Friday, September 11, 2009

Lessons from the unlettered

Call her Chand bi. It would not matter what her name is, because her story also does not seem to matter. There is no one clamouring to hear what she says or follow what she does. Even her life seems just 'by the way'. At least that is what her family seems to think. Her husband , a drunk son of a drunk mother, has always vented all his frustrations on her through physical, mental and emotional abuse. Her mother-in-law could be straight from an Ekta Kapoor serial. How do I know this? She is my domestic help and though she rarely complains, it is hard to miss the signs of abuse over the last four years. I have tried to intervene, but she would always prevent me by saying that her husband was a good man. She insists that it was the drink that made him do it.

A couple of years ago the husband got work in Dubai and with the promise of plenty, left her fending for herself, her three boys and the mother-in-law. On reaching there, he learnt that the money was a lot less than promised and would procure a lot less than he imagined. This meant that Chand has had to rely on her own wages. Her work as a domestic help gets her about Rs. 3000/- a month. Not really a lot in the expensive city of Pune. To the Roti, Kapda you can add the constant illnesses that haunt the family. Again, not a very out of the ordinary story.

Recently her grandmother passed away, leaving her a small room in Mumbai. Happy for her, I even gently teased her about becoming a land lady. Just the other day, she took off without information, (which is really irritating- one of my standard requests to my help is that they should please inform me when they disappear). A couple of days later when she turned up, all set to take her to task, I just asked her why she had not come. "Mein Mumbai gayi thi, didi. I had to go to Mumbai as my uncles are creating problems with the room my grandmother left me." Curious, I asked her what had happened. Turned out that the uncles felt it was their right to own the little room and had been harassing her sister who in turn, cried on Chand's shoulder. " I hope you told them that it is yours now" I said. "Nahin, didi, I have a home", she said referring to the little shanty her family lived in here in Pune. "I do not need another home. I was planning to make it over to my uncles anyway, but was waiting for my husband. Anyway, I did it now. I am sorry for my uninformed Chutti."

Yes, I did fell very petty at that point. Here was a woman who had a very rough life from losing her parents as a child to a violent marriage, and the only thing that comes to her as a windfall, the easy way, she gave away... just like that. There are those who would argue that women are so used to giving in and suffering, that this is just another example. What struck me was the serenity and grace that she gave. Never having been schooled, she was just learning the alphabet on my insistence. Her wisdom though was beyond the grasp of many. There was no doubt in her mind that it was the only thing to do.

There is no doubt in my mind that she is one of the true givers. A couple of days ago, she wanted to buy some fruits on her way back from work as her children wanted to have some to break the 'roza' fast. I offered her some to save her the hassle on a tiring day. She gracefully declined. That the underprivileged are on the take and out to get whatever they can, is a common refrain. Something like this stops and makes you think.

Her life may never make the headlines and it may not matter to any one, but when the headlines are hogged by the rich and famous unwilling to give an inch to their own (self 'RELIANCE' means something entirely different to them), it may be time to look beyond the headlines!


  1. Lives of the Chand bai and the likes go always unnoticed and people like us who really want to do something about it also fall short of resources or sometimes the force to carry on. It's pan India's problem and it's too thick to be broken just by few thoughts and feelings. We need to get practical about it and then form an opinion. May this is just one side of the story.

    The 'giving' attitude is commendable. The room that she gave away counts under the giving, okay. But again think about would she had maintained the room in other city ? It would surely had put her into more hassled life. Also at least she is earning her own money with pride and being dependent on anyone today. There are people out there specially females who are so much dependent on others to even get one time meal. What about them ? Who are responsible for them and what are we,as citizens of this country, doing for them ?

    There is a lot to think if we really sit to !

    And forget about the rich and famous ! They are born for making these headlines only! They are doing their job !

  2. Nu, thanks for the thought provoking comment.
    Yes, the likes of Chand bi do slip through the cracks, often because people who want to help do not know how.But getting more people to think about it is a first step. Every action starts with thought.

    About her being hassled with maintenance of the room, she could have just sold it and made some money. Also, people get enamoured by the possesions and never think about hassles. The rich and famous are pretty hassled too.. but that never stops them from wanting more. As for getting everyone to be self reliant and independent, it will take time, but I am optimistic. Yes, there is a lot to think about, and I believe we should.... so we are able to recognise the problem to start with. Then try and help in any way we can.. big or small. :)

  3. unfortunately this is too too common a plight!

    i guess all we can do is help one person at a time

  4. rahul gandhi and a lot of his elks have a lot to learn from this

  5. Phew! What a tough lady with such a good heart! :)


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