The Silent Heroes – Heera Bai

I was visiting a relative at a school she runs. As I was about to enter, I stopped at the doorway as I heard the melodious voice singing a bhajan. I tiptoed in and sat at the back, quietly listening. I remembered snippets I had heard about the lady who was singing, and quietly clicked her picture.
After the bhajan class, I stayed back to speak with the lady. Her name is Heera Bai. A very apt name indeed. And a bundle of surprises, I daresay.
She fulfils various roles as a wife, mother, daughter-in-law (‘My mother-in-law loves me!’ she says with pride. A ninth wonder in itself, if I may say so!), mother-in-law, and a grandmother too. Full of life, her enthusiasm for life is infectious.
‘I was a “tenth-fail,” ’ she says. A teasing comment about her being a failure at studies, for having failed her board exams in the tenth grade, spurred her into action. She took up teacher’s training and jumped headlong into a job. With the loving support from her family, of course. She explored her talent and her love of paper craft, and started teaching them to students. Today she knows at least one thousand different ways of putting a piece of paper to good use. She is now a proud holder of a masters’ degree in Kannada and an M.Ed. to boot. But what makes this lady outstanding is the selfless service she renders to people.
She is the proud winner of two prestigious awards. The first one is the Vishweshwaraiah award. She won the award for art and craft made out of waste materials. She had made dolls on the spot using the wraps used to cover apples! The other one is the Kempegowda award for which she won a cash prize of 25,000. This one for her selfless service rendered to the poor people. On probing, I discovered that she helps widows and poor people to claim the pension due to them from the government. These poor people are most of the time unaware of their rights, and are illiterate to know better. She also helps the sick people to claim money from the city corporation. ‘Most people are unaware that they are entitled to 50% of their hospitalization charges!’ she says with much sadness. Counselling is also a part of her services. She has been selflessly rendering this service since the past fifteen years.
Another feather in her cap is her helping nomads (they are called the Hakki Pikki tribe) to earn their livelihood. The government had provided them with land, but these people had no means of earning a livelihood. She taught them to make paper bags which they do even today, and earn a small amount for their daily needs. She tells the children ‘at least earn enough to buy coriander leaves for your mother!’ (Coriander leaves are the cheapest one can buy from the vegetable market). She teaches crafts which are for earning purposes and are also educative.
As she was talking, she took out an old invitation card out of her bag. She went on to draw a bird, and cut out the outline. In no time, she had a beautiful bird flapping its wings to a foot-tapping song with a story! She teaches this to kids which captures their interest in learning.
She teaches devotional songs, or what is known as devara nama in Karnataka, to the local people.
The highlight of her classes is that there is no remuneration that she charges or demands. She goes wherever she is requested to teach, and she accepts whatever they offer. Such generosity and thought process are rare in today’s world!!
She conducts free summer camps in art, craft, and music exhibitions. Again, the outstanding feature here is that as she conducts the camps for kids, she doesn’t allow the parents to be away … she invites them to join in and be creative with the kids. ‘Don’t go home to watch TV! Rather, spend some quality time with your child’ she tells them.
Heera Bai has come a long way, since the days she travelled changing two buses to reach a place of work, to travelling by auto or a cab. Again she stands out from the rest of the commuters – she carries a flask of tea, with disposable cups. For herself and the cab driver if he will have a cup of tea. And around noon, if you happen to be with her, you can be sure of a yummy meal – south-Indian style! Home cooked, and packed with love for any person who might be with her at that time!
‘My grandmother would always say: “Just as we cannot see our own backs, but know it is there on the body, so is God. Right behind our backs. Unseen, but always there!” ‘ Profound. And it is this motto that keeps her going. The main source of all her energy and vivacity is the unshakable faith she has in God.
I had a lunch of dosa with sambar, plus home-made mango pickles. Hmm … I would love to meet her often! And that would not be just for the lovely food, of course!

Citrus


It has been raining cats and dogs in the past few days. As I sit sipping my evening tea looking out of the window, I see this fruit on the citrus plant outside.
The plant belongs to my neighbor. He is as sour as the fruit, minus the health/medicinal benefits. The couple loves plants. There is a very small stretch of land between our houses, and I can see so many plants there in that little space. They grow the seasonal vegetable or pulse which can be grown on a creeper. The creeper is then made to go up the terrace where it spreads out into a canopy on two clotheslines. And I get to see green outside the window. And every time I look out of the window and see the greenery outside, I thank God, and ask God to bless this man who chose to grow plants instead of extending his abode. Surly people need not be totally bad, huh?
I heard a saying that goes, ‘three things you can never choose: your parents, your neighbors and your boss’. Guess we got a good bargain.

