It was still dark.
The sun wasn’t out yet, though it was already past six in the morning. And it was cold; a chilly cold that turns your breath foggy and makes your eyes water sharply.
I got off the train gingerly, a tad anxious. I had to take a connecting train four hours later. Though I didn’t have much luggage, the prospect of lugging it to some other platform wasn’t making me happy. Taking a bag up a flight of railway station overhead bridge stairs is not a casual feat for me anymore. My right knee makes sure of that. Hence the anxiety.
Like a homing pigeon I made my way to the nearest tea stall. Balancing a scalding cuppa in one hand, my laptop bag slung on my shoulder and pulling my suitcase behind me, I made my way to the nearest stone bench. A woman was sitting there, a large, grimy cloth bag clutched nervously to her side. I gave her a fleeting smile and sat down gingerly on the granite slab. Brrrr…. it was like sitting on a slab of ice, without the wetness. How cheerful! I muttered balefully.
From the corner of my eye, I could see the woman looking at me fixedly. She nudged me hesitantly.
“Where did you get the tea?” she asked.
(My conversation with this woman was in Hindi… mixed with a very generous smattering of Marathi. My understanding of Marathi is not enough to fill a teaspoon, incidentally. But I had little difficulty in understanding her. You see, I read eyes.)
Silently, I pointed to the kiosk where I got the tea from.
“How much is it?”
“Seven rupees”, said I.
“He won’t give for five, will he?” she asked in a voice crumpled with regret in advance. The question was rhetorical.
Sympathetically, I shook my head. I thought of buying her a cup of tea but stopped myself. Not one to rush into things, I.
My tea finished, I tried to study the woman through the corner of my eye. She looked like a woman in her 50s. She was short and petite but hardy. Most of her front teeth were missing. She was wearing a denim jacket over a worn saree. In her feet were slippers whose sole was all but worn but was otherwise intact. It had been carefully mended more than once.
“Where are you going?” she started again.
“Is that your gaon (home town)?”
“No, I am going there for work. My home town is Jabalpur”, I told her smiling.
“Where is Jabalpur?” she wanted to know.
“It is in M.P.” I told her.
She digested that for a moment. I could almost see her mental wheels clicking.
“So what work do you do in Hyderabad” she asked.
A bit stumped, I wondered what I would tell this rustic woman. I was sure Corporate Trainer won’t make any sense to her at all.
“I teach”, I said lamely.
“Oh, you teach?!”
“In a school?”
“No, not in school”, said I, a bit hot under the collar. And I left it at that. She left it too, thankfully.
“Do you think I would find work in Hyderabad?” she asked. “I can cook and look after a home”, she added quickly, eagerly.
“I’m sure you would”, I assured her.
“How much salary would I get” she wanted to know. She had a talent for stumping me, did this woman.
“Well, Hyderabad isn’t my town so I have no idea. I can tell you about Jabalpur though.”
“Umm… so I’ll work in Jabalpur! Doesn’t matter to me where I work as long as I work. Shall I come with you?” She stirred as if she’d get up immediately and start walking to Jabalpur, me slung over her shoulder… sort of.
Hey, wait a cotton pickin’ minute, dammit! I muttered furiously under my breath. I was decidedly warm under the collar. Deceptively and outwardly calm, I looked at her placidly and said, “But I am going to Hyderabad at present. How can you come with me?”
I was excusably smug. There, I said to her silently, deal with that one.
Nothing, nothing on earth could have prepared me for what came next.
The strange, petite, hardy woman folded her hands and said, “Meri madad kar do. Mujhe kaam dila do. (Help me. Find me work.)”
Our bodies have five senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing. But not to be overlooked are the senses of our souls: intuition, peace, foresight, trust, empathy. The differences between people lie in their use of these senses; most people don’t know anything about the inner senses while a few people rely on them just as they rely on their physical senses, and in fact probably even more.
~C. JoyBell C.
With that she spread both her hands out, palm upwards, a corner of her saree entwined in her fingers. That’s when I looked into her eyes- the windows of the soul. I met fierce pride there and a spirit which has never known how to buckle, let alone break. Determination and courage are words I too have used many times but I saw them living in those faded eyes. Overwhelmed, I moved in and hugged the woman close to me.
The dam broke; she burst into tears.
Note: This is a true story.
I tell you this story with a deep sense of gratitude and humility. Meeting this woman was an amazing experience. Thank you for showing me how easy it is to connect with people, Shiva! Thank you for showing me that there are more good than bad in this world. And that they may be found anywhere, if only I would keep my heart open, while being reasonably prudent. Thank you for proving to me once more that I may trust my intuition; that as long as I listen to my inner voice, I will be safe and countless doors of blessedness are just waiting to open for me.
To be continued…