Friday, 7 August 2015

Munneshwari


Munneshwari is married to Darkalaiyna, the habitual drunk of the village. When he is sober he is a most loving father, and hardworking husband - but when her gets into his drinking bouts, the little money in the house vanishes and Munneshwari is beaten up well. Once when after another drunken row I asked her if she wanted to end the marriage, she would not hear of it. I realized that she was concerned about the daughters, and that despite all she actually loved her husband also.



She has taken him on, slap for slap during the drinking bouts. She has railed at the drinking shop owner and told him to not give her husband any drink on credit, and that next she will go to the police straight.  At home she has saved money from her husband to nurture her two daughters, taking care to stay out of debt at any cost. She has protected the little money as best as she can, and brought up the two daughters Nandini and Chendu into lovely wholesome children. She steers clear of debts and manages as best as she can in very limited money. They are landless, and also very poor.


For so long, like other village mothers, she had been seeing the children suffer cramping pains at night, but having to sell away every drop of milk without retaining any for the undernourished child as that was the only cource of income. Once I called  Munneshwari and asked her how the children were.She said they were 'so well', since they had started on the milk and ashwagandhadhi, that Varalu had started giving the children daily in school. I asked her 'in what way'  were they 'so well'. And she smiled down the phone saying ‘Chinadaaniki buggalu vachchesinayee' ('the little one has put on cheeks'), and 'they both eat well now, and their hunger is good.' How glad a mother's voice sounds when a child's health improves. That we should be living in a country where those who graze the cows and milk them, have no way to retain any for their own children ...

Recently when i asked after her daughter Sindhu, and she said she was at her mother's place. And that she was saying that she would study there itself, and that her own parents and brother also wanted to keep her there and look after her. And in these hard times, it would be one expense less. I asked her how she would bear the seperation, and she sighed. Then i told her that we break our hearts over our children, but they are quite happy outside our reach.   She nodded, and said, 'Once they leave us, their world is theirs'. Later I discovered that she had been diagnosed with blood cancer and was keeping this information suppressed, and therefore the probable reason to settle on child away.

Hard times
She and her husband have been a very hard working couple on the tenency land they took on lease. But, the fate of farmers … 



  2014 -
Darkalaiyna had fever the day I reached the village. He said that he had slept in the field last three night as the boars were coming and nosing out all the plants. In these times of drought the spare crop he had saved was very important. The next day his daughter Nandini came home to ask me for some tea leaves and sugar, saying that her father had high fever. My heart sank. The drought continues.
At the slight rains, the people of the village have sowed groundnut 
 seeds often purchased with borrowed money. They invest in deweeding, knowing that the chances of crop failure are high. Munneshwari and Darkalaiyna said that the groundnut (which last month he was protecting against wild boars by staying on the fields at night with a fever) crop had withered away. Most people who planted hoping against hope lost their crop - thus losing seed and investment.

A little later she told me how she the sugarcane they had invested on on tenency land had dried up despite all efforts. There was a little water in the borewell, but as Munneshwari said, the land was so parched, that the water from the bore would get soaked into the dry land before reaching the crop. Anyway that bore also dried up.
With no rains, there is hardly any grass to graze for the cows. But the cows have to be grazed, milked (though the people sorrowfully say that this is like drawing blood), as that is the only small source of income. As all the borewells have dried up, water is carted at government cost and given at 8 pots per family per day, including all the cows and people. A cow needs 3 pots of water a day !
 She called up the other day to ask if she can also make pickles to sell, as that will help her to earn some money.

Milk
Every drop of milk in this village has to be sold as that is the only meagre income for the families - and her own children, as every other village child grow deprived of the milk. We started to buy her milk to give milk to the school children, and pay her two rupees more than the milk collection centre does.  
Munneshwari's cow suddenly fell ill last week, and they had to get the local vet down. The vet made three trips over two days, and each vist cost 500/-. the savngs disappeared, and also the next month's milk income was bartered away as she took a loan. She told me that for this reason she cannot sell us her milk ...

2015 –
They bought a tractor load of straw for 10,000/-. I asked her where she got the money from, and she said somehow she got it from Banakadapalle. i asked her what the interest was and she said 5/- (Per month. Which is 60% p.a.). There is not even water for the cows, and the tractor gives limited number of pots of water per home per day from the one live bore in the panchayat. So she leaves water pots in everyone's home, and they pour the water from washing rice into it, and the rice starch, and that she collects and manages for one round of drinking for the cows.'  

Against all odds she protects her cows as only that will help her sustain her children. I had told her to not sell away her cows in the drought and to ask for any money or loan. When I asked her again a few weeks later on phone, I faced the usual cheerful voice, and honesty. 'We are manageing. It rained yesterday, and in two weeks there should be some grass. Yes, yes, when I need I will surely call you. Nandini had such a nice time in Madras. How is Saar ? How is Turiya ? When are you coming ?' Some urban people think that the poor will take advantage if help is offered. i have seen only the contrary behavior. They maintain dignity and honesty - first and foremost.

With such a standing offer, she came home with 4000/- and said that that was the milk money she had got, and with another 5000/- she get get a load of fodder for the cows. She could have asked me for 9000/-, she knows - but she did not. They are all like that

She also told me this time that she has been diagnosed with blood cancer, but kept the fact from even her husband. She goes to the Cancer Hospital with her brother every month. She has two small girls. That smile though has never left her face in all the years I have known her - close to twenty now.

(The tanker usually comes at mignight because that is when the three phase current is there.  When I grumbled Munneshwari remindedme that we lose 1/2 hour of sleep at night, while the tanker driver loses the nights sleep night after night ...)


1 comment:

  1. Heart rending. Inspiring. Humbling. Depressing. Uplifting. Humane. All at once. May the human spirit win over the travails of life.

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