It was a damp rainy day in the month of July as I left to Kedambe, a village in Satara district. The objective of my visit - a Stanford University associated project on alternate sources of energy used in rural India. The deeper objective - a get-away from routine and a possibility of learning more on rural India for which I feel so deeply and have an great inclination to work for.
With two other colleagues from college, I was travelling from Satara bus stand to this remote village(20km from Mahabaleshwar) with Nilesh, whose house we were planning to halt at. The smell of the earth, moistened by the just arrived rains made everything around so pleasant and blissful...such journeys are always a must-awaited vacation for most of us here in Mumbai. While approaching Nilesh's house, bypassing the greenery, the anxious and surprised faces of people in the village, came to my notice an old lady, walking with 2 pots of water on her head. She greeted us with a wide smile and by the time we could talk further, she had already left.
A few minutes later she was back....inside our house welcoming us to their village. She introduced herself as a distant grandmother of Nilesh...and everyone fondly called her "Aaji." Something was very striking about her personality; draped in a dull ocher saree................her unkempt look ................old age signs did not stifle her soul.....Her smile said a lot about her...her sense of humor beyond what we could have thought of. I wondered what was this that made me feel so attracted to this woman. I did not know where she lived in this village, but I said to myself, I shall visit her house.
The night that followed, we sat chit-chatting with Nilesh's mom, brother and grand mother, when Aaji walked in. She had some sweets for us. She was amused at the way we spoke marathi, especially at a colleague who was really trying hard (being gujju) and cracked funny jokes on us. She told us she stays across the street and we must go to her place for the morning tea. So I assured her I would. That night, she asked us what are we carrying in our laptop; is there anything in it for them to see."Taare Zameen Par" was what we played for them. The way these villagers sat around in the room, glued to the screen just reminded me of the movie "Swades" and I could probably very well relate to how Shah Rukh felt as he saw the entire village experiencing thrill while a movie as old as "Yaadon Ki Baraat." But more than the movie, it was the oneness that this family shared with us. Would you and I let any outsider stay at our place that easily....moreover make food, ensure we have a comfortable sleep and ask nothing but a few moments of fun, enjoyment, happy conversations.......
The next day morning, I went to Aaji's place. It was worse than I had anticipated. She did not have any electricity, she had no proper bed/mattress to sleep on, the kitchen was poorly ventilated, lack of hygiene and cleanliness was evident. I asked her about her life and I could not help a few tears trickle down my cheeks as I heard her. Her elder son had left her house with most of her possessions; the daughter-in-law did not want her with them, so she would never feed her in their house at Malegaon. Her daughter lived in Mumbai in a not-so well-to-do family and yet offered to take care of her; to which Aaji refused. Her younger son stayed with her; but due to the lack of ability to educate him, he had not yet got a job ...so again a liability on her. So who earned the bread?.....Chandrabhaga...i mean...Aaji. She worked in a nearby flower green house and earned 30 rs per day...and sustained her living. Isn't 30rs the cost of a Jeera rice in our college canteen? She made her own food, she cleaned her own utensils and washed her own clothes. She had a lot of sorrow at heart, that her elder son, for whose education she had even sold her gold bangles is no longer bothering about her. Yet she managed to bring a smile on my face and on everyone's face around in the village. She was simply loved by all. In spite of her poverty and her inability to buy fresh vegetables, she made a small meal of chapati and moong ki sabzi for me for breakfast. I couldn't swallow a morsel of that....I really had a lump in my throat.
As I walked back from her house, I started to think. how blessed I am to have all the luxuries in life. All my life I have had the choices to eat, drink, speak, play, study whatever i like. I never had faced hardships like her....and yet I crave for so many things in life. I agree there is a huge difference in my lifestyles and hers and maybe my demands could be more; however this woman taught me a lesson. She stood for herself; was not ready to bear the cruelty of her near ones. She took a stand to be there for herself and her younger son, so long as she could. She chose to live a life of dignity.
I salute to her spirit....I dunno what I learnt from her in real....but she inspired me to be like her someday. A woman of true substance!