A Tribute to WhatsApp

What’s this new change in today’s world? Well, it is this app. Whatsapp. Now there must seldom be a person that exists, who has not heard of whatsapp. Today’s rage. The viral fever of the century…or is it the millennium? If I had to expand this word, it would be ‘what’s-this-appendage-that-grew-on-me-without-my realizing-it’. What the heck, the morning begins with the eyes opening to the mobile screen. Gone are the days of rubbing the palms in front of the eyes and chanting ‘karagre vasate…’. Those are obsolete now. Replaced by whatsapp.
A day starts with around 50-80 messages on an average. How can you not say ‘good morning’ to all those people who bothered to spam…errr… remember you, first thing in the morning!? And invariably, one starts replying. Then there are the well-wishers forwarding all the warning messages on what to eat and what not to eat, videos that expose the dangers of most of the things we eat or use in today’s world. Can’t begin the day without knowing so many things! And then there are some innocent people who believe that something bad would happen if they didn’t forward a message or a picture to that specified number of people, and lasso in all their acquaintances into it. Next come the humorous jokes that MUST be forwarded immediately to all people and groups in one’s own list. New in the market, hurry! Then the words of wisdom. By now, most of the population must have got their own halos. So much wisdom that trickles into the phone each day! Oh, did I mention the puzzles? Answer if you are smart. How can you let that pass? As one triumphantly figures out the answer, there are a few others who have already posted the answer … not so smart after all, huh?
And that reminds me… I am yet to use the most important app (appliance, not application) – the toothbrush!!

Summer classes


I recently took yoga classes for a bunch of kids at a playschool. This was a new experience for me – teaching yoga to kids. However, I was in for a pleasant shock on my first day at the playschool.
My classes were on alternate days for a month. The kids were of an assorted age group. The youngest was three-and-a-half, and the oldest was ten. I must have been a sight to see there, trying to make them stand still for even a minute! It was like trying to collect a brood of chicken into an open basket – by the time you got one into the basket, two others got out!
“Ma’am, I’m hurt!” (The kid wants to play outside)
“Ma’am, my stomach aches!” (The previous class was an experiment with ‘food’ and ice-creams!)
“Ma’am, I want to go to the wash room” (the same kid, every five minutes)
“Ma’am … look, I’m wounded!” (Shows the ‘wound’ – a fading mehandi design on the foot!)
I stood there a la Hamlet, in my typical Libran dilemma – to be or not to be. Strict with them, I mean. Then I thought, these were kids trying to ‘enjoy’ their summer vacations, while the parents were at work. How could I be strict with them? But on the other hand, I was there to teach them. It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t!
Finally, I decided. I cannot change them. I had to be the change. I started asking them about animals, and taught them some breathing exercises like rabbit breathing, dog breathing, and tiger breathing. I spoke about a park and showed them the vrikshasana and the butterfly asana. And the month flew by.
On the last day of the class, there was a get-together where the kids enacted a play, and the parents came to watch. I was not there. They were asked a question – which was the class they liked the most? And do you believe they said ‘yoga class’?

