Looking for a Better World
Protected and Happy
The kids were too noisy. We could not talk that night. It was decided we would meet again the next evening.
In the house of Thathi, the old-but-energetic-widow, we manage to all squeeze on the floor. A total of ten women. I feel protected, surrounded by the ladies of the village. As Rajani starts explaining who I am, I cast a furtive glance at them. The young ones are so beautiful in their graceful sarees. I want to tell them–but would it be appropriate? As a stranger, is it ok to comment on their clothes? I remain silent.
A tall charismatic woman named Jyothilakshmy asks something to Rajani, who turns to me with a smile. “They want to know if the dress you wear in the photo is typical of your country.”
I laugh. To break the ice, I thought it was a good idea to show my wedding pictures. In which, obviously, I am wearing a long sophisticated white dress. Definitely not what I would wear to travel on the metro! I say a word about European traditional weddings and then I ask, “And you, what are your local traditions?”
They look at each other, wondering what to answer. Jyothilakshmy, again, takes the lead. “Well, we have the valapura.”
Rajani gives an explanation instead of a translation. “This is the house were women go during their periods. It’s a place where they can rest for a few days. Their children are taken care of by a neighbour, so they can spend their time eating, sleeping and chatting. That house has got electricity now, as well as toilets and water, so it makes it a really cozy haven.”
All the women have highly physical work in the cardamom fields. I am happy to know that they get a girls’ monthly break.
“How has Amrita Serve helped you the most?” I ask.
Giggles. So many tremendous changes. One mentions how cooking is easier now. Another one underlines how good it is to have flourescent lights at home. Kids can do their homework after dinner. A third one confesses she is very happy to own a TV set. She watches serials and she loves it!
But Jyothilakshmy, once more, has the best answer: “We are even closer to each other now. We created the self-help group, we sell vegetables from the organic garden, and then each of us puts some money in every month. The money is available when needed. Any of us can borrow money to buy a school uniform or to pay for some medical treatments.”
Actually, I am not surprised to hear how united they are. I can feel their intimacy. Something in the air–maybe particles of love. Perhaps this love in the air is the reason why I finally decide to conclude the conversation by telling them how beautiful I think they are. They don’t look shocked at my statement–not at all. On the contrary, their faces become even more radiant and then they turn to me to say, “You are beautiful too. And we love your clothes.”
I laugh, it’s my turn to feel shy. But their words make me happy. I am even happier when they add very sincerely, “When will you come back?”