The other day, as I watched a group of women, dressed in their Diwali finery, go by, I was reminded of an incident that happened a few years ago.
At the time, I was associated with a group of women who ran some small projects like Sanskarvargas in Dharavi, which has the dubious distinction of being the largest slum area in Asia.
These ladies had some business to conduct at the office of the Charity Commissioner at Worli, here in Mumbai. Now the ladies were from a state in Southern India and did not know English, Hindi or Marathi well. Some of them could not understand or speak these languages at all. All official work at the Charity Commissioner’s office was conducted in any one of these languages. So this was a problem for them.
I offered to come with them and help them with filling up the various necessary forms.
We decided on the day and time and I was duly waiting for them in front of the office at the appointed time. Their bus arrived and the group, accompanied by the husband of one of the ladies, alighted. Seeing that I was already there, he left for work.
We spent a couple of hours in the office, and by the time we left, we were all heartily sick of filling up forms! I directed them to their bus stop and checked that they knew which bus to take. One of them suggested that we all have some sugar-cane juice which a vendor was selling on the road-side. So we all drank the juice and chatted in broken English and Hindi!
As they were leaving, one of the ladies gestured towards me and smilingly said something to her neighbour. Because of the language problem I could not ask her what she had said. Another lady translated and told me that she had said that they had enjoyed their day,and that she thanked me for it. All of them nodded their heads and showed that they agreed.
Now I could not understand what had been particularly enjoyable about our visit to the Charity Commissioner’s office and I said as much. Our interpreter lady told me that it was because they had been able to go somewhere, just women by themselves, without needing their husbands to escort them. They were afraid to go out in Mumbai by themselves because of the language difficulty. And since most of their husbands worked long hours, the women hesitated to ask them to escort them.
So that day had been a sort of Ladies’ Day Out for them!
Whenever I feel like complaining about some trivial thing, or feel annoyed because I can not see a movie that I want to see, or maybe feel irritated because I have to postpone an outing, I am reminded of these ladies. Then I feel ashamed of myself.
How truly admirable they were! They had come so far from their hometowns. Most of them worked hard- in their own homes, in other peoples’ homes as maidservants, or helping their husbands in their small businesses. They did not demand much in return. Just the chance for their children to get an education. A chance for themselves to work in order to supplement the family income. And occasionally the chance to go out- just ladies by themselves!