We were strolling the banks of the river Ganges, under the celestial sky, mesmerized by the floating diyas (little lamps lighted and let loose in the Ganges by devotees), meandering the course of the river, as we neared the Sai Mandir, at Triveni Ghat we met this little chit of a girl, who was selling little dough balls to feed the fish who taught us a few of life’s priceless lessons.
All of us bought some dough balls to feed the fish, one of us went an extra mile and bought her day’s supplies, oops night time’s stocks(it starts getting dark in Rishikesh as early as 6 pm in the evening especially in the winter months).
A big smile lit up her lovely face and she exclaimed, “Tonight I am going to cook a feast for me and my siblings with all this extra money!!”
Our curiosity got the better of us and we started bombarding her with a multitude of questions ranging from, “What are you doing so late in the evening sitting in the dark near the Sai Mandir near Triveni ghat ?”, “Don’t you go to school?”,“Why are you going to cook, aren’t you too young to cook ?”, “Where is your mother ?”.
She opened up slowly and told us that they hailed from a small village near Varanasi, Durga was one of the younger siblings; they were a brood of 4 sisters and two brothers. Durga and her five siblings; survived on the meager earnings of their mother, Shalini Devi, who did menial jobs, housework to sustain the family of six.
She lost her father, a daily wage labourer who was a habitual drinker prone to abuse, he lost his life when Durga was only eight years. In India, there are several families, where men have given to alcoholism. The women work very hard to earn wages and run the household, these limited incomes are often squandered away by their husbands on alcohol. They also single-handedly have to shield themselves and their children when the prospect of violent behavior looms large.
One day after a bout of heavy drinking, Durga’s Bapu (father) lit a beedi (an Indian cigarette), bursting a gas cylinder, in no moment their entire hut was in flames. They lost him in the accident; it was a lucky coincidence that they were in the village for the summer holidays and hence saved on that fateful day.
Was this a blessing in disguise? His death gave the family respite as he used to blow up all the money he and his wife earned on alcohol, leaving the children to survive on scraps, thus putting an end to years of physical abuse and domestic squabbles. The family struggled to make ends meet but managed to survive with Durga supplementing the income by selling dough balls after school hours sometimes accompanied by a friend, sometimes on her own.
Today, her mother Shalini Devi had gone to their village, she and her elder sister who was all of 16 years were looking after their family of six siblings. Tonight, with all the extra money she got, she was going to treat all of them to an extra serving of vegetables and hot rotis and top it off with dahi sweetened with sugar (sweet yogurt).
“I want to become the next Mary Kom”, she announced to us and went on to tell us how she and a friend of hers used to practice daily, using plastic jholas(bags) as makeshift gloves, thus devising their own punching bag to practice boxing.
She told us that people around her blessed her when she touched their feet with benedictions like, “May you beget the best husband”, “May you have a long and happy married life”. Her regret was no one ever asked her asked her what her aspirations were, what career would she chose, no one ever showered her with blessings of her a having long and fulfilling career. Isn’t it a paradox that in a country where women are worshipped in the form of Kali, Amba women are still expected to be mere home-makers, their career aspirations taking a backseat?
If not Mary Kom, she would definitely like to join the Indian police and become a woman Police Inspector; she desired to protect the women of her kith and kin from the atrocities inflicted upon them at home and at work. She wanted to make money so she would be able to give her siblings the chance of a better life and be a guardian angel to the womenfolk of her country.
Her answers which lent us an insight into her indomitable spirit and zest for life in spite of the hardships she faced had all of us looking inwards with gratitude and count our blessings. Her awareness of her troubled past, a difficult present did not diminish her hopes for a dazzling future. Her sagacity was beyond her years and had us bowled over.
When one of our group members Arunji asked her , “What do you ask for when you pray to god “? She told us, “I don’t ask anything for myself, I just pray that God makes the wishes of my near dear ones and those around me come true. My happiness lies in their happiness “.
No meeting with any saint or learned people in Rishikesh could help us replenish ourselves and nothing would equal our erudition from this evolved soul.With her dreams of a better life not only for herself but for her siblings too, with her inherent desires to serve her the women of her country, little Durga enlightened our minds healing our souls and hearts in one go on that dark wintry night in Rishikesh.
“We all are a little broken,
But the last I checked, broken crayons still colour the same “.