Sunday, 6 November 2016

Women Empowerment - The Selfless and the Less of Self

The brother sister duo's school had started. They had enrolments, teachers and a sufficient temporary premises. Construction of a permanent building was being planned. It all seemed to be under control, and yet there was one person who saw through the calm. She understood that the sister needed someone trustworthy to shoulder the day to day responsibilities; someone who was truly dedicated to the cause and someone who could contribute to furthering the vision that is the foundation of the school. And so Shabri, as I would like to call her, volunteered her services. This is her story.

She got married as soon as she was of marriageable age. That she wanted to work and not enter matrimony was not understood by her parents. Not the one to cause friction when there could be other potential options, she agreed to get married. But with the one who now was her better half, she had a candid conversation. Not that home and family were less important but her desire to teach was strong and she requested his understanding. Her passion and honesty were easily understood and so he truly became the man behind a woman's dreams. 

She completed her teacher training and started to teach. They had two children who were brought up in a disciplined and value oriented environment. Her career continued on its path and so did the family life. It was a simple and complete kin. The children grew up, got married and by this time she had become a principal. All of them were proud of her, but none of this is extraordinary. This is the story of a number of families in India.

The true test came in mid 2016 when she retired. According to the government norms, once an employee crosses 60 they have to make way for the younger generation. This is when the brother sister duo's school had also commenced it's first year and seeing her friend's needs, Shabri decided to offer her services as a teacher in the school along with doing all that she could in the women's home. She asked for nothing in return!

The sister was stumped! Not because Shabri had offered her services but because offering those services meant that she would need to leave her family many many miles away and relocate to live in a village that offers the most basic life. There was no proper accommodation that the sister had to offer, after all she herself had decided to live in a make shift arrangement! And well a salary would not be what Shabri deserved! It was a wonder why had Shabri taken the decision and it was to be seen how her family would react.

When the day of reckoning came, the doctor husband turned to Shabri and asked her if this is what she truly wanted. The son asked her if they would see her at least during the summer holidays. Her answer to the first was affirmative and the second was a maybe,  if her responsibilities permitted. She also asked if she could use her pension to support herself as she would not want to be a burden on the brother sister duo. Seeing her passion and determination, the husband relented yet again and not only agreed to her request on her pension but also said that his help in cash and kind would always be readily available. He helped her pack, loaded the vehicle that was going to take her far away and with tears in his eyes bid her adieu. The son and the daughter in law joined him in a tearful goodbye. But not once did they stop her; and so she is here at the school, devoting all her time and life to those who need her.

Calling her Shabri seems only fit. In Ramayana we read about the Shabri who decided that it was more appropriate if she ate any rotten fruit than any such fruit finding its way to Lord Ram's plate. So she tasted each fruit herself, discarding the spoilt or tasteless fruit and only giving the juicy ones to the Lord. Similarly, the Shabri of today has decided that it is only apt that she undertakes the challenges rather than her friend's noble mission suffering for the lack of a trustworthy person. She is putting in 15 hours of hard work in the school and the women's home every single day only so that goodness and greatness can reach the needy. Such selflessness - demonstrated by Shabri and the doctor, one cannot deny his contribution- is completely rare in today's times...

As I finish making my tea and start to wash the pot, I hear Shabri scolding me;  another aunt worried that my cold will worsen if I wet my hands. Another elder telling me that I am not used to the winters of North India that have begun to set in and so I need to be careful. I tried, but I could not stop myself and I asked her why were there two standards of living - the easy one for me and the tough one for her. Her response was simple, " when you become a mother you will understand".

Will I ever understand these strong women; ladies who have lived tough lives on their own terms, pouring love and values into the lives of all those they have encountered? How can I even attempt to understand the sacrifices they have made, and yet have smiles that light up any room they walk into? Is it even right for me to think that I am capable of understanding them?

While I am contemplating all these ifs, the truth stares at me once again. I am face to face with a life that demonstrates that her happiness is thanks to the respect, trust and freedom of choice that she got. That she undertook struggles, because she had these all around her,  empowering her. She provided for her family, strengthened in the knowledge that give and take are for everyone alike on this planet and not for once feeling victimised or oppressed when she was the giver. She has embarked on a new life, at this age, only because she knows that her beliefs have the understanding of the most important people in her life and that she is truly loved and empowered. What a wonderful world it would be, if we could all live her way. What a wonderful world it would be, if we could all understand the doctor's ways. What a wonderful world it would be if we could all have a little bit of love, respect and honest communication is all our lives; but that would mean that we also give as much as we want to take. I leave the school and this story in this humble acknowledgement.

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