Dearest Darling Friends,
Have you experienced moments when dull eyes become shining eyes? I had that experience that evening.
A few days ago, a friend Madhukar mentioned about his experience of sleeping in the slums. I was intrigued. I mentioned about my desire to Jayatai and Mangalatai of Jagruti Seva Sanstha. A full evening schedule was made for a night stay in the slums of Janwadi. My friend Pankaj Mandhane joined me.
First we had a 90 minute session with about 35 youth. It was a fantastic experience. They had desires that were either dammed or damned. We broke the dam that was holding them back. We lifted the damned from the dust below the feet and put it squarely in front of the eyes. It was goose bumps all over.
Then Nasarin took us on a tour. She lives in the slums of Janwadi.
On our stroll, out of the blue, the stench of liquor invaded the nostrils. I wrinkled my nose. She smiled and said, I will take you through another route. I kicked myself for failing. She was nonchalant.
We crossed a few small open gutters. Frequently saw rats scurrying away. I wondered how our daughters would have shrieked, halted, frozen, become terrified and refused to move an inch ahead. Nasarin was walking with a smile and in deep thought. I am sure she was wondering how long will we survive?
The five feet alley became four and then three feet wide. Houses on both sides were a glorious 45-45 ft. Going rent - RS 1500/- These houses have just four weak walls. They don't have a RCC roof, they ALL have tinned roofs. And yes, surprisingly almost every home has a dish TV.
Nasarin shared, after 8.30 pm, these alleys are dangerous to walk in, especially for girls like her. Like her? Before she answered we had reached an excited Kirti's home.
Home of Kirti and sisters? Their home is 4.5 ft X 8 ft. This was smaller than the smallest bathroom we had at home. This home included a standing bathroom, a standing kitchen, a small cupboard and also included space for the mother and her three daughters to sleep.
They brought a chair from somewhere for me to sit. The house was full now. Pankaj gallantly announced, "I prefer standing". He did not have a choice. There was no space for a second chair!
Pankaj asked "What does your father do?" Innocently the answer came,"He drinks!" As if, that's the most natural thing for a father to do. No complain. Just a 'matter of fact' statement. That too, with a smile. The mother had a smile throughout our stay of 20 minutes.
They made tea. The neighbors sent cups. The family has an earning of RS 8,000/-
My first thought was, I must send them some 'thing'. My second thought was, where will they keep it? I asked the mother for blessings. She bent to touch my feet. My spirit bowed deeply to her. My heart prayed for strength to her and her daughters. Feel like adopting all four of them.
With a lot of hesitation AND hope Nasarin asked, "Will you come to my home?".
"Of course" both of us replied. It was about 40 feet away. What we saw there, stunned us. Six women and a small child stay in a home of about 60 feet. Nasarin has been brought up by her aunt. Her father had expired and mother abandoned her with her sister, Nasarin's aunt.
Sadness permeated every face, every square inch of the house. The youngest girl was watching discovery (thanks good lord) and was least interested in us. The young gentleman was looking at us with the same eyes that I have used to look at wild animals in a zoo. (In this case that was us).
The other three present ladies (besides Nasarin) were vary of us. Their evening had been interrupted. "Why are they here?" "I can't trust them!" was written on their passive faces showcasing two passive eyes. My good lord.
Nasarin is a lady with dreams and spunk and passion and drive not only to live a better life but to ensure enough people are lifted. Otherwise, what's the point of progress? she just voiced loud. I hung my head in shame.
Sorry I muttered to all who were struggling as I was unmindful of their precarious scenarios and living a life of mirth. They did not make us feel welcome was my surprising thought. Why should they? I countered to myself. They have probably lived their entire life with people repeatedly and emphatically telling them "Go to hell". To survive the ordeal of life, they must have gone numb. But not Nasarin.
As we walked towards the next house, I asked, "Girls 'like you' means.....?" Nasarin revealed, "When I walk back home at night, boys and men lie all over the lane completely drunk. Those who have a semblance of sense left, gore you with drunk eyes." (At that moment I saw a young man maybe 25 years, stumbling drunk, and looking her with eyes of intense lust. I shivered. She shrugged).
"If you two were not there, this guy would have elbowed me or pulled my dupatta." She said this so casually as if someone was pointing out the billing counter in a store.
She continued, "Boys know I don't have a father and my uncle stays drunk almost 24 hours. They know I have no one who will fight for me. Hence, they victimize me more than the other girls." I searched her face for pain, anger, frustration or even signs of self sympathy. I found her face serene.
Wanting to carry on a conversation, I lamely asked' "Have you ever beaten up anyone?".
