Volatile

“I really like you, Pooja. You are different. I love the way you think. I love your passion for the causes you believe in. Above all, you are such a genuine person”, he said to her.

She looked up at him.

“It is mutual, Vivek. I cherish your companionship”, she replied.

“A woman like you doesn’t deserve to be single, Pooja! You deserve to be loved and cared for. There is so much beauty in you. You are intelligent and thoughtful, and wise from life. And yet, you are sensitive, so full of warmth, innocence and compassion. That makes you very attractive. I think you are being very unfair on yourself, denying yourself the joy of a relationship. Do you realize what you are missing?”

She stood still, her eyes fixed on the tiny speck in the distance that appeared to be a boat sailing in the river.

Without shifting her gaze, she asked, “What am I missing, Vivek?”

“So much! You deserve to be held, hugged, kissed. When was the last time somebody hugged you? Don’t you miss these little things?”

She looked up at him and smiled.

“Sometimes. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. But I have learned to live with not having these little things in my life.”

“But why? Why should you not have these little things in your life? You need to loosen up, Pooja.”

She sighed.

“No, Vivek. I don’t wish to go back to that life. I am strong now. Relationships make me weak and vulnerable. When I lose people, it is so hard for me to come out of the dependence. It is such a hard journey back to strength and independence. I can’t afford to put myself through that again. I have a lot of responsibilities and commitments. I do not have the luxury of time anymore- the time I take to heal and recover. Life will not wait for me. No, I have to be responsible.”

He shook his head.

” You have had bitter experiences in the past, Pooja. That is why you are scared to get into a relationship. Not everybody is the same. You should not hold on to the past; let it go. Free yourself from its clutches!”

“But shouldn’t you learn from your past?”

“Of course! But the learning should not snatch away your happiness.”

“What is happiness, Vivek? Is it holding hands, hugging and kissing?”

“I know what you mean. You may be happy doing the things you do, Pooja. But a relationships brings with it a different kind of happiness. And you deserve to experience that. I want to see you happy and free in the companionship of a man. In fact, I want to be that man for you. I promise you I will never hurt you or abandon you. I want you to feel secure so that you can experience the joy of a relationship. Give me a chance and I will never let you down!”

She continued to stare at the boat in the distance. It had become more visible now.

“You want to get into a relationship with me?”, she asked.

“Yes. And please don’t get me wrong. It was you I kept seeking all along in life. I ran into many women who I thought mirrored what I was seeking. But, from a closer perspective, they failed me. All along, I have been looking for you. But when I found you, it was to realize that I couldn’t own you. You were there, and yet not there. Sort of volatile. Please Pooja, I need you. I want you in my life.”

Her expression did not change.

” Why would you need me, Vivek?”

” I need you because I want to bring in happiness into your life. I want to see you smile. And I want to keep that smile for myself. I want to go to sleep with that smile in my head.”

Unruffled, she asked, “Give me a good reason as to why you need me in your life, Vivek.”

“Like I said, you deserve to be happy. And I want to be the one to make you happy.”

In the distance, she could hear the purring of the boat.

“What are you thinking?”, he asked.

She turned to him and said, ” Vivek, I was thinking of how we are speaking from such different platforms. You are a married man. You speak from within the security of a family. A family that can cater to your emotional needs on a day-to-day basis. There is very little for which you have to depend on me. You are like a man standing firmly on the bank of a river, without the risk of falling. For you, this relationship is an added dimension that you can give to your life- the joy of the intellectual companionship of a woman.”

The boat was now approaching the bank. She pointed to it and said,” I am like that boat, at the mercy of the river. I can be easily shaken. I do not have the security of a family to bank on. I have only myself. And so, if I were to get into a relationship, I would solely bank on it for my emotional fulfillment. Any turbulence in our relationship would put me at risk of falling into the river.”

She started to walk. He followed.

