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Sudha had always been dependent on the men –first her father and later her husband. But one fine day she decides to do something for herself and the women in her life help her achieve her goals.
‘Have you gone crazy, Mom! Where’s the need for you to do anything like that now?’
Rashmi’s bewildered voice still rang in Sudha’s ears. She couldn’t understand what had come over her mother after so many years. At this age.
Sudha stared at the woman sweeping the courtyard even as she pondered over her conversation with her daughter. There was something about the puny woman that held her eye. A certain grace despite her daily wager background. She looked up suddenly. Startled by her questioning gaze, Sudha looked away. She put away the table cloth she had been pretending to embroider and got up.
‘Finish your work quickly and oil my hair, Ramya’, she ordered her in a brusque voice. ‘There’s a lot of work today’.
The woman nodded silently. A perceptive woman, she knew by now when not to ask questions from her employer.
Sudha was soon going to be sixty. She lived alone in her sprawling house after her husband’s death five years ago. Her only daughter Rashmi had settled abroad after marriage and she was the one who prodded her mother to engage a full-time house help. Not only out of concern but perhaps also out of a sense of guilt at not being able to look after her mother.
Ramya had been brought to Sudha’s home a few months ago by her husband. Or rather given away in exchange for a few thousand bucks. He had asked for an advance on her salary to pay off some loans. He came again a couple of months later, only to ask for more money. Sudha noticed the fleeting look of pain and disgust dart across Ramya’s face.
She refused to give the man a single penny. He threw a fit and raised a ruckus but Sudha didn’t budge. It was Ramya’s prerogative to decide if she wanted to give her salary or even a part of it to the selfish man. Ramya refused.
Even his abuses and threats to divorce her didn’t make Ramya change her mind. Her body and soul still bore the scars of his temper. Sudha’s home was the safe space she always wanted. Emboldened by her support, Ramya told the man to leave or else she would call the police. The coward left without a backward glance.
Since then Ramya had become an integral part of Sudha’s household. She was a fast learner and an obedient worker. She followed all the instructions and kept to herself, mumbling a few words during the whole day. But over a while, they had begun to understand each other better.
”You are looking sad, Amma Ji. May I ask why?’
‘Nothing much, Ramya. Just thinking about my life. And by the way, I have deposited half your salary in your bank account and here’s the other half for you’.
‘Thank you, Amma Ji. You’re so kind and caring. If you hadn’t supported me that day, that monster of my husband would have taken away all my money and left me to beg or sell myself. Earning my own money is so gratifying you know because I am no longer dependent on anyone, nor answerable to anyone’. She spoke with a hint of pride in her voice.
Sudha gaped at her. Could Ramya peep through her mind? Did she know what was plaguing her mind?
‘Now tell me what is troubling you? You are looking pensive since you spoke with Rashmi Didi this morning. Are you upset about something? Is Didi alright? Should I call her?’ Ramya blurted a barrage of questions.
‘Easy, girl, easy. Calm down. I am alright and Didi is also fine’, Sudha feigned a smile.
‘No, you are not. I can see it in your eyes. Tell me what’s nagging you or I will call Rashmi Didi’, Ramya knew how to coax a reply from her. She had grown quite fond of her employer in just a few months.
‘You’re too much, girl’, Sudha was amused by her insistence yet admonished her lightly.
‘OK. Let me tell you what’s troubling me. I am upset at the thought that I have never earned a single penny in my life, Ramya. And look at you. Your face glows with pride when you hold your salary in your hands and here I am who never got a chance to earn a single paisa. Sometimes I feel so ashamed that I have not contributed anything to my family’. Sudha turned away her face and blinked away some unshed tears.
‘But why should you think so, Amma Ji? Every woman works and contributes to her family whether she works at home or goes out to work. It’s because you devoted yourself to your home and family that Saheb was able to concentrate on his job. He trusted your capabilities to raise your daughter and look, what a fine job you have done of your duties. If that is not your contribution to the family then what is?’
Ramya panted from all the babbling. Within a short time, she had gained the trust of her congenial employer who often narrated anecdotes from her life.
‘Yes, Rashmi also said the same thing. But it’s equally true that I didn’t earn any money of my own. Whatever I have today is because of what my husband earned, not me’, her voice breaking down again.
‘I don’t want to carry this regret to my grave. I want to earn my own money’, she mumbled, almost inaudibly.
‘Calm down, Amma Ji. Don’t cry. Not everyone gets everything they desire. Let me make you a cup of ginger tea and then we will see that table cloth you had started embroidering. You need to create some new designs for embroidery because your trainee women would be coming for the class soon’. Ramya spoke with a pearl of wisdom much beyond her age. She patted the hands of the older woman reassuringly and got up to make tea.
‘Please put your hand together for the winner of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Award’, the MC announced.
The auditorium reverberated with loud applause as Sudha strode up to the stage. The hand-embroidered handloom silk saree, with its vibrant colours, lent a glow to her face.
‘Ms Sudha is the founder of Kalakriti – an online store for hand-embroidered cotton and silk sarees and outfits. She has created several self-help groups for rural artisans, especially women. She provides training to them in embroidery, pottery, organic farming and food preservation. She also promotes their indigenous handicrafts through her brand. The annual turnover of brand Kalakriti crossed one crore this year. Ms Sudha is being given this award in recognition of her contribution in empowering hundreds of rural women as well as for reviving forgotten Indian handicrafts.’ The MC announced
Rashmi and Ramya beamed from the front seats as Sudha received her award.
‘Please tell us what prompted you to start this venture. Were you always inclined towards social work?’ The host asked Sudha.
‘No, I always wanted to earn my own money’.
‘Wanted to earn your own money?! But as far as I know, you belong to an affluent family, Sudha Ji. Why did you need to earn money?’ The host was intrigued. So were the audience.
‘It’s true that I didn’t need money for my survival but the fact that I had earned none of it always perturbed me. I had inherited my wealth, not earned it. Like most Indian women I had been dependent on the men –first my father and later my husband – for providing me with whatever I needed. Somehow it made me feel that I was not contributing anything to the family. It dented my confidence and made me feel incapable, inferior…a lesser human.
I didn’t want to die with that regret in my heart yet I didn’t know what I could do at that age to earn my first rupee. I had always been artistically inclined and had been teaching embroidery and stitching to a few women in the neighbourhood, all free of cost. One day when I was feeling particularly stressed about my dream, just like that the thought struck me. What if I turn it into a commercial venture?
I consulted my daughter and despite her initial reservations and opposition, she warmed up to the idea soon.
The tiny seed of aspiration took time to germinate but today it is a thriving tree nurturing many lives. And look, here I am, a successful businesswoman. Not only have I earned my own money but if I may say so myself, empowered many more women too’. Sudha exhaled a deep breath.
‘That’s truly commendable, Sudha Ji. Was it easy? I mean you had the financial resources but you didn’t have any experience for business. Besides, did your family and friends support you?’ the host queried.
‘Not easy at all! Initially, my people didn’t understand me. I was called crazy and stupid for my strange desires, my weird aspirations and ambitions but I had the best women supporting me – my daughter Rashmi and my assistant Ramya. I would like to invite them on stage to share this award with me. If they hadn’t stood like a rock behind me I wouldn’t have accomplished what I have. The beautiful website is the creation of Rashmi who also handles its marketing and promotion. Ramya takes care of the self-help groups and their training sessions. I am because they are!’
The three proud women joined hands to hold the trophy aloft and bowed as the audience stood up to give them a standing ovation.
Craziness had never made such a pretty sight.
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