A tribute to Courage

This was about fifteen years ago. Those were the days when my friend and I were facing some similar problems in life. We had started our own venture that had gone downhill. It was like everything was closing in on us. We had suffered financial loss. Our morale was at an all-time low. Around this time, we got into social service, and we tried to help the lesser privileged to the best of our capacities. It gave us some sort of peace.
We went to meet her on the appointed day at the appointed time.
If you have ever been to Bangalore, you would have heard of Tannery road. But you would never bother to visit the area. People above the poverty line generally do not visit this place. Moreover, the stench is so appalling, even the most noblest of souls would do a retake on entering these dingy lanes.
We walked through smelly little lanes. There were houses on either side of the lanes. We were taken to a small house there. She was sitting on a cot. At the time we met her, she was about 22 years of age. Her limbs were immovable. She could not move her neck, too. She was completely immobile. She could speak, see, eat, and hear. Feel sensations too, which was proved when a mosquito bit her hand. She called her cousin nearby for help to get rid of the insect and to scratch her arm.
Gul (name changed) lives alone in this place. Her father had deserted her and her mother. The mother had struggled to meet ends, and had brought up the daughter singlehandedly. Her education had come to a complete standstill by the time she completed class ten, when a debilitating disease took over her body, and she slowly and steadily lost sensation part by part. By the time she completed school, she could no longer move her limbs or her neck. The mother then fell ill and was bedridden. An uncle, who was financially poor but rich by heart, offered to take any one of these two into his home, as he could not afford to look after both women. His house was quite small, too. Gul asked for her mother to be taken care of. What the disease could not take away from her was her strength and courage.
We were offered ice cold Fanta brought from a nearby store. Such hospitality, from a girl who could even move her neck! We were full of curiosity, and started asking questions. How did she manage her life? “I give tuitions”, she said. We just exchanged glances. She had studied only up to the tenth grade. So it was a big question as to how she did that. We asked her for more details. She said she taught kids from the surrounding slums, who were in classes below grade ten. Then she further explained, “I ask them to keep the book in front of me and I ask them to turn the page when required. I explain the lessons to them”. She charged Rs.75 from each child.
We looked around the small place. It had a single cot by the door, and a couple of chairs. The place was spic and span. Gul too, was dressed in clean clothes. Her nails were neatly trimmed. We went into the kitchen. Again, it had the bare necessary items, and was clean. This was the last thing we expected in a house situated in the slums off Tannery road! We asked Gul about how she managed to keep herself and her house so clean. She paid Rs.300 to another woman in the neighborhood to come and do the cleaning. The woman came in the morning, helped her with the morning rituals, fed her, cleaned the house, gave her a bath, clothed her, and made her sit on the cot. She later came in the night to make her sleep. The uncle who took care of her mother brought food for Gul, who ate just once in the day. She did not drink water after a particular time so that she did not have to depend on someone to go to the loo.
It was summer, and schools were closed for the vacations. I questioned Gul on this and asked if children came for tuitions, as they would not study during the vacations. “I conduct summer camps!” she cheerfully replied. A fly could have entered my mouth at that point. She further explained, that she arranges for the children to play indoor games, and give away some small prizes. She charged them a small amount. As we spoke, the girl expressed her desire to visit the US. Why US, and why not any other country, we asked out of curiosity. She said, “America has so much respect for people like me. They also have so many public facilities where people like me can move around without much of a problem”. Hmm. Ambitions too!
At this point, we couldn’t control our tears. Here was this brave young woman fighting so many battles so cheerfully, and we were feeling dejected for a couple of setbacks in life? We had almost given up the battle and succumbed to self pity.
Gul gave us fresh hope in life. We returned, humbled and chastised. Count your blessings, we told ourselves. We were educated, able bodied, healthy, and we had our families that supported and loved us. The only thing we needed at that point of time, was a good dose of courage. Which Gul supplied us in plenty.
We directed her to an NGO that arranged for Gul to have a regular amount of money given to her so that her basic needs were taken care of.
Each time I feel low, I remember this brave girl for my dose of vitamin Courage. God bless the Guls of the world!

Women’s Day

This morning, as I sat down with my morning cup of tea and the newspaper, I was shocked by an advert to ban celebrating the women’s day this year. Wear black, and join a protest against the rapes, it said. It highlighted the fact that in India, a woman is victimized every two minutes. What are we celebrating, it questioned.
Now this made sense. A certain part of society, especially in the metros, enjoys privileges of the women’s day, and there are discounts and freebies galore to celebrate. We exchange greetings and wish each other, and extol the virtues of being a woman. Poets are born to praise the woman, and how far she has come. But look at the larger picture, and we see the atrocities against women every day. They have been on the increase. Not to speak of new-born babies getting raped!
So, what is the answer? Well, personally, I feel that the day we do something about uplifting one another is the day we would really celebrate being a woman. The day the woman is really respected for what she contributes to the society, and the family at the grass-root level. Her contribution to society, whether she stays home and brings up the future citizens with the right values, or chairs meetings with equal ease. Otherwise, the 8th of March is just another day on the calendar. Would you agree?