She continued:

“You don’t really know me. How would you? You have not seen me in my moments of vulnerability or dependence. I was always vulnerable, with a very fragile self-esteem. In my teens, I did not have a father to help me overcome the feelings of worthlessness I would often feel. And so, I was always looking for the comfort of a relationship. It was my fragile self-esteem that propelled me to seek relationships. I liked that feeling of being wanted, being cherished and valued. But then, I would so easily get used to the relationship- to the presence of a person in my life, to his gestures, his mannerisms, his responses and reactions. I would get dependent on the little things that you mention- the heart-to-heart conversations, the tenderness, the holding hands, the hugs, the kisses. I would see the very meaning of my life in the relationship; I was dangerously dependent on the security it provided me. So imagine my predicament when the relationship ended. It was like being withdrawn from life support.”

She paused and sat herself on the stone bench. He sat down by her side. She spoke, almost to herself, as if lost in a distant reverie.

“It was so hard to come back to life each time- come back to being comfortable with one’s own company. It was this realization- the awareness of my fragility and dependence, that made me refrain from stepping into relationships.”

She looked at him.

“Over the years, I realized that nothing was permanent. A relationship could never assure permanence. I myself was not permanent. I therefore started filling up my solitude with meaningful endeavors that would leave behind something for the world, long after I was gone. And this made me strong for I learned to become comfortable with my solitude.”

She took a deep breath and continued:

“I have to take very good care of my mind, Vivek. I cannot afford to get used to the joy of a relationship. It would be detrimental for both of us. Of course, I will miss the little things in a relationship. But when did life promise you that you can have everything you want? These are but little pleasures- transient, fleeting moments of happiness. I seek the kind of happiness that sets me free. To me, happiness is the freedom within my mind. I want to feel free; I do not wish to be tied down by a relationship. I do not wish to be accountable to an individual. I do not want my happiness to be dependent on an individual. I want to be free- to do all the things I am passionate about. I do not want the burden of guilt- of being into a relationship with a married man. I want to be free of all such feelings that bind me.”

She looked at him with a trace of affection in her eyes.

“What I have truly missed is the joy of companionship. The kind of unspoken companionship that thrives on a silent understanding of the other’s vulnerability, fragility, struggle and pain. I cherish such companionship. Let us not bring down our relationship to anything lesser than that!”

They sat silently for some time. He stood up. She stood up too. He held her hand and they walked in silence.

 

 

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The distance to our dreams

It had been raining incessantly. As we walked the distance to the dental clinic, the rain descended in huge torrents, and we had to struggle, maneuvering our way through the slush and the puddles of water, clinging to our umbrellas.

We stepped into the clinic with relief. While my mother went through a series of outpatient procedures, I stole a few minutes to collect a document from the college office. The rain had stopped briefly. As I walked across the yard, my phone rang. It was Fousiya. I answered the call. “Turn around!“, she said. I turned around to see her chubby, cheery face at the window- the face of a little child. She waved to me. I waved back, signalling that I would get back in a while.

As I walked, I felt guilty. I hadn’t called her in a long while. I hadn’t even bothered to tell her I would be coming today. Only a couple of months had passed since her husband’s death. The last we had spoken, she had told me that she had resumed work because it made her feel better.

By the time I got back, my mother’s consultation was through. I made her sit in the waiting area and I went up to meet Fousiya, contemplating on what she might have thought of my long silence. How was I to make her understand my predicament and my reasons for not being able to keep in touch with her? Would she believe the fact that I often thought of her, but never found a minute to connect? As I walked with these thoughts playing in my mind, I saw her approach with a broad smile.

For a moment, I was taken aback. I could imagine her current situation. But that had not erased the smile from her face or the glow in her eyes. This is how she was when I met her first, about seven years ago. And that had not changed, despite the fact that her life had changed by a huge measure. She was as thrilled as ever to see me, and she never once asked me why I hadn’t bothered to keep in touch. Instead, she asked me about my life and empathized with the current phase of my life. She seemed to understand it all; I needn’t have elaborated on it. Her responses were proof of how she could relate to my journey. That was the moment I felt truly ashamed of myself. Here she was, traversing a particularly difficult phase of life and yet, she had kept that aside to know how my life had been. She was still so fond of me, but I wasn’t sure I deserved it anymore.

I steered the conversation to her life. I was moved by the manner in which she always spoke of her life. She would talk about the difficult moments. And then find her own reasons to justify the unfairness of life.

