Thursday, 24 April 2014


A friend commented on the chubbiness of the child in the photo, all of three, dressed for her birthday in a new frock, and matching plastic bangles, and plastic chain. No model can turn as many heads, or break as many hearts as this child - with complete awareness of beauty, and awareness of the fragility of beauty.  Her face says, 'I'm so beautiful - anklets, bangles, chain, earrings, new frilly frock - it too much to bear'. But the chubbiness is that of incipient jaundice - untreated due to poverty. But every mother will make her daughter a princess - once in her life, at least.

Narendra, the father, is unwell, a TB patient, and into drink. Kala, keeps the fires burining at home, She herself blind is in one eye, 

Narendra I have known since he was a boy. A good boy, but his family was very poor, and the children were all very undernourished. His mother died of a snakebite and the father, weak in health, suffering from TB, unable to work hard, could not bring up the children. The daughters were married off early in desperation to undesirable men. Now the boy Narendra is a father of two girls – again poor, again unable to work hard, and the cycle goes on. And with the government removing probibition, and promoting liquor, along  with many others his age he has become a drunkard.

Kala has many health problems including palpitations, and no money to address any, and she leaves them unaddressed. In cheer and hard work she tries to bring up the children. She gets 300/- for cooking the noon meal for the village school. For this she has to gather enough firewood, cook daily and serve the food. She does this with prefect commitment as 'the food is for children'. 

For a labouring, landless family, when health gives way, the structure starts cracking up and then they swiftly enter the ranks of the 'poorest' of the dalitwada. 

But with a heart probably breaking due to not being able to give her child food and medicine, feeds the mendicant who calls out at her door with a full, respectful heart. If dharmam can exist only with poverty, and broken hearts ... and with fragile beauty ... may it still exist. 

The last time Kala told me how one night he ran from  home and out of the village, and she how ran after him suspecting something was wrong. He had gone to 'commit suicide' ... there is a local plant the local people grind and have with jaggery for this. She said how she  led him back, and how she explained to him along the way how  they need to tell each other their problems, and how together they will strive to find a solution somehow. She said she asked him how she can know what is in his mind otherwise, if he does not tell her. Kala is a chit of a girl herself. The women of the community never cease to amaze me. They are gentle, generous - but made of fine invisible steel that gives them a strength to cope with everything.

Kala, Narendra and their small children Vaishnavi and Teja have just finished their month-long stay in the field for the jaggery making work. This is a most demanding operation, involving being day and night on the job. The three phase current comes only at night, and the family is up through the night extracting the juice. Through the day the vats boil with ferocious heat. The sun is also at burning heat these months . After a month the family returns home, darker, thinner. And that is how we get our jaggery in cities.

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