film Festival.
Few of her awards:
* 2010 - Ahilyabai Holkar Award, given by the Government of Maharashtra to social workers in the
field of woman and child welfare 
* 2008 - Woman of the Year Award, given by daily Marathi newspaper Loksatta
* Sahyadri Hirkani Award (Marathi: सह्याद्रीची हिरकणी पुरस्कार)
* Rajai Award (Marathi: राजाई पुरस्कार)
* Shivlila Mahila Gourav Award (Marathi: शिवलीला महिला गौरव पुरस्कार)
Donations can be made to Sanmati Bal Niketan, Behind Vaibhav Cinema, Hadapsar, Pune India. For
more info: visit www.mysaptasindhu.org