I met her at a friends’ house. A nondescript, ordinary, unremarkable, uninteresting woman. A common woman. Unexceptional, unimpressive… A nondescript, drab face, clad in an ordinary saree, middle-aged looking uninspiring and illiterate.
I sighed inwardly, as I resigned myself to an orthodox unenlightening evening. The conversation revolved around dull topics of home, day-to-day trivialities, children, gossips, ‘their time’ talks. I listened half-heartedly nodding, grunting, assenting to their chit chats as a disinterested participant… a distant aloof participant. All the time thinking I should have visited another day. It felt embarrassing to be associated with a nondescript personality.
The friends’ friend finally left. We ended up conversing about her. I couldn’t fathom why my friend (she was a widow, was earning her livelihood by readying tiffins and I was also her client) had befriended a person who came across as unimpressive. My friend narrated her story. The story of this common woman shocked me, leaving me speechless, reflecting on first impressions.
The so-called nondescript, unremarkable, common, illiterate woman was thrown out of her house by her in-laws a few years after marriage. The in-laws were kind (!) enough to throw her husband out too. She was married to the son of a wealthy family. Every family, I think used to have this ‘one child’ who the parents regretted giving birth to in a litter of 10-12 children in early 1940s. The unintelligent, dim-witted, slow child. Therefore, overnight she found herself on the streets with just a few clothes and no money.
My friend and her husband were their friends and sheltered them. However, their livelihood loomed over them. She knew her husband did not have it in him to start or sustain a business. Her education was negligible. A job was out of the question. Her only skill perhaps would be her domestic skills like washing, cleaning or working as domestic help.
Nevertheless, she asked my friends’ husband for a loan to start a general store. Startled and admiring her courage at the same time, my friend’s husband loaned her an amount. (Yes… Good, caring, friendships existed then too). She wrapped her saree pallu determinedly around her and jumped holding her husband’s hand into the turbulent dark waters to wade towards their future.
Grit, determination, valour, courage, audacity and fearlessness became her PhD forte. She dauntlessly, resolutely, began to understand and learn the ropes of the business. Purchase, sales, profit, accounts, savings, investing. She stood stoutly protecting, guiding her husband. She ran the show in his name.
Today, I was astounded to hear, she has two general stores, one each for both her sons, two flats in Carter Road, in Mumbai, again for both the sons. She had kept a small store (her first store) for herself, building a room and kitchen at the back of the store, (she didn’t want to be thrown out again by willful daughters-in-law. Who knows? Might as well be on the safer side) securing her and her husband’s future.
I was stunned and overwhelmed. My belief system completely under a scanner. I formed my first impressions from the way a person was groomed, carried self, i.e. haughty bordering on the nose in the air, confidence coming across literally as arrogance having achieved such stupendous success with limited resources. I had dismissed her as a nobody based on her moderate, down to earth appearance. This ‘illiterate’ lady was far more ‘literate’, confident, spiritually pure, well-groomed with a humbleness than any literate person in ‘today’s education is the only saviour’ world. Her literacy was courage, valour, fearlessness, principles. Her a,b,c,d of life was not a degree attained in the world of words. They were her inborn fearlessness, strength, character.
She stays incomparable to the modern, literate, well-groomed, brand adorned, flawless accented English speaking global Indian woman. Today, these would be stories of over-hyped achievements. A defeatist attitude does exist as the certification in relevant fields, prove to be a piece of paper and school of knowledge ignores enhancement of human skills. We are degree holders, but lingering doubts of failure is a subliminal issue. Success stories do abound even now, but her attitude just leaves you chastened.
Never again will I look down on a ‘common woman’. Every common person has an uncommon narrative. There are stories of uncommon courage concealed in a dressed down, reasonably priced clothing and non-branded accessories. They are practical, lion-hearted confident women, who educated themselves as each chapter of their lives unfolded. They developed their own answers to life’s questions and the literacy garlanded them with wisdom, not a paper degree.
I stopped judging people based on their grooming, appearances. I volunteered to become a part of Khakhra (Gujrati cracker) making group to meet up and learn something from their learnt wisdom.
I met women who were successfully managing agricultural fields after their husband’s death. My very own friend who lost her husband at a young age and she was shunned by her in-laws was earning a livelihood by supplying tiffins.
And as they met, chit-chatted, gossiped…some of them were slim and tall. They spoke about giving the runway models a run for their money. ‘We really could have been great models, you see. But, we decided to stay put to give a chance to others!’. They went giggling at their own harmless jokes. These common women also trolled the modern gadgets.
One such conversation :
‘I was quite startled when my son showed me the mobile. How does it run without the battery?’, she asked him. ‘I don’t see any batteries’. She narrated.
‘Well, she said, my son picked up a charger stuck one end in the mobile’s a**, the other in the socket and said this is how you charge a mobile’s battery.’
My jaw literally dropped as I froze at her language. She guffawed at my expression and took a dig at me. ‘We are not literate, you see’. She said with a fine smirk, smartly conveying her language use. Tongue in cheek.
I guffawed. These women could give AIB a run for their money.