Making a Difference

It was at a meeting of people associated with projects in slum areas that I first met Umatai, a few years ago.

At her invitation I later went to visit her, at her home.

She lived in Kamathipura here in Mumbai, which is known mostly as a red-light district. Her family owned a two-story house there, with a small manufacturing unit on the ground floor, and living quarters on the floor above.

When they first started living there, many years ago, it was some distance from the red-light area. Over the years, the red-light area had expanded and was now just a few blocks away. However, since it was convenient for them to live close to their manufacturing business they continued to stay there.

Most of the residents living near Umatai’s house were Telugu-speaking families. Many of the women worked as Beedi-rollers in nearby Beedi-manufacturing units. Frequently, they were the only earning members of their families. Some of the husbands had lost their jobs when the mills began shutting down in Mumbai some years ago. Often the men spent their money, as well as that earned by the women, on drink or gambling.

Umatai noticed this, and decided to do something to help the women.

Persuading the women to participate, she set up a credit society. She taught them to save a little money regularly and immediately deposit the amount in the credit society.

These women, who earlier never had any savings, began to learn to save money regularly so that they could accumulate a modest sum to be used in case of an emergency.

When any of them were in need of a loan, they obtained it from the credit society. She taught a few of the women how to maintain accounts, and in a short time they learned how to manage everything themselves.

Loans were very strictly monitored. They were only given to the women, never to their husbands. Umatai explained that loans should be taken only for emergencies like a sudden illness in the family.

Sometimes the women took loans at the beginning of the school year to buy books and uniforms for their children. These were usually paid off in a few months. She discouraged loans for financing weddings, but it was not always possible to avoid that.

The woman often kept any gold jewellery they owned, as collateral for a larger loan. Umatai told me proudly that they had never needed to confiscate jewellery because of an unpaid loan. The women sometimes were late in making payments, but it was a matter of pride for them to settle the loan.

I met the two young women who were looking after the accounts of the credit society, at Umatai’s home that day. They did not have much formal education but seemed very self-confident and knowledgeable about the running of a credit society.

I have known several women like Umatai who work for the betterment of society in various ways. Some are working, some are homemakers like Umatai. They do not leave their usual occupations to do this work. They simply reserve a little time for it in their daily routine.

The work they do is done without any fanfare or publicity. It is on a very small scale- it will not trigger any great movement or revolution in society. But it does make a difference.

I am reminded of a story that I read recently-

A little girl who was on a beach noticed that the tide had washed up hundreds of fish onto the shore. The little girl started picking them up one at a time and throwing them back into the water.

A man who was watching her said ” Little girl, you can’t make a difference by throwing a few fish back in the water, for there are thousands on the beach.”

She threw another one into the sea and said “it made a difference to that one.”



  1. So many of us cannot look beyond our own cosy cocoons. And then along comes someone like Umatai, who makes you think. How she is changing so many lives. Without making a big hue and a cry about it. So much to learn…And that little girl could be Umatai's daughter …Wonderful post !


  2. lovely to read such a wonderful post..people like Umatai are needed everywhere and that little girl can teach a lesson to many.Your posts are so inspiring..Thanks manju !!!


  3. Absolutely brilliant. I would want to show this post to all those who crib about 'this & that' not being there and consequent problems abounding ! Just to let them know, that are enough everyday tales that life is beautiful provided we make it so !The power to make a difference is some power indeed.


  4. Another truly inspiring post from you. Should help some of us shed the inertia that prevents us from doing the little we can.
    "It made a difference to that one" is a mantra that we all need to remember all the time, particularly given the environment that generates apathy, cynicism and indifference.


  5. You should be awarded with "making a difference " blog .Not about this post – Inspired by what i read about farmer suicides that was discussed on your blog, I picked up the book Big cotton by stephen yafa – i thought i would be reading a story of american cotton. you would be surprised to know of all the 44 pages read so far – there is no page where it is not written about Indian cotton- .
    I am beginning to wonder could the cotton farmer suicides be due to the fact that india is importing cotton seeds that carry gene altered biotechnology to india, brazil and numerous other countries. The author, an american writes:"when we export genetically modified seeds to countries where controls over its use are difficult or impossible to enforce – most of the countries on the planet, that is – we run a serious risk of inviting ecological disaster. Third world nations like mali and its neighbors are seizing upon American cotton and the lvish subsidies our government awards to its growers as evidence that we are as selfish and callous as our enemies maintain."
    Thanks Manju for inspiring me to dig to the roots finally.


  6. That was such an inspiring story. It is so true, every little helps. It is people like Umatai and that little girl who make a difference.
    I love the way you come up with inspiring posts. If my daughter were older, I would have gotten her to read you. As of now, I am just bookmarking these for now.


  7. Another gem from you. People like Umatai aren't in the race to get recongnition. They keep doing what they think should be done. That little girl is an inspiration too.


  8. Happy Kitten– Thank you!
    Ugich Konitari– Yes, that is it exactly- people like Umatai care about people who are outside their little circle of family and friends, too.
    Sandhya– I liked that line, too. I thought that was a lovely story.
    Renu Yes, people like Umatai are needed everywhere…


  9. Kavi– Yes, and this power to make a difference is present in all of us- if only we realise it!
    Vinodji– Yes, we often see that people avoid doing the small constructive things that they could do, because they feel that only mass protests or movements can bring about positive change.
    Anrosh– I do not have much technical knowledge about it, but it does seem that GM seeds are having an adverse effect on our agriculure.
    Ugich Konitari has written a wonderfully detailed post about BT brinjal- I was going to give you the link, but I saw that you had already read it!
    Smitha, Solilo– Thank you!


  10. It is an example and some lead by example.
    I too brought a number of young boys under a society a few years back.Today,all those boys/ ladies are flourishing by selling merchandise at the traffic signals.
    I did create the set up and they started by selling paper face tissues.


  11. Interesting. I think (if I am not mistaken) the DWCRA in Andhra Pradesh functions in a similar fashion. And they are pretty successful too. And yes, even a little bit can make a difference especially if the movement catches on. And a wonderful story to illustrate the point.


  12. Radha– From what I have read, the DWCRA has had good success in Andhra Pradesh.Umatai's credit society was for a very small area with women members from one industry (Beedi rollers). But the principle is the same.


  13. I loved the ending of your post a lot. Most of us would have turned a blind eye towards other people's misfortune.It is wonderful to know that people like 'umatai' are not jaded and still have it in them to help other people.


  14. Kanagu– Exactly- we all have to do what we can
    Vivekji– Yes, she is an inspiration- she motivated those women to begin saving and gave them self-confidence.
    Lazy Pinapple– Yes, she gave the women just what they needed- a little guidance about what to do to improve their lives.


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