The battle of survival! #BlogPrompt # Poverty
I'd first seen her at the construction site of our then under construction abode. She would have been around 6-7 years of age then and would accompany her mother; who was a mason and a daily wage worker.
Born as a girl child, education for her was not only a far-fetched dream. Rather, it was completely out of question. Adding to her misery, the incurable grip of polio only made her life more desolated.
Even though every trait of her appearance was bleak and feeble, to be able to attract attention from anyone, her facial features were remarkable enough to be unforgettable for anyone who would ever come across her. Her persona had an unusual magnetism.
Being moderately similar to my age, my mother would often ask us to share a portion of our fruits and snacks with her. While certain times, she would politely decline our offerings. However, mostly the child in her would get lured by the sight of eatables, which were otherwise no less than a dream treat for her.
Circumstantially, I never came across her once our new accommodation was ready, to be referred to as our new home.
But a few years back, when I'd visited my maternal home as a maternity ritual, I saw her at a popular and well-known temple nearby my home. Even after so many years, it didn't take me much time to recognize her.
She sat there at temple entrances with instant henna stamps and a weighing machine. Supposedly, her only means of earning a livelihood. Understandably, polio gripped body wouldn't anyways give her many options for sustenance. Yet, the fact that she chose work over begging instilled a feeling of sufficiency in me. However, over the years, her body appeared to be more declined and fragile than before.
Cradling my daughter in my arms, I was about to descend the temple stairs towards the exit when I noticed something moving inside her saree's pallu. I stopped for a moment to comprehend better, what I had just seen.
I wouldn't have gone wrong with it. She was breastfeeding her child while looking after her nomadic stall and trying to make the ends meet.
Her situation compelled me to go and talk to her. Though, I was assured that she wouldn't recognize me at any cost.
As soon as she saw me approaching her, she addressed me - "Didi! Would you like to embellish your hands with these henna stamps? I have various beautiful designs to choose from."
Upon realizing that I wasn't much captivated by her offer, she even went ahead saying - "Please try Didi! I can do both of your hands at the price of one."
While her words did strike my ears, but only her body, which emerged more fragile at a close look, snagged my attention.
I quietly sat down alongside her as my gesture of assurance to her.
"How much do you charge?", I asked.
"Five rupees for one side, Ten rupees for a hand. But, if you get both hands done, I will do both in fifteen rupees."
I was twiddled at her lucrative offer.
"How much do you make in a day?", I now grew anxious.
"Around 100-200 rupees. And on the festival days, sometimes up to 150-200 also". She answered with a smile.
"How old is your baby?", I was curious.
Despite the fact that I hadn't yet moved my hand towards her and neither showed any interest in all the beautiful henna designs that she posessed, she continued to answer my questions politely.
"She is eight months old Didi."
A wave of nervousness scared me and made me emotional at the same time. My daughter who was six months old then, slept cozily in my arms and on the other hand was her baby, cocooned in her mother's veil resting bare body.
I, who consumed a healthy well balanced nutritious meal thrice a day; still struggled at times to keep up the supply of my milk against my daughter's appetite. And there she was. I wondered what on the name of nutrition she be getting to eat, out of her income? How would she be managing to feed her baby. The calculation struck me like a jolt.
We needed someone to help with looking after my daughter at my mom's place, so I asked her if she wouldn't mind working at my place from next day and assist in menial jobs like drying and folding clothes, cleaning and chopping vegetables etc.
She almost agreed immediately and joined at our home from the next day.
On one such morning that followed, I'd an entire bottle of leftover milk from the night before that my daughter didn't consume. I'd kept the bottle near the kitchen sink to empty and clean it. That's when she came in and politely asked - "Didi! Are you going to throw away this milk?"
I replied to her in affirmation, reasoning that the milk was bottled throught out the night and hence, would have curdled by now.
She paused for a moment and hesitatingly requested if she could re-boil the contents of the bottle and feed the resultant milk to her daughter.
I offered to give her fresh milk for feeding her child but she refused. Upon my repeated insistence, she agreed to feed her daughter with the new milk that I poured in. But, she didn't let go the former milk from the bottle wasted. She carried the leftover milk along with her back home. Since that day, my mom started insuring a portion of milk and chapati for her daughter.
Her action did reminded me how often and easily we take life for granted and forget to count our blessings.
When I was about to return to my home, I was distressed more about the fact that 'she' would again have to go back to selling henna stamps as we won't need her services once me and my daughter returned.
But thankfully with my mom's recommendation, 'she' was able to find another opportunity within our locality.
Such is the vicious circle of poverty that only travels one way from hand to mouth. The person trapped has to fight the battle of survival, every day and every moment.
Oh yes! I forgot to tell you her name. 'She' is Lakshmi. Strange no! A person with such a wealthy name had such an impoverished fate.
May be thats the reason Shakespeare quoted - "What's in a name?"
Thank you for reading!
Didi - A sister like person
Henna - a reddish-brown dye made from the powdered leaves of a tropical shrub, used to color the hair and decorate the body.
Image credits - Google