She was the sort of woman that life was persistently trying to break, but had never succeeded at. She would talk about her dreams in serious tones, and then laugh at their apparent foolishness. She would talk with great maturity, and then switch to childish humour. That she had seen the worst of life, and could yet preserve the child within, was her greatest victory against life. I was in awe of her.

 

I want to study. I want to either complete my BA English or get into General Nursing. I want to stand on my own feet and give my son a good education. That is the only goal I have in my life now“, she suddenly said to me.

And then, in a more mellow tone, she added, ” My son is so young. He knows nothing of the tragedy that has befallen him. His world is so simple. He is always smiling, unaware of what it means to not have a father. Unaware of the complexities of life. Unaware of the bitter facts he must face as he grows up. When I see his smile, I can’t help wishing I could always keep that smile on his face. I do not want him to feel the absence of a father.

Does your brother come home?“, I asked

Yes, he does. But he has his own family to look after. He had to take up the burden of our family so early in life. He deserves a life now. He has his own dreams, and he is entitled to them. I cannot beg him for anything more.

What about the money? How are you going to pay for your course?‘ I asked her.

That is the tough part. If it is distance education, I could continue working here, and though this salary wouldn’t be enough to take care of all the expenses, I can at least think of taking a loan. But if I have to quit this job, I have no source of income. And yet, this job cannot give me a future. I have to take up a registered course of value- one that will ensure a job.

I nodded. I suddenly remembered Hashim ikka. He had mentioned a Trust. Could they finance her education?

Here was a human being- a single woman, so young, so intelligent and capable. Her only dream was education for a better job. Just so that she could secure her child’s life. At any cost, I wanted to help her out. If I had a stable job, I would have given her the money myself.

She walked with me to see my mother. We then said goodbye and parted.

I had spoken to Hashim ikka and he had put me through to his friend, who had in turn, given me a contact number. This had taken some time. I sent her the contact number. She had instantly followed up. That evening, I called her to check on the response.

I spoke to him. He took all my details and said he would see if I am eligible for the sponsorship“, she said to me.

I will call him in a couple of days and check on the status“, I said to her.

I wish this world would come to an end“, she suddenly said.

And laughed aloud.

I know her well by now. I could see the connection between the intensity of her laughter and the amount of pain she hid behind it. Laughter had become her natural reaction to pain. I suppose when you have cried and cried, you are tired of crying, and you decide to laugh instead.

Fousiya, so many people in this world complain about things they have to do- study, write exams, carry out work assigned to them, and so on. They probably don’t realize how fortunate they are. Here you are, with a simple goal- you want to study. Just so as to get a better job and be able to provide for your child. But to study, there are all these hurdles that you have to work your way through- from finances to your current job to the care of your child. Isn’t life so ironical?” I asked her.

A woman’s life is fragile. It is so subject to the mercy of others. Unless there is a strong man in her life- a father in her early life, and a husband later, her life is sealed. I had neither. So I have to accept this as my fate. You see, I can take up the registered ANM course in Kasargod, but I will have to travel every day. I don’t mind that, but I will be spending very little time at home. Somebody has to stand behind me and tell me- ‘Go ahead. I will take care of everything.’ If an unexpected situation crops up, especially one involving my son, and there is nobody to back me up for this course, I will have to quit. I cannot imagine enrolling for a course, going through all the hardships, and quitting midway. All my courage drains off when I think of that.

I could have cried.

People are still asking me to marry. They ask me- ‘Why should you study more? This is not the age to study.’ I have a neighbour next door- a young girl, who is the mother of two children. Her first husband divorced her after her first child was born. They married her off again, and she had a child from the second marriage. And look at the play of destiny, her second husband left her too. Now she lives with her grandmother who does odd jobs to take care of them. The girl is mentally unwell now. People see this, and yet, they tell me to marry. Are they blind?

I sighed.

Children are always the victims of such marriages. Look at my sister’s children. Their father is very much alive, but he never bothers with them. As children, they have dreams. They like to go out, see places. They want somebody to take them out. Such simple dreams of theirs, remain unrealized. What hope do they have? If a husband and wife cannot get along, and if they do not have the potential to be heeding to the needs of children, they should not have children.

