Tuesday, 5 March 2013

My life as a "wanderlust" ... The Story of Sarada

As in my previous post, I had promised, that I would write about some of the wonderful people and places that I have visited during my travels, this post is my first endevour to fulfill that promise.

I wanted this story to be the first, because it's a story of an incredible woman. This incident took place in the year 1998 in the month of April. I mention this story specifically, because there are so many women, and in so many different circumstances, and each have their own brave tales to tell... this is such a story, the story of Sarada, an ordinary woman, but incredible because of the circumstances she's in.

This story takes place in a small town in of Londa, more specifically, the Londa Railway Station... Londa is situated in the Belgaum district of Karnataka, India. It's a really beautiful town, with breathtaking views of the Sahyadris rising up. There are generally two types of people who come to the Londa station. The first are the trekkers who are interested in going up the Sahyadris, and the second group generally, change trains here for the further journey upto Goa. My family and I fell into the second group.

Back in the 1990's, Konkan railways, which connects Mumbai and Margao in Goa, did not have many trains in operation and as my father was being transferred from Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh, taking the right connecting train was even more difficult... so we undertook a long journey, from Madhya Pradesh, to Mahrashtra to Karnataka and finally to Goa. Londa fell in our Karnataka section of the trip.

When the train stopped in Londa, very few people alighted. It was afternoon and the month of April. The summer sun was already making it's presence felt and there were very few porters available.

We were approached by one, who took a hard look at the number of cases we were carrying and asked us our destination. When we told him that we were taking a train from this station itself, and we merely needed to change the platform, he pointed out that there was a bridge to be crossed and that with the amount of luggage we had, he would charge at least 70 bucks.

Now Indians, and especially Bengalis, have an inherent habit of bargaining... no matter the money was being paid by the Indian Government, my parents and I promptly indulged in a bargain. The fellow, probably was feeling too sleepy... contrary to agreeing or disagreeing, as is the norm of a successful  bargaining, he simply left.

So here was, a family of four, stranded on a platform, with the summer sun beating down upon us, and in a few minutes it looked as if the entire station has gone on a siesta, except for us. There was not a single person milling around, not even stray dogs were found, the few stalls of books and paraphernalia had already closed with "lunch time" hanging on their downed shutters. The last departing porter gave us a reassuring advice, wait till the next train arrives and someone would be there to help us... well the next train that would arrive was the one we were supposed to take, so his advice was completely wasted on us... but we chose not to point it out to him.

As we were staring up at the stairs to the bridge, gathering up our luggage and planning on a strategy as to who would carry what, we met her... she was a frail looking woman, in a red sari, no footwear and a large red "bindi" on her forehead... she came up to us, and signaled with her hands, where we were headed.

 Our first impression was that she was a beggar, and thus consequently, we chose to ignore her. As my father picked up the first suitcase and started heading, she ran to my father, and started snatching it from his hand... we jumped up, thinking she was a mad woman, and my mother and I started screaming for help... then she started pleading to us, again with the signs to stop screaming... she painfully explained that she was a porter.

When we understood, what she was trying to convey, we were extremely taken aback, a woman porter, that too one who could not speak or hear... we didn't know whether to be impressed or suspicious...

We slowly started loading up the suitcases onto her head... when the limit of two cases was reached, my mother asked my father to take the other two, since she was so frail, we didn't really trust her to carry everything.... she again signaled, she was very able to carry the extra two suitcases, and they were also promptly loaded up...with four cases piled up on her head, and two duffel bags on her right arm, she slowly started to mount the stairs. I and my brother kept matching her pace, because we were sure she would topple over. She again signaled to me regarding which platform to go to, and I signaled back. When we reached our destination, she slowly unloaded the suitcases and the bags and waited. We weren't sure what we were supposed to do, and my father took out a 50 rupee note... she again signaled that she didn't want the money now, but when she would load the luggage on the train. We were surprised and really touched.

As then happens with all Indian families, we squatted on top of our luggage and waited for our train to come. She squatted on the floor nearby.

My mother, this is one trait I share with her... whatever the circumstances, we need to talk. My mother promptly started a conversation with her. Now it was the most strangest conversation, I have ever witnessed. No a single word was spoken between the two speakers, the entire conversation was through actions, yet the witnesses present could clearly understand what was being spoken.

What transpired from the conversation was as follows.

Her name was Sarada, she pointed at a Hindi tatoo on her arm to let us know of this fact, she was married, her husband was also a porter, infact the same one who had told us that there would be someone to help us... she had three children, and she helped her husband out in the business of pottering.

She looked after the noon shift, when there wasn't many trains and passengers, while her husband took a short nap. He would be back, she said in about an hour, and she would go to pick up her kids from school. She had three children, two daughters and one son and yes they all went to school. Her husband and her children could all speak and hear, only she couldn't. Her husband, she pointed out did not drink or beat her, as is the norm in most poor Indian families. When my mother pointed out that she too could take rest, instead of laboring in the hot syn, carrying such huge luggage... she explained to her, that she really believed in earning herself, and being independent and  in fact, it was her earnings, which made it possible for her children to attend schooling. She also pointed out that because both her husband and she earned, it has been possible for them to make a "pucca" house for themselves.This, she pointed out smiling, was an achievement,  as they were the only porters here in Londa to have one. We were stunned listening to her story.

In an era, (this was 1998, remember?) where women's lib was only a lip service, here was a woman, disable so as to speak of, but far more advanced and far more capable than, many quite able ones. She was poor, she couldn't even hear or speak, and yet here she was, doing a job, that in India, is quite clearly a man's domain. We could not hide our appreciation and respect for her.

Shortly our train came, and she again loaded each and every case, with care in our designated compartment and my father was so happy that he paid a hundred bucks to Sarada. Soon as the train left the station, we could see Sarada's red sari fluttering up in the wind as she slowly mounted up the stairs.


Kalyani said...

She told her story without speaking? Amazed!

Reflections... said...

Yes, entirely, with signs and pointing...!!! it was amazing...!! :)