Friday, July 31, 2009

Ode to a Nobody - 1

It’s Ashadh – the month of incessant rain. The month of broken wings of butterflies on the bed of wet grass in the garden. The month of days-old sparrow and myna, scared and fallen off the nests, lying hopeless under the Jackfruit tree and two tiny hands, having picked up the bird, standing equally helpless, not knowing where to find it a safe home. And then an elder coming over, advising the tiny one to leave the bird on the ground, for it’s mother would come and take it home.

With that, hope returns.

Normally this is how Ashadh is. Rainy. Wet, Grey. A little hopeless and a little hopeful.

On such a rainy morning of Ashadh, I met Buwai.

In our village of 40 families in the north east India there were several nobodies – people who had no homes of their own and lived with relatives, with no steady income, and no names. They went by just any name and nobody ever questioned the logic or validity of those names.

Buwai was one of them. Few knew about her or even noticed her - the thin, dark woman, standing in a corner of the wet court yard, in a wet, cotton sari worn thin.

My mother did.
It had been raining since the previous night and our muddy court yard had already patches of green, slippery moss. There, in that mossy green yard stood the woman, not begging, but looking for work.And my mother saw her.

It was the worst time for a daily wage worker. There was no paddy to wean, no pulses to dry, no weeds to pull out, no yard to sweep, no outdoor work, because of the pouring rain. Families survived on potatoes and in an all-woman house like ours, even eggs were rare to get as the market was far away and nobody knew how to find a rickshaw in that rain.

And now here was the woman, asking for work. Because she was hungry. And because she had a hungry child. No, she didn’t bring that child to get instant sympathy, but left him at home so she could do the work fast.

It takes one to know one, goes a popular saying. Perhaps it’s this old logic that worked when my mother, bent with her own burden of ceaseless duties and difficulties, found Buwai some work – clean the cooking vessels. It was a task that needed courage to assign, for Buwai, as a poor, abandoned, nameless Muslim woman, was also among the village’s list of untouchables and outcasts. But courage was what helped my mother survive and so from that day on, Buwai often washed our few vessels and when the rain stopped, did other odd jobs.

Some of those jobs required her skills, some didn’t, but went to her anyway, because it was the way 2 women bonded. One of them saw her husband everyday, with another wife, while the other, my mom, felt like a wife once a year, when my dad came to India. While Buwai was poor because she had no money, my mom struggled to buy enough ration for her kids, because there were too many protocols for her to follow, to get the money on hand. And they both had children – growing and hungry, children that they never abandoned, despite being needy. They both were too busy to deal with each single day to worry about tomorrow. But they both were too proud to beg and too strong to give up.

Years passed by. Things changed in the lives of both women with their children growing up, earning and starting their own families. The sun that most of the time was hard to find, was shining upon them now.

But, this month I asked someone in our village if he remembered Buwai  – she who was the most silent, yet most dignified nobody of our village, who would never accept a donation and gave a fat chicken in return even when my mother bought her a pair of cotton saris – her first ever gift in life. She who was a poor laborer but was against child labor and sent her son to the village school. And then he replied, ‘oh yes, the woman who drowned in the river?’

That was a brief revelation. Buwai, whose hut was around the bend of our little furious hill river, saw a woman slipping into the water with a bucket of clothes on her head. Buwai, old, thin and frail, jumped in to help out the woman who was young, but pregnant. Both were pulled back to the shore after some time. One of them was alive, the other dead.

It was another rainy day of Ashad. A little hope was lost. A little hope was saved. It's the hope dignity, humanity, and love exist in our world, and in our women. Women like Buwai. Women who are nobodies.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Thank you, Prateek

There was a time, when I thought writing was what made me happiest. Because writing was what made me travel, ticketless and helped me live with the highest degree of intensity.

I would write the word ‘writing’ in my semi-dark, one-window room of the hostel and felt there was light around me. In to the darkness I would feel a day had started to dawn. I would write and then slowly started travelling out of my room, into the terrace, then would be on my way to the hills of North east, the little village that those hills guard – the village where I could still smell of the lemon flower,
still see a rainbow after every downpour,
still see the toothless smile of the old Santhal man who came everyday to catch black eel in the soft mud of our drying pond,
still felt the shivering of a dragon fly in my hand…

Then it all stopped. I stopped writing. I took on to existing. I smiled at those I knew, talked, to those I always been talking to, worked, shopped, read and travelled, for specific reason.
And I existed. For months.

Then I got your message. You asked me why was I not writing any more? And I wondered, ‘why indeed?’

And so here I am. Coming back to write. To travel. To breathe out all that I had been holding all this while. I am coming back to live. And I thank you for that. Welcome back to my world, once more, my friend!