I was speechless. Perhaps some of the most educated people I knew did not have such insights.

“I have only one dream. To be independent. To be free from these petty people who cannot think beyond their small world. Some day, I shall be free from them. I shall live in a small house of my own- just me and my son, in a world of our own, where there shall be no intruders to kill the simple peace of our life. I want to be responsible for my son. I want to give him all that I never had. A parent’s love, companionship, education, and everything I never had in my life.

I couldn’t help thinking of the stark contrast between this woman and other women I knew, who regarded themselves as strong and independent, without understanding what it meant to be so.

 

 

 

 

The child within…

fousiya-1

 

Finally, you can write my story. It is complete now“, she said.

How do you feel?“, I asked her.

I am alright. I ask myself what life gave me in these four years of marriage. Honestly, if it was another girl in my place, she would have stepped out of the marriage. It is not easy living with a person who has an illness of this sort- the physical and psychological issues were a nightmare. In these four years, I have not known one day of peace. Is that why I married? First, the trauma of a rejection. I had never wanted to marry after that. But I married…for my family. I didn’t wish to burden them. But did marriage save me? I only moved from one hell to another.

She paused and then continued:

I have only been thinking of you these last few days. You took the right decision. Many people may coax you to get married, but please don’t. There is nothing in it. I wouldn’t have said this if you had people in your family to stand by you. But since you have nobody to fall back on, you certainly shouldn’t take a chance. People may think you ought to get married since you have nobody, but I would say that is the very reason why you shouldn’t get married.

I was speechless. Suffering alone had the ability to make people see things they had never seen until then. I had always sensed her potential, but suffering had made her spirit richer.

You mustn’t lose heart. You have a son. He should be your motivation now“, I said to her.

That is what I decided. I know that in a few months, people will start talking about marriage again. Don’t they have a heart? Many looked at me and remarked that I was too young to be a widow. I could read their minds. They think we are machines without a heart. Before I recovered from my first setback, I was already into a marriage. I had no time to feel, think or heal. I was already confronting fresh challenges. My husband was always ill. I was always taking him to hospitals. I was battling with the pressures of dealing with his needs, dealing with financial issues, dealing with the absurdities of his family, and dealing with the issues in my own family. In no time, I was a mother too. I never had time to prepare myself. I was never ready. But I was just pushed into everything that I wasn’t ready for. And now, when this happened, I hated the people who sympathized with me. What do they know of my life? What do they know of my suffering? I don’t need sympathy; I need understanding. If only they left me alone, I would at least think peacefully about my future. But no. They will think for me and I will have to endure.

She sighed.

They weren’t even letting me come out of my room or call anybody. I thought I would go mad. So I inquired at the mosque. They said it was not necessary to shut myself from the world. I want to get back to work. More so, to escape these people.

As an afterthought, she continued,”The only person I feel like talking to, is you. With you, I need not feign sorrow. You understand what I have been through. Sorrow or loss is not what I feel right now. I feel numb. I need to catch up with my feelings. If only the world had more people like you!

That night, I thought of her. She was still a child- a child who had been forced to grow up. I remember her laughter and her simple dreams. That was before I had left. After that, she had led a different life. She had faced a rejection and attempted suicide. She had got into a complicated marriage. She had become a mother. And now she was a widow.

What the world failed to see is the child in her- the child that continues to throb within her…the child that has survived the enormity of her suffering…

Cinderella’s private life

Youthful…zealous…passionate…inspiring…bubbly…full of life…compassionate…picture of happiness.

These are the adjectives my students have often used to describe me.

You have an aura that makes one instantly fall in love with you!‘, a student once said to me.

My students have seen me on the dais, teaching Physiology. They have seen me outside of the classroom, in the moments that I have interacted with them on a more personal or casual note.

The lady who drives a black Santro‘, they say.

And now the author of a book!‘, they add with pride.

