Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Of Hermitism, Overrated Literacy, and Optimism

Delhi University Entrance Exam. These four words dominated the activities of the past two days. I read government publications, perused through magazine articles, took notes on current affairs, and brainstormed on social work related programmes. Other than cooking and fetching water this hermitic existence prevented me from other distractions. Nevertheless, I couldn't help but drop by Shantaji's Kishore Balika class where she was making soap in an iron tub. Caustic soda, water, oil, and lots of stirring- surprisingly, that's all it takes.

Nikhil was in a similar focus-toward-future-mode. In the past forty-eight hours he filled fifteen pages of his register with numerical calculations. This was in preparation for the CAT exam, which selects the best 1500 applicants to earn a Masters in Business Administration. Our unfazed drive (which will most likely fizzle out soon enough) ignored a quickly depleting stock of grains and vegetables. We postponed our resupply trip to Baneda one too many times. As I chewed on our last batch of daliya I figured we couldn't survive on biscuits for lunch. It was time to go to Baneda.

Inspired by the lehnga Ma got stitched on her last day here, I decided to get one of my own. Nikhil insisted on choosing the fabric which was fine by me. The result was a densely pleated mustard yellow floral skirt. While two girls sewed the buttons on the accompanying blouse the seamstress boasted of her skills, seasoned by experience. I've been stitching since I was a little girl. I never went to school so I can't read, write, count, or tell the time. That's why I never use measuring tape. But I can still make a well fitting blouse. According to this robust woman in her mid 40s literacy was overrated.

Bhuri Bai would disagree with the seamstress. She still insists I teach her, even if she's the only student. If there's one thing I've learned about her it's that she is not one to give up easily. Nor is she one to sit quietly at a time of celebration. If a group of women are singing wedding songs Bhuri Bai is the leader of the chorus, her trademark high-pitched soprano recognizable from a distance. Usually the most boisterous of the bunch her charisma and lack of hesitation make her a natural leader. Of all the women in the Kheda Bhuri Bai is the one I admire the most. Bhuri - meaning 'brown' - is the epitome of positive energy. Being an illiterate widow raising three adolescent children can't be easy, but she never complains. I aspire toward such optimism.

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