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!