After I published my post Women Empowerment - The Context of Us vs Them, for many days I was agitated. I wanted to do something to help her. I asked friends and acquaintances for suggestions. For a few days, everyday I would get a call from someone giving a suggestion that I would note down in my feasibility evaluation list. One such call came when I was sitting with a colleague and discussing a work problem at hand. However, solving "her" problem was also a priority, and so uncharacteristically I interrupted the discussion and took the call. Needless to say that my colleague heard the conversation.
As I hung up, my colleague turned to me and said, "how can we help?" And without thinking, without blinking, from I don't know where the words that came out were - "Can we brighten their Diwali? Can we give her and her daughter some clothes?" My colleague said most definitely and we continued our discussions. Later that evening, I sent a message to my team members, requesting for any clothes or utensils that they could spare for the mother daughter. Lo and behold, the Friday before Diwali, I had five bags full of clothes - bright, colourful and great quality daily and party wear! I was touched by the generosity of my team and of course delivered the surprise to the family promptly.
Why am I writing this today after all these days? Because I want to share what happened today.
Everyday after Diwali I would ask her why Shireen was not in her new clothes. Why was the child still wearing the old torn clothes? Everyday she would say, "Didi, tomorrow, promise." Today I asked her the same question yet again and she said, "On Friday is Tulsi Vivah (a Hindu festival). We will all go to the temple and now I am not busy selling flowers due to Diwali. So I can dress her up and I promise I will take a photograph and we will come to meet you. What is the use of her wearing such wonderful clothes when all she does is play in the dust! Let me enjoy her enjoying her new clothes on a festival."
Having an answer that I could not respond to, I asked her if she had worn any of the clothes that were for her. "Can I be honest with you didi", she asked. "Of course, my dear, always", I replied. "I sent them to the village with my parents. You see my elder and middle sister both ask if I have good clothes from Bombay to send to them and I never had any. This time I did. I get clothes here every once in a while and so am not in need. They may not be as colourful but I get my need satisfied. My sisters do not have this opportunity, so I sent the clothes for them. Please don't feel bad but I am telling you the truth."
Could have I felt bad after what I had just heard! She lives, eats and sleeps on the pavement along with her daughter. She has to worry about every next meal. She is fighting to keep her daughter with herself. And despite all these hardships, she has the magnanimity to look after her sisters! I was unable to say anything and so concluded our meeting with a hug and walked away.
As I am writing, I am staring out of the window and can see her and Shireen sleeping peacefully. Seeing them and thinking of our conversation earlier in the evening, my heart swells with emotions I cannot express. Recounting what she said I am humbled once again with her strength, positivity and generosity.
If I can help her, I will be fortunate. If not it's probably because I did not try hard enough. And on that note I say it yet again, she is making the tough choices but these are not choices out of freedom. Her life can be better and she is ready to work for it; but are we, as a society, ready to help her start somewhere? Will we give her the freedom to make a better choice? Will we empower her to give her daughter a better life? Or will she just remain a story that was written and read...