"Oh yes!" she replied with a naughty smile and pride. "Then these boys team up and spoil my name. Right now I am going through one such fight." She confided in us such intimate details so casually as if she is sharing with me her favorite flavor of popcorn. I was blown away by this amazing lady.
Pankaj generously said, "Treat me like a brother. After all we are meeting two days after rakhi".
She broke into a biiiig smile and said, "I always wanted a brother. She pursued her nose and said "After all, I have been living only with women around me." And, she giggled. Wow. She has a sense of humour too.
Our next visit was the home of Bharati. This lady is in charge of Dapodi centre for nurse aid training in Jagruti Seva Sanstha. She lives in a joint family of 12 people and they all look united and happy. Her husband drives an auto rickshaw. Her bro in law is unemployed. The desperation for a job is clearly visible. She brings SPRITE for me. Wow again. My fav drink. The whole family surrounds us and a rapid fire question answer session transpires. It's uplifting. It's spirited (pun intended). We leave after another 20 minute visit.
We reach our night host's house. The grandmother is waiting to welcome her. She gave us 'hand wash' to wash our hands. One of the most delicious dinner of my life follows. She insists on pouring ghee in the rice served. I could not say no to her. When I say NO for further bhakri, her deep disappointment is visible. I take half. She lightens up but does not brighten up. Perfect grandmother for any soul. I feel blessed.
After half an hour, her son comes home from work. She narrates my entire session with the youth without missing too many points. Granny was alert ! She has a sharp memory! Her son wants to join our "Keep Moving Movement" next year. It's so thrilling.
Rutika the elder daughter has dreams of being a top class dancer. She wants to appear for the TV show "Dance India Dance" and WIN it.
The whole family engages in an animated discussion, where should these two strange people ( Pankaj and me ) sleep.
The son is confused. What's wrong with these people? Why would they want to sleep anywhere other than their house? Strange people indeed.
I proudly announce please do not bother. We can sleep anywhere. And in a voice indicating vital announcement is coming, I say, "I sleep within a minute". They decide to invite us to their inner bedroom.
We go to our 'bedroom'. There I see a single bed and a gaddi on the floor. I chose the gaddi. Pankaj gets the single bed which he realises to his amused horror, he has to share with the son.
He sees the size of the bed, two pillows, understands if he turns in the night he will end up hugging the son and remarks, " I don't sleep so close to even my wife." Both of us end up laughing. It's 12.15 am. Time to sleep.
Lights out. I close my eyes. I immediately feel an itch on my legs. Mosquito !!! My wife had forewarned and appealed for me to take 'Odomos'. I had decided against it as I wanted to sleep one night the way 'they' do.
I grimaced as I visualised her admonishing me in the morning when I reach home. Dearest naren get ready for 'I told you so' I told myself.
I was wrong. It was not mosquito. It was mosquitoes !!! As I gently caressed my skin I realised there were almost 8 swellings. Ignore and go to sleep I instructed myself. I turned to one side, covered myself with a blanket.
I had a strange sensation in my right ear. I touched it and found the ear lobe was swollen to twice its size. But my head was covered with a blanket. When did the mosquito sneak in? The itching in my legs increased and I realised it was NOT mosquitoes but bed bugs.
They were there on the pillows as well as the gaddi. Don't even think about complaining I told myself. After all, they sleep on this every night. Will I get dengue? They don't, so you won't I told myself. Shut up and sleep. But sleep refused to come. I put the blanket ON the gaddi and tell myself let's see if this foxes the bed bugs. It didn't !!!
It's about 3.30 am. The bed bugs are still active. I am smiling at my body and at my life. I am smiling at my boast of sleeping in less than one minute. I am smiling at me getting the single non shared privileged bed while Pankaj shared the single bed. I am smiling at me scratching myself all over. I have been sitting for over three hours in this night dark room with the screen light of the phone for company. Ahaa, the swelling of my ears has gone down considerably. I smile again.
As I write all this, what is giving me company is the symphonic snores of Ramesh the son. Pankaj, thankfully has been silent and has turned just a few times. In a science defying act, he has not fallen off the bed even as he sleeps precariously on the edge. Night is beautiful. Life is beautiful. No sleep in the eyes. Surprisingly, no tiredness too. Itches? Yes! Complaints! No!!! Lovely.
It's about 3.40 now. Will sit on the floor and meditate. Not because I can't sleep but because I want to meditate. God has been too kind to me. I think I should meet him and thank him in person. So, let me meditate. Hence, I say bye bye to you my dearest note in my phone. Here is a shayari to complete this sharing....
With love, prayers and exceptional wishes,
Imagine, when we woke up, we are given only what we had thanked for.