I have always struggled in one respect for as long as I can remember. How can I help someone else in need? We were raised on a steady diet of compassion and giving back. Even as a child I remember my mother dipping into her hiding places (often the strangest ones from grain canisters to under the mattress to a big wad in a worn silver box in her cupboard.) All saved for a rainy day but when there are four children milling around the house, rainy days are often around the corner. Even amidst the steady depletion of these treasures and day to day expenses, there was always enough food for whoever came to the house, delivery boys, maids, needy neighbors, visits from my fathers colleagues with their gigantic families in towe, kids coming to collect their errant balls. My father always had enough kind words for whoever he bumped into and it continues to this day. From sweepers on the streets, to shopkeepers, to attendants at clinics, to liftmen and security guards who everyone passes by as they blend into the world, invisible. He is a great listener as well and he always told me that at times the greatest service you can render to humanity is just to be a good listener. We are surrounded by people, daily, who are going through so much, who feel lost, who are miserable. They have no one to turn to. The joy you will give to someone by just lending a few minutes of your time will be visible on their faces. That should be the reward. Compassion was also ingrained within us in the way we were taught to treat each other within the family. Of-course four girls will always find a reason to be uncouth, fight, pull hair and beat each other up, but we saw with the passage of time that all that we had seen while growing up, without ever being preached into it, was naturally imbibed and became an integral part of us.
Of-course I have always tried to be kind whenever an opportunity presents itself but in this busy, insular world, even these opportunities have to be dug out I feel sometimes. Isn’t it then easy to just keep donating online, or give money to beggars or find some such way to appease your need to be kind and good. Each to his own. I don’t judge as this is a very personal action but I certainly was not happy as I was unable to make a visible difference in anyone’s lives, to add value to someone’s existence even in a small way. It rankled inside. Till one day I decided to take my father’s advice and listen. I was on a call with a temporary maid in our society who had finished her tenure with me and was seeking another job. I was trying to guide her towards a prospective employer in the other building and she was so uneducated that she wasn’t able to remember a name, a building number, any of the details. So she asked her son to call me later to note them down. A small incident but it got me thinking about the scores of women I had met within this compound itself who were struggling to either sign their names, fill a form, open a bank account, struggling with a bill as they couldn’t do basic math and were lacking basic language proficiency. It just struck me then and there that i could help them and it made my heart dance! Finally I had found a need gap that I could try and fill.
I had to start with a name. Even if for no one else but myself. To excite and instill a sense of ownership, I came up with a name. My ‘Bai-lingual’ classes! (I stuck with it despite a lot of jokes from my husband) Now I am no teacher. And what was on offer was very basic math and language proficiency. But I had to learn how to teach! So I started reading about teaching aids, pulled out my daughters stock of slates and alphabets and books as she looked at me strangely and started preparing myself. Then came the price of benevolence, time! Where was I to find time for this noble activity between work, home, a young daughter and my writing schedule? I decided to take an hour out each week to begin with and then let that slot evolve as per their requirements and their work. the biggest hurdle though was the recruitment. My proposal was met with suspicious looks (where they possibly thought I was mad or a drug dealer) and ‘How much will you charge?’, ‘ I am too old for this’, ‘I have things to do at home’, ‘My family will laugh at me,’ , ‘I don’t have time.’ All of this made me realize that it was a bigger stigma for them to opt for education at this stage of their lives rather than being coined illiterate. It was a sort of battle for their rights vs their mental and societal attitudes.
I can’t say it’s been easy. I’ve managed to finally recruit two helpers. 4 more have been on-boarded. And I am hoping this army will grow as I learn with them. It’s strange but I feel like a jilted lover when someone promises and doesn’t show up! But what thrilled me the most the other evening was when I passed by my daughter playing downstairs, while walking to my kickboxing class. She was busy recruiting two maids who had come down to the playground with their respective wards, telling them eagerly to come home. ‘My momma is very nice. She doesn’t get angry. She will teach you with my class things!’ As tears pricked my eyes, I smiled wide! At 4 years of age, compassion and caring for others was making a home in her little heart. This is the additional reward. To let my child see the importance and happiness of giving back. In however small a way. For there is no greater joy.
Every change begins with a small step, whether it’s a change within your family, or the whole country! India’s hero, Padman, had its digital premiere on ZEE5, on 11th May. Don’t miss this inspiring true-life story, only on ZEE5. Download the app and subscribe now. For every subscription, ZEE5 will donate Rs. 5 towards the personal hygiene needs of underprivileged women.