The Date


The roof had been dripping water. The walls were all wet and the water flowed down the walls to the floor. The two women, mother-in-law (mil) and daughter-in-law (dil) had put rags on the floor, and wrung them out from time to time. After twenty days, the wet walls were now covered with fungus, and the air was heavy to even breathe.
They had found a new house and decided on the move. He was still away at work, and had said he would not be able to come. ‘You have to do it all by yourself, dear!’ He had told her. But like a true soldier, he tried to help her from a distance in whatever way he could. He arranged four men to help with the packing. And thus had passed the three days of intense activity. They had managed to pack most of the items, and had left only the kitchen and the bedroom for the last. Even these, they had retained the bare minimum in the kitchen for cooking, and just the bed for sleeping. So the packing was almost done.
And then the next problem was round the corner. The house where they were to move into, was unfit for occupation which they discovered at the last moment. So they left the packing as it was, and decided to wait till the next house was allotted for the move. They decided to live in the same place for a couple of days more, as they had been promised another accommodation at the earliest.
The house now wore a gloomy look. The source of water leakage had been discovered, and the water pipes shut off. So the leakage and dripping had stopped. But the walls were still wet, and the moldy smell still persisted. The morale was down, and it was depressing.
She sat bored and frustrated. Thinking what to do next. The mil generally kept herself entertained by the television. But the dil was not interested in watching television. She had put a lot of things on hold just for the move, and her plans had gone all awry once again.
As they both sipped tea and sat in that dejected state that evening, the dil’s whatsapp beeped. Suddenly there was a lively look on her face.
‘Hey baby! Heard your hubby away. Come and meet me at Sher pub!’
‘You crooked minded fellow!’ She replied. She was smiling.
Ditch that fellow, just come! I’ll be there in a couple of hours. Will reach and message you’, he said.
‘Sure’, she replied.
She noticed the mil look at her slyly. She decided to get ready and take a bath. As she came out, she saw the mil making dosa. The mil said, ‘You can make your dosa when you feel hungry. I’m watching a serial on TV now, so I’ll eat watching TV’.
‘No, you eat. Please don’t wait for me. I’m going out with friends. I just got a message’, she replied. She saw the look change on the mil’s face. She inwardly smiled to herself.
The older woman quickly recovered, and said okay. She had noticed the change of mood in the dil after all these depressing days.
The dil got ready and in time, she got the message. ‘I’m here, come’.
It was almost nine pm. She told the mil, ‘Please don’t wait up for me. You sleep. I will be late. I’m locking the door from outside’.
She locked the mesh door from outside, and left with a wave of the hand. The older woman noticed the spring in the step. The clothes that had come out of a packed suitcase.
Sher pub was a five minute walk from where she lived. She soon reached the place. Saw him almost immediately. He looked tired. He gave her a warm hug and her favourite chocolate. ‘Hmm, he remembered’, she thought. They sat talking and drinking, and the time passed. Then they went to a nearby joint for chicken roll. Then they both walked hand in hand towards the house.
The lights in the mil’s bedroom had gone off. ‘Mil has slept’, she said. Good.
She unlocked the mesh door from the outside. But the door did not open. It had been bolted from the inside. The light was on in the hall. She told him to hide round the corner, and rang the doorbell. A woman who never sleeps till 2am in the morning, fast asleep by 12? She smiled to herself. Again she rang the doorbell. No answer. After the third unsuccessful ring of the doorbell, she called on the mobile phone. After almost 12 rings, the old woman picked up the phone. She came and opened the door, and said she had bolted the door by mistake. Her look said it all. Then the dil hesitantly said, ‘My friend has come, and will stay here tonight’. The look on the mil’s face was worth watching. She mumbled something like a grunt, and turned to walk away to her room. But human curiosity always wins… she didn’t go into the room, but hovered there. The dil called him inside.
Mom! He ran in and gave her a tight hug.
So, who do you think had a good laugh?

Ilicide

A friend of mine was visiting India after a long time. He is a research scientist and works for a prestigious company in the US. He was invited for dinner at his cousin’s place (let’s call her M). She is known for her wry wit among her circle of acquaintances.

He had called M and asked the question we generally get to hear from those returning from the US – ‘What do you want from here?’ M was of the opinion that these days the world has truly become a global village, and we can get anything we want in a big city in India … especially in Bangalore. So she politely declined, saying she wanted nothing. But he insisted so much that she finally said, ‘I have all I need, but if you can get me some ilicide, it would be really nice!’ the man was confounded as he had no idea what an ilicide was. But he did not dare ask for fear of ridicule and also of appearing ignorant. Big mistake.
A few days before he left for India, he made enquiries of where he could find ilicide, and was met with either blank or hostile stares. He wanted to buy a present for his cousin M, and it was the first time she had openly expressed a wish to have something. He had no luck, and therefore landed in India sans the gift M had wanted.

At the dinner, he sheepishly presented her a box of chocolates (you can’t go wrong with that most of the times) and apologized for not having got what she had asked for. M was embarrassed in front of all the guests, and hastily accepted the chocolates with a big smile. But our friend could no longer control his curiosity. He pulled her aside and asked her, ‘What is this ilicide, and where do you get it?’