A few days back, one of my students turned up at my house, unannounced. There was a look of shock and dismay on her face as I ushered her in, and I could see that she was in conflict. I was tired and exhausted from a day’s hard work, my clothes were soiled and sticky, my hair was disheveled and grimy, and I bore no resemblance to the person she had seen in college. I could very well have passed for a housemaid. Any day, my maid was more presentable than I was at this point in time. My mother appeared, and I could see my student’s confusion as she regarded this thin, frail and fragile woman.

My mother‘, I said to her.

She was silent for a while.

Do you both live alone? Is there nobody else?‘, my student asked.

I could see that she had expected a lively and cheerful house, brimming with people, with noise, and with optimism. A house where maids bustled about and where chauffeurs opened doors of limousines for people to be driven around. And here we were, a mother and daughter, living a life on the edge. A house that was filled with silence and loneliness. She was quite taken aback, and she left shortly, the conflict in her mind unsettled.

My mother gave me a knowing smile. We have often talked about this malady of our lives. The illusion that people have of my life. Cinderella’s private life! Behind all the adjectives that my students use to describe me, they are unable to fathom the circumstances that surround me- the private moments that characterize my life. Not just students, but a lot of people. Somehow, there appears to be no connection between my public moments and my personal moments.

Last evening, when I got back home, my mother did not answer the doorbell immediately. I panicked for a moment. Then the door opened, and I was relieved to see her. But her face looked pale. It was only when I stepped in that I noticed her limping. Only then did she tell me that she had slipped and fallen. As she narrated to me the details of the incident, I felt a little giddy. Immediately after the fall, my mother’s first thought had been me. What if she had broken her leg and had to be taken to hospital? What if it was a fracture and required admission to hospital? Weeks of hospitalization? My mother couldn’t imagine my predicament. With not a soul to turn to for help, how would I manage?  Her first instinct had been to try and see if she could manage to get up. She was relieved when she realized she hadn’t broken her leg, and she had cried with relief. I couldn’t help dwelling upon the helplessness that characterized such moments, but I didn’t want my mother to know how I felt. So I heated up some water and applied hot packs to the swelling. Then I went about the household chores while she gave me verbal instructions. When I had a few moments to myself, I cried all the tears I had bottled up until then.

The peripheral elements of society- beggars, destitutes, orphans, prostitutes, lunatics. There are others too. Single women, divorcees, children from broken marriages, victims of child abuse…even celebrities. Some are alienated from society because they have nobody. Others are alienated despite having everybody. Every day is a struggle to belong. Belong to that gross order that they call society. A struggle to prove to oneself that one is worthy. Worthy enough to be wanted. Worthy enough to belong. The whole world can admire you and yet not want you. It is therefore not surprising that many celebrities have resorted to suicide in the lonely moments that characterized their lives.

It is perhaps these helpless and vulnerable moments that have connected me to cinema. My mind attaches itself to the vulnerability and helplessness of these characters in cinema. I experience the companionship of these characters who walk my paths, and this companionship comes in as a welcome respite- a ray of hope in the dark solitude of my life. It is these moments that liberate me from my vulnerability and transform me into the Cinderella that the world loves.

 

 

 

 

 

The alchemy of womanhood

Woman…

When I was a child, ‘woman’ signified nothing more than a gender distinction.

When is it that a girl grows up to be a woman?

Biologically, adolescence marks this transformation. But emotionally, it takes much more than adolescence to grow into the spirit of a woman. For ‘woman’ represents a higher order of emotional potential. The roles conferred on her by society and by nature demand a greater degree of maturity and resilience. A woman has a long journey ahead of her, in the quest for equilibrium.

I look at my own self and realize that I have undergone a silent metamorphosis in recent years. As life unfolds, the realization of how intricate the relationship between woman and society is, dawns upon me.

Given the complexity of a woman’s life, she persistently finds herself at the interface of conflict. The battle between being true to herself, and yet sustaining the integrity of society. A woman’s emotional make-up is of a more complex nature, and for its healthy sustenance, it banks on the integrity of society. The more fragmented a society is, the more complex is the nature of the consequent conflict generated in a woman’s life. It is therefore not surprising that many women are pushed to rebellion. That is but human. But how many of us would have the ability to expand the horizons of our mind, live on our own terms, and yet not disrupt the integrity of society?

It is in this context that my mind gropes for a reference that defines ‘woman’ for me.

