To read Part 1, click here
I understood and felt that I was truly blessed in every way, when compared to the people I met during the next couple of days. Later, I even chided myself for being critical of the accommodation provided to us.
When I now reflect on how and why my attitude towards life changed so
much, I realized that there was one particular incident affected me
deeply. It was when I met a poor widow of a farmer...
During the week long trip,my classmates and I met several deprived people, with problems ranging from lack of access to education, improper health and sanitation to caste issues and domestic violence. Women trafficking and farmer suicides were the major problems in the area. All the villages that we visited comprised a majority of illiterate people, mainly artisans and farmers. While artisans were plagued with the issue of their dying art forms and did not know any other form of work, farmer suicides abounded due to the huge agricultural losses incurred in the barren lands that had scarce rainfall.
Amongst the scores of people whom I met, the story of a middle-aged widow called Lakshminarasamma, touched my heart. This quote sums it up:
"...the misery is there inside her, like a stone, and there’s no room
for any other thoughts.."
–Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
She was neck-deep in debt and struggled to make both ends meet. Her husband, a farmer, had committed suicide when faced with loss of crop yield, unable to pay his debts. These people led a life that was consumed by debt. They were born in debt, lived in debt and died in debt!
With her husband's death, Lakshminarasamma was left to fend for herself, two young daughters and a little mentally impaired son. She had no means of livelihood as she was illiterate and unemployed, not having ventured outside the confines of her parents house and later her husband's house. Despite having a sizeable group of relatives and friends, all of them shied away from helping her family during those troubled times.
Lakshminarasamma received a tiny sum from the government's death relief fund, using which she married off her eldest daughter. In India, especially in villagers with illiterate people, daughters are considered a burden and must be married off as soon as possible. So, Lakshminarasamma had to get the burden off her chest and secure her daughters' futures.
Having spent the money received, she led a hand to mouth existence and survived on government rations that were barely sufficient. For her family, having even one square meal a day was a luxury as no one was willing to employ a widow. Being a widow was a stigma in her village and community. After beseeching the local moneylender, she received a loan and began a bangle business. The first year profits were minimal and she married off her second daughter using the money. Soon, the bangle business had to be shut down too due to high losses. After that she could not get anymore loans, had no means to repay the earlier ones, loan sharks were harassing her frequently and neither could she find someone who would employ her. Each day was now a struggle for her and her son. She did a menial job whenever she was offered one, maybe once or twice a week and somehow managed to live...
As she narrated her story to me, I was seated in the floor of her humble hut. Watching the tears well up in her eyes, I felt my own eyes becoming moist too.Her tears flowed freely as she cried, giving a vent to her feelings.
"There is no one to help me. I feel like ending my life, but what about my son?" she asked me amidst sobs. I had no answer.
Though I had met many people in similar situations during the trip, the fact that the woman cried her heart out to me was distressing. I felt ashamed; I was a stranger after all, intruding upon her already miserable state and making it worse with my questioning. It pained me to be part of her personal agony, to be privy to her deepest emotions. Her question hit me in the heart. I so desperately wanted to help her, but could do nothing. My comforting words would not ease her trouble in any way.
The experience brought home to me the fact that life is certainly
not a bed of roses. For some it may be filled with roses, but for many unfortunate people,
it is a bed of thorns.
The incident really moved me and I actually understood how blessed my own life is. I decided to count my blessings and try to become a better human being...
I leave you with this quote:
“For just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop
looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life.
Stop waiting. This is it: there's nothing else. It's here, and you'd better
decide to enjoy it or you're going to be miserable wherever you go, for the
rest of your life, forever.”
― Lev Grossman, The Magicians