It was her turn to look sheepish. She hesitated. ‘No, it was nothing… I was a bit upset at that time! I really am sorry about that!’ But you cannot give that kind of an answer to a research scientist and get away with it, now, can you? He persisted until she finally gave in. With a quick look around to ensure she was not being overheard, she said, ‘You have heard of insecticides and pesticides? Those are for insects and pests. This ilicide is to keep away pesky in-laws. It has not been manufactured yet in India. So I wondered if an advanced country like America had already thought of it?’

I’m sure our research scientist has something new to invent in his lab after his return from homeland.

 

Childhood revisited

The other day, I got unintentionally enrolled into a clay workshop that was being held in the city. I reluctantly agreed to go.
I reminisced about the time we played with clay as kids … we would find small lumps of clay in the heap of sand when there was a construction going on in the neighborhood. We would collect them and give them different shapes, based on our imagination. Those were the days when Barbie was not born – or may be still unknown to us. Though I was fascinated by the artists who created beautiful dolls from clay, I had no experience with making these dolls except those during my childhood.
Now I was suddenly enrolled in a workshop! The day dawned, and as I reached the venue, I saw that 99% of the participants were kids. I felt like I had landed on the wrong planet, and was almost about to turn back when I saw a couple of ladies enrolling for the same. This gave me some relief that I had not entered kindergarten at middle age.
The programme started with some games and kid talk, which again was a pricking to the senses – ‘Am I in the wrong place?’ Later they distributed the clay. And that was when I was transported to a different world. I was oblivious to my surroundings and gleefully put my hands into the soft clay. The clay beautifully refused to obey my every whim and fancy … whatever I wanted, was there for me to create. But with some effort! And if I didn’t like the image, I could re-mould and create a new pattern. The rule here was to create the image before the clay hardened. That was the only criterion. Time flew, and hunger forgotten. Kids and grownups alike, were all engrossed in the simple act of moulding clay. And I could see that each person was enjoying every minute of it. Happy place, happy people.
At the end of the session, these lessons I took back home with me – I will never haggle with a roadside vendor for a ‘better’ piece of craft. I will learn to appreciate the effort that goes into the making because each handcrafted piece of art is beautiful with all its flaws. Second, whenever stress knocks at the door, just get your hands on some clay! Get back to childhood for a while.
For those who are interested, and for those who got curious to know more – This workshop was held by the popular Kannada cine artist and art director Mr. Arun Sagar and his wife Meera Arun, along with the kind support of Mr Malliarjun and Mrs Gangambika, without whose help this event would not have been such a success.  The Aruns also run Vruksha School of Fine Arts in Banashankari II stage, Bangalore.
Group pic uploaded with the kind consent of Mrs Meera Arun
Clay models: Author’s experiment

Resolutions and dealing with clutter

The bug had bitten me in spite of trying to avoid it. I did not want to make any resolutions this year. For the simple reason that I didn’t want the guilt of breaking them later on. Then a sudden wave of ‘cleaning’ swept over me.
I love reading. Even the occasional torn bit of newspaper that wraps the peanuts bought from the roadside vendor. And as you might have guessed by now, my treasure includes books, papers, magazines, paper cuttings of various articles… saved links to ‘read later’ (the later which never comes anyway), word files with ‘beautiful’ articles – yes, to read later. You get the drift. And yes, the clutter can get to you at times. So I targeted this pile of magazines and books that occupied space – precious space which could be otherwise used beneficially, I thought.
And one fine day last week, I sat down to it. Rather, after some meaningful looks at the pile followed by some sighs from mom, aimed pointedly at my treasure. I pulled out the pile of old magazines. What all have I collected? I chided myself as I started sorting out the books. Then my eyes fell on the cover of a magazine… ‘Don’t throw that dress away’! Ah! That’s why I had kept this book aside!! Precious one! As I flipped the pages, I found a beautiful embroidery pattern that I wanted to try out. Further ahead were some quick recipes. Ah. I would read this soon after I cleared this pile! I need this magazine! The next one had an article on how to use small spaces to the maximum for storage purposes. Yes, of course the book goes back on the shelf. Another edition of the magazine had advice on how to look good in the rainy season. The next one had golden nuggets on how to take ten years off your face. Where would such valuable advice go? Definitely not to the pile of raddi!
And thus went my entire morning and afternoon, by the end of which the ‘want’ pile was way higher than the almost unnoticeable ‘dispose’ pile. I neatly dusted the magazines and kept them in a nice place where I will be reading them. Soon. Yes, that’s what I have been saying since so long, mom!!!