In the modern world, there is the dire deficiency of such role models. One cannot find such references in celebrities of the modern world nor can one find references in day-to-day life. There is nothing of value I see in the glamorous lives of most women today. Nor is there anything of value in the women who don masks of traditionalism, embracing age-old traditions that earn them medals of morality and character. Like Anita Nair wrote in her book, the blood-red vermilion on their foreheads is nothing short of an emblem of their traditionalism and marital status.
A traditionalism that permeates no deeper than the surface of their skin.

My mind wanders to the past. Images of women come to my mind. Women in the villages and cities of India. On television screens and in real life. Women who nurtured traditionalism in their spirits. Traditionalism far removed from conservatism. Traditionalism that spilled into the external facets of their personality. They were women carved by the richness of the emotional spectrum of their lives. They were women with melancholic eyes for their eyes spoke of sorrows and struggles. But beneath those melancholic eyes, something vital glistened. It was this feminine spirit that defined ‘woman’ for me.

Like lamps lit up at dusk, the vitality of their souls lit up the darkness in their lives.

As I encounter circumstances and situations that pose emotional challenges of a more complex nature in my own life, I ask myself what it is that I want. And it is with peace that I choose acceptance of my circumstances. I now know that true freedom is within the mind. I choose to expand the horizons of my mind and act on more mature terms.

As impulsive disquiet and rebellion slowly give way to freedom and happiness, I find myself slowly stepping into the shoes of a ‘woman’.

Be a little more feminine. Not only does the woman have to be liberated from men, the man has also to be liberated from men. There is a great need for a men’s liberation movement – not liberation from women, but liberation from all the nonsense that has been taught to him down the ages: Be hard! Be steel! Don’t bend! Break but don’t bend! Man has been taught to be hard like a rock – man has missed much. And now women are following in the same tracks. It is a dangerous situation. If the woman also follows the man, she will be a second-rate citizen, she will never be equal to man. And not only that: if she follows man and becomes hard, as lib women ARE becoming – their faces are becoming hard, their bodies are losing roundness, softness, vulnerability, they are becoming more and more angry and less and less loving – the danger is that that will be the end of the whole of humanity, if it happens. The only hope for humanity is in the quality of feminine – the only hope. The hope is not with Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini: the hope is with Buddha, Chaitanya, Meera – with a totally different kind of people. And we have to turn men and women BOTH into a kind of feminine lovingness.

Osho

In search of the Amaranth

Summer in Kerala is the season of the amaranth. The fields are full of them, the red amaranth in particular. The red amaranth is my favourite vegetable. When we were children, we didn’t have to buy it. We grew it in our backyards and my aunts had to only pluck them and cook them. I would insist on a meal of just rice and amaranth, refusing the curry because I believed it diluted the taste of the amaranth.

As fields, groves and backyards disappeared off the face of this land, we started buying all the vegetables from the market. Markets that sold amaranths that had been rendered tasteless by the pesticides and other chemicals sprayed on them to keep them fresh and perhaps, everlasting! Those years of home grown vegetables fresh from the garden, became a nostalgic memory, especially for my mother, who in her times, had even witnessed rice being cultivated at home. Our ancestors would perhaps be horrified by what we call development…

In their wildest imagination, they would not have conceived the idea of buying packaged water, pesticide treated vegetables or fruits, and processed, ready-to-eat food.

And so, it was with great excitement that I received this news of home-grown vegetables being sold in the neighbourhood.

Kerala has always demonstrated immense potential at creative and innovative solutions to an existing problem. The Kudumbashree organization that empowers women, particularly housewives,  by productively and meaningfully engaging them in the various sectors that can utilize their potential, is a brilliant illustration of such creative thinking.

Kudumbashree is a female-oriented, community-based, poverty reduction project of the Government of Kerala. 

The mission aims at the empowerment of women, through forming self-help groups and encouraging their entrepreneurial or other wide range of activities. The purpose of the mission is to ensure that the women should no longer remain as passive recipients of public assistance, but active leaders in women-involved development initiatives. Kudumbashree movement was launched on May 17, 1998. 

http:// https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kudumbashree

In 2014, the Agriculture department, in association with the Gram Panchayats and organizations such as the Kudumbashree, set up a project to address the problem of scarcity of vegetables and toxic vegetables unfit for consumption. Thus was born Kudumbashree’sOrganic farming project‘.

