Climbing Up The Hill

I once had occasion to talk with some ladies who lived on Forjett Hill.

For those readers who are familiar with Mumbai, this area is across the street from Bhatia Hospital at Grant Road. On the slope facing Bhatia Hospital there is a slum settlement.

Viewed from the road, it seems to rise up in layers and layers of rows of dwellings, continuing up to the top of the hill. On the opposite side of the hill, which is less steep, lies the affluent area of Peddar Road.

Many of the people living in this slum settlement work as domestic helps in the houses at Peddar Road.

I had arranged to wait in front of Bhatia Hospital, and Vijay, the young man who was to show me the way to where the ladies were meeting, was to come there. Accordingly, he met me there, we crossed the road, and started up the hill. It was a good fifteen minutes climb and there was just a winding dirt road, stamped smooth by the local residents. I was quite out of breath by the time we reached our meeting place.

This was on a comparatively wider part of the road itself, which had been swept clean. Some youngsters were spreading straw mats for the ladies to sit.

I knew that Vijay was married, so I asked where his wife was. She would be there shortly, he assured me. A few dozen ladies sat down on the mats and I was requested to start. A women’s organisation had been newly formed by the local residents, and I had been asked to suggest activities that they could conduct there, which would be beneficial for the residents.

We were sort of a ‘floating’ group there, some ladies were there from the beginning, some coming after fifteen minutes, some after half an hour. They left pretty much the same way, at intervals. But overall, I had the impression that they were eager to start some activities there. Towards the end of the meeting, Vijay’s wife arrived and introduced herself.

Afterwards, she invited me to their home for tea. Vijay was already there. His wife seemed very friendly, so I hesitatingly asked her why she had not come earlier. She glanced at her husband and told me the reason.

The slum settlement being unauthorised, did not have water supply from the Municipality in the houses. Water had to be fetched from the public taps which were situated at the bottom of the hill.

Since the taps had running water for only about an hour in the evening, the residents had to go down the hill every evening with their buckets and handis to fetch it. The round trip took half an hour not counting the time spent waiting in queue.

When Vijay was at home in the evening he fetched the water, otherwise his wife did. That evening Vijay had come to escort me to the meeting, so his wife had gone for the water. The ladies who did not go to get the water- sending some other member of their family- had come early to our meeting. The other ladies came as soon as they finished their ‘water fetching duties’.

She assured me that she, as well as the other ladies, truly wanted to start some activities there. She said that they particularly wanted to start some activities for children so that they would not fall into ‘bad habits’.

So we both sat down on the floor of her tiny kitchen, and for half an hour discussed what type of activities would be feasible.

She had obviously given a lot of thought to this subject and had some good ideas herself. Could they start some classes to teach women to make pickles or papads, in a way which would be commercially viable? Maybe start sewing classes? Then the women could work from home. Could they start an Anganwadi, so small children would have some structured activity for a few hours daily?

Whenever I read in some article that the future of our country depends on its younger generation, I think about people like Vijay and his wife. Despite having such a hard life, they were ready to look beyond themselves and think of doing something for society.

Or was it precisely because of having experience of hardship themselves, that they were prompted to think of others, too?



  1. True, people who have gone through tough times always have more empathy for others.I think ideas to improve the lives of slum dwellers should always come from them. They are the ones going through such hardship and they know more about the problems than anybody else.


  2. Brilliant. I think the essence lies in the last line. That however should be no excuse for the rest of society to look the other way. It is important for all of us to do our bit. The Forjett Hills and such other hills are peaks for our finding our bearings. And work towards a larger inclusive society. A society that goes beyond 'whats in it for me'


  3. Most of the "haves" , are prone to asking "why". The "have nots" tend to ask "why not" … And so Vijay's wife and her neighbor ladies make the effort and time to attempt something that might improve their lives. And attribute great value to your help. A very inspiring post. I wish some of those AC-enabled folks who screw up their face at every sight, sound, and smell read it…and learn.


  4. There is fire in the bellies of some of these people. They want to move ahead, break free. And not just alone, as you have rightly observed, because they have shared the same hardship with others.
    All that they need is initial guidance from people who know more. But those who do also tend to think more for themselves, no? That is why the exceptions are so priceless.
    I remember many years ago one of our distant relatives came to our house in Delhi for a wedding from a very small village. This non-English speaking boy was so fired in the one night that he was with us that before leaving he told my mom that he would want to come next only in a three piece suit. Today he is much richer than us, and despite the handicap of not knowing English, is running a successful business in Faridabad. He has got his brothers involved in it too. Amazing example.


  5. Antarman– Yes, I think that is true- people who already have comforts worry about how to get more.

    Aparna– I agree, ideally, slum dwellers are the best people to know what will improve their situation.However, they do not usually have a voice in policy-making.

