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!