 Joint liability groups of women farmers are formed under the collective farming initiative to help women cultivators access agricultural credit from the banking system.
The Grama Panchayat supports by giving seeds and manure. Agriculture department officials also provide periodic technical support and advise. 
Through the Collective Farming programme the twin benefits of poverty eradication food security and financial returns through agriculture and increased agricultural production are sought to be accomplished.
The leadership of women and the effectiveness of collective action are shining examples in Perambra’s sustainable employment initiative. Breaking stereotypes, women also do the harvesting and other male dominated activities. Addressing women’s empowerment, poverty alleviation, assured employment, environment and food security has contributed to the success of Kaipram.

http:// http://www.kudumbashree.org/?q=cf2

It was thus that I dropped in at Shobha’s house, asking for some red amaranth.
I’ll just be back‘, she replied and went out of the backdoor.
I waited, and her two children kept me company.
Mom will be back shortly. She is plucking the amaranth‘, the boy said to me, as I paced across the verandah.
I couldn’t help thinking how sensitive he was. He was just four years of age.
Shobha got back shortly, with a bunch of fresh red amaranth.
Would you have any other vegetables now?‘, I asked her.
You can take a look‘, she said.
I followed her to the backyard. I let out an exclamation as I caught sight of her vegetable garden. It was a big square piece of land, and she had transformed it into a green paradise. I was speechless as I took in the snake gourds and bitter gourds hanging off the trellis erected from wooden poles and dried coconut palms. It reminded me of the vineyards from ‘Namukku parkkan munthiri thoppukal‘…

King Solomon’s green paradise.

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Snake gourds and bitter gourds hung from the trellis...

I walked into the cool shade of the trellis, the gourds hanging about me. That they were so within reach and I could just pluck them was still hard to believe! The climbers had formed a natural roof and I had to pinch myself to believe this was real. The children followed me for they were amused by my obvious excitement. Little did they know the value of what they had. By modern world standards, this was pure luxury that was beyond the reach of most children…

What money could just not buy.

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I walked past the climbers and the children showed me the amaranth, rosy and basking in the sun. There were also the little saplings planted in a row, throbbing with new life. The brinjal plants stood in the distance and tender green brinjals nodded gently in the wind.

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The red amaranth basked in the sun...
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The amaranth saplings had been planted in a trench
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Brinjals stood in proud display

Beyond that were pumpkins. All I could see was the leaves. We walked up to the plants and moved a few leaves aside. I let out a squeal as I saw two pretty pumpkins nestled inconspicuously beneath the leaves. ‘We will give you the pumpkins for Vishu‘, the girl said to me.
The children were adorable. They were eager to give. They found happiness in the happiness of the people around them.

Perhaps agriculture rears the most beautiful children. For it nurtures the human spirit. It is in the forests and fields that children learn the lessons of sensitivity, empathy, love, selflessness and simplicity. It is here that their eyes open to the true aesthetics of human life. It is here they learn their earliest lessons of happiness and contentment.

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The pumpkins that we unraveled

I shall come back with my camera. I must take pictures’, I said.
Shobha smiled. I waved to the children.

When I went back to take pictures, Shobha shared with me snippets of her life. The events surrounding her mother’s cancer- those impossible moments that chronic care encompasses.
I took pictures. As Shobha walked across this garden she had created on her own, she seemed to belong there. I could see that she derived meaning from this beautiful creation of hers.

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She derived deep meaning from her creation

I clicked pictures of the children.
Please click my mother’s pictures‘, the boy said to me.
I have‘, I replied, and showed him the pictures.
He smiled.
How did you learn to click?‘, he asked me.
I loved the innocence and admiration in that question. This is how children were in the past.

When I said goodbye to them, there was a deep contentment within me. I deeply admire such women who lead very ordinary lives, and yet carve their own stories of independence and resilience within the framework of the system that confines them.

They create happy families, happy children and a happy world.