    Kavi– Yes, those who have not needed to experience such hardship should perhaps empathise a bit more with those who have. Unfortunately some people prefer to just pretend that everything is well with our society, and ignore the problems.


  6. Ugich Konitari– Yes, in our middle class society, we tend to bring out reasons why something cannot be done.
    These women had a much more positive attitude and were ready to work hard to succeed.I also noted that they were ready to do whatever it took to ensure that their children had a chance of a better life.

    Vinodji– Yes, I have often observed that in underprivileged areas people do have-as you say- 'fire in their bellies'.
    But yes, it is an inclusive type of ambition. They want to get ahead, but they want to take their families and neighbours along with them. They strive for improved conditions for their whole community.


  7. Hi Manju,Very nice! I hope they started something and sustained it through all frustrations that one has to encounter in such initiatives.
    Normally, a few take the initiative and have the enthusiasm. Most of them would stay back either because they are not sure or they are convinced about the failure of such an initiative.
    It is important that adequate support and encouragement is given to those who want to start something like this.


  8. An inspiring line of thought. All of us live for us now living for others is tougher. I know of some brahmin women who actually runs pickle/papad business from home and quite successful at it.


  9. We have some of the best of everything in the world.But,because of the tight grip of the politicians on our lives,we are stuck to everyday problems.
    Perhaps,that is what the Netas want and perhaps,because of having seen the sufferings,likes of Vijay have got the inspiration to do more.Your is a very inspiring post.


  10. Mavin– I went to that meeting at the invitation of a friend who had been associated with a project in that area earlier.
    He thought that it would be helpful for the ladies to have several suggestions to consider- they could decide what would be best suited for their situation later.
    He later told me that the ladies' group had- if I remember correctly- started a small children's library.

    Solilo– Yes, there are many such activities which can be run successfully, but both time and effort is required.

    Roshni– Yes, that is what impressed me the most at the time- they had to make such an effort just to come to the meeting. But they still had the enthusiasm to think about starting a project!


  11. Ugich Konitari– Will come by to read it. 🙂

    Chowlaji– Yes, the politicians, but also the policies they promote, and the support we give them for short-term gain- all are responsible for the situation.


  12. Really appreciate the thought of keeping their kids engaged in some gainfully learning activity so that they dont get into bad habits. Nice to know about your involvement in social service, thanks for posting your experience here.


  13. We often see that mothers in such areas find this very important- to try to keep their children away from bad habits. These homes are so tiny that most of the children's time is spent outside with their friends. So their mothers' concern is understandable.


  14. It is best not to question whether their hardships motivate them to help others. The fact remains that they have made an attempt to help people and that is admirable. We see so many who make no effort either to improve their own lives or help others who sail in the same boat.


  15. Radha– You are right- we do see people who do not care to make the effort to better their own situation, or that of others.
    So those who do make the effort should certainly be commended.


  16. Have only been a silent reader so far..a very inspiring and thoughtful post like all your other posts… to think that just a little is needed to help so many in our world.. but some of us don't hear their pleas since we are busy bettering our own lives, while those who have less does much more….


  17. Happy Kitten– Welcome! And thank you!I think some of us are just caught up in our fast-moving daily routine, so that we do not have time to look around…


  18. Inspiring post Manju. It is heartening to see Vijay and wife wanting to help others. Though I don't tend to agree that experience of hardships in itself prompts people to think of others (it needs something more than that) and that people in comfortable conditions think only of themselves (which is a cliche), yes I do agree in a lot of cases it is so.


  19. Shail– Yes, you're right. It is a cliche, and we really should not make generalisations. However we do find this tendency in many areas. Even in NGOs for specific diseases, like cancer,etc. the volunteers are usually those who have had a close relative suffer from that specific disease.
    It is easier to empathise when we really know what the suffering is- whether poverty or something else.
    Of course there are also those who have the ability to emphathise even without personal experience.


  20. shail, empathizing is a great what if it is because they face hardships ? the motivation is to be admired, never mind the source of the motivation.


  21. ref above comment – delete the first 2 sentences of my above comment. this is what happens when one reads reads just the opposite.
    manju's blog is indeed chicken soup for the soul


  22. @ Anrosh, empathy is indeed something special and great. It is just that I believe facing hardship alone is not the criterion, but that it comes from some inner source of a person which the couple here seem to have.


  23. Somehow I remember as if I had already read this post of yours, Manju and about Vijay and his wife! This post suddenly showed up in my blog!

    The title is so apt for this subject, Manju…these people face so many hardships already but they are ready to work more to help others and thinking of starting business (excess work).

    We seem to come across people who are good at heart through your posts, Manju.


  24. Chowlaji, Sandhya,- Actually, this is an old post, written more that a year earlier. I have no idea why it has suddenly shown up in google reader. A ‘google’ mystery… 😀


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