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Of contentment and happiness!

She lived…

She was dusky in complexion. And in her eyes, there was the spirit of dusk. A resigned silence to the beauty of a receding day. A colorful world whose impermanence had made her find comfort in the darkness of the night that followed.

She was wary of the day- of its enchanting colors and sounds that had the potential to fade away without warning.

 

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Dusk that smeared on it the ashes that remained of the day’s fierceness

 

Her demeanour cleverly concealed her vulnerability. One would easily mistake her for a strong, self-reliant soul who cared little about what the world thought of her. At work, people branded her as rebellious just because she was a single woman with a head on her shoulders. She took her work seriously, and she was good at it. This was reason enough to offend her peers. They pretended to get along and even sympathize with her, but she knew just as well that it was all a farce. And so, she became more defensive. It becomes necessary to don a mask of defense when society secludes you. Society scans for a weak point in you in order to deliver a blow, and so, you have to conceal all your weaknesses and feign strength, even if it means rebellion.

But if you could see through the mask, you would see the bleeding, soft core of her persona- still in a state of shock and denial. An year had passed, but it still took a lot of effort to get by. The suicidal impulse had passed. But the future seemed to hold no promise- it was all dark and empty. The only companions were the memories. Somehow, it was easier to hold on to them and get by, rather than move on.

There was no moving on.

The only consolation were books. Somehow, they seemed to add value to the perceptions and to this sense of loss.

Many a time, she would ask herself- Is it really possible for a person to do this? Then what was the truth in their relationship that had seen nearly 8 years of blissful togetherness? What was the truth in love? How could one trust anybody at all? A man had taken from her all her love, only to discard it eventually, robbing her of her ability to love another soul.

But then, to whom does one complain about the unfairness of life? When did life ever promise you that it would be fair?

 

Nived was a name that had become a part of her. Theirs was a love that had its roots in the early years of adolescence, when love and life were governed purely by the intensity of emotions. Somehow, the love had matured beyond infatuation and evolved into a deep friendship. Perhaps it was because of common interests. Perhaps it was because at that age, their love was uncorrupted by the currents of life. But the truth was that they had become inseparable. It was impossible for her to think of her own self in isolation from Nived. He had always been around…almost like her shadow.

They had always walked together….dreamt together.

 

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Today, she walked alone, unsure of her steps, unsure of herself. She found it impossible to dream without him by her side. She looked at the birthday pictures he had posted- his wife by his side, the two of them smiling happily. It made her sadder for it contrasted with the picture of her own life. She remained frozen in the past, a million questions swarming in her head, unspoken. Too shocked to react. Too shocked to comprehend.

Too shocked to even cry.

It was a miracle she was even alive. But for what? For whom? The past had transformed into an illusion. The present into numbness. And the future an endless desert.

But she lived.

She lived in a beautiful house that was the outcome of the collective effort of both their minds. They had both been drawn to the aesthetics of the locality- a quiet lane with  fields in the neighbourhood, a temple and an old pond with stone steps leading to it. They had spent countless moments discussing the design of the house- agreeing, disagreeing and arguing. In the end, it was a beauty. The living room had a high ceiling, and stepping into it seemed to set the mind free. The patio looked on to the fields. A hot cup of tea, mild rays of the evening sun cutting across the fields, the slender grass dancing to the gentle breeze….one couldn’t ask for more. They had shopped for all the furniture and home decors together.

The house was rejuvenating. But it was designed for a happy couple. Every part of the house reminded her of him. But she lived.

She lived, paying the mortgage every month.

She lived, sometimes wanting to run away from the suffocation of this place.

This place that reminded her of his proximity. This place that constantly judged her. People who wanted to know her story only so they could judge her. She lived, wishing she could get away and perhaps go back abroad. She lived, looking for jobs that could help her clear her loans faster. She lived, hoping to fill her soul with the joy of books and travel, the intensity of which could perhaps drown her pain. She lived, taking trips to the hospital all alone when ailments bothered her. She lived, watching new leaves unfurl on the mango tree he had planted for her.

She lived quietly in her world- inconspicuously, with all the richness of her melancholy. 

She was long gone, but she lived….

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