Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Profiles in courage

Reservations, no reservations, reservations about reservations. But I had to write about this.

She came in today , a bit later than usual, as I was checking my email. Yes, that's S., my household help, who has been with me now for more than 20 years. The same who I have blogged about various times, and who folks have admired and commented on.......

Her family now consists of three sons, two of whom are married . And one daughter, who braved a terrible marriage, left the fellow, came back and now stays very happily, with her folks, while doing a day job.

There are also two grandchildren, the son's sons, and I have lately been involved in helping her with documents to get the older one into kindergaarten, where he recently braved an interview. The kid takes after his grandmother, and floored the school folks with his answers. His admission is now secure.

She was very upset about something when she came in. After discussing the usual mundane house stuff with me, and finishing her morning chores, she brought me a cup of tea to share, as she had hers.

"You know these ration-shop chaps ? They are cheats . " We knew that . Hmm.

"Why ? What happened ?" I ask, expecting a usual story of false weights etc.

"You know both my daughters-in-law are listed as members of the family on the ration card. The older one is entitled to 9 litres of kerosene per month. Last month was the first time the younger one could claim her quota, and she got 7 litres. I ignored it that time because I thought stocks were less or something. "

"Then today, when I went in the morning, they again offered 7 litres !" she bristled.

Turns out, that she went up to the guy at the counter, and asked him why 7 litres .

"You take it if you want it" "he, unconcerned.

"Why not 9 litres ? As is written in the ration card ?" S.

"Don't waste my time. OK. Take 8 litres". He didn't realize who he was tangling with.

People behind her in the queue, mostly women, who had work pending in their homes, and workplaces, far from being upset with the delay, started talking, about the fact that this was happening for everyone.

" Open your book and show me the rule that says I cannot get my entitlement. You have 2 queues here. One for the rationed kerosene, and one for kerosene at black market rates, which you sell by cheating me out of my quota. " and there is a buzz in the people behind her.

An old man, bent, white haired, with a wizened face, comes forward . And stares at the shopkeeper.

"Every single time I have come, I have never got my entitlement", and a shake of the head.

S. bristled in anger.

" Either give us what is written in our books, or give me in writing that you will not give the full quota. I will go to the rationing office, meet the sahib, and ask them if this is allowed. I don't care if no one is with me, I will go alone, but this will be the last time you make up your own rules. "

She tucks in her saree at the waist. Picks up her kerosene can and turns to go.

" Give the lady her 9 litres, and stamp the book. " The shopkeeper knows when he has lost.

He didn't know how badly.

S waited there, suffused with anger and energy, saree tucked in, hands on her hips, watching the queue, as everyone behind her got their complete quota this morning.

Her son met her halfway on his bicycle and lugged the cans home for her, while she came over to my place to work.

And told me this story over a cup of tea.

Then she took my empty cup, flicked an imaginary wet spot on the table, and stopped. She is getting on in years, and she sometimes stops and rubs her back when she gets up, before getting on with her stuff.

"I was just wondering. I did say I would go to the rationing office sahib and complain. But would you write out for me a proper complaint, with lots of "official English words", to give to the sahib at the office ? They may not let me in, of course, but I can always give in this sheet with signatures........I was actually going to ask if you would help ....."

.....Of course I would ! The rationing office is something I have tangled with before. Not only will I write a proper complaint for her with some "official English words", but I will even accompany her there.

I am sure S. will succeed.

She never went to school. She never learnt civics. She doesn't believe a word of what the local corporator says when he comes begging for votes, hands folded. And she believes, that laws and rules are to be understood and followed.

Most of all, she is not afraid to learn.

Forget those Page 3's with their Hand holding chains protests wearing designer sunglasses, , walks and banners....

She is the original Page 1.


  1. This is great! I mean, our household helps are actually the real heroes! I'd love to imagine the look on that ration shop guy's face!

    am I wrong in thinking that when we 'rich' educated people are cheated similarly, it's not as much of a big deal for us as it is for lower economic sections, and that's why we don't protest? I don't get it.

  2. She is certainly Page no ! As you said, most of us prefer to ignore or look the other way and accept injustice. I know of an educated(with a professional qualification) man, who instead of using the RTI to get justice prefers to pay bribes after bribes :( I wish he could see this brave woman and learn from her!

  3. Yes, a wonderful profile in courage, for sure!

    It's a wonder the rationing shopkeeper listened to her though- some of them are pretty brazen.

  4. Wow, way to go! I am so glad that you are there to support her too. And what a great thing she did for everyone. It takes guts to stand up like that. Let us know how you get on. PAGE 1 indeed.

    I am loving your new blog look. Fantastic although what is this about you practicing your English, You communicate and write far better than 99% of bloggers you realise. And enough of this senior citizen stuff. I saw your picture my dear and there is nothing senior about your face.


    Have a good day. And you do know if you lived closer to me I would want you to come to the Bank with me too. Big meeting on 22 March so you can start praying now....

  5. Hello, UK! Some folks are vested with powers which they certainly love to flaunt and use for ulterior motives. Standing up to these thugs needs courage. I wonder how many millions are battling this menace in our country. Btw, allow me to digress to share an interesting article i read in the Hindu Sunday magazine. Link here.

  6. Gopinath MavinKurve Thank you for the link to the Hindu article. Hadn't seen that one.

    In the meanwhile I wrote about names last year... Here .

    Just thought you might enjoy a read...

  7. Oops.. i completely forgot to mention that i did read your interview on blogadda and loved it so much! Keep up the good work!

  8. Good for her and you. People need to stand up everywhere against such cheating

  9. I really do admire her! She knows what is rightfully her's and she won't allow someone to bully her or make her feel that she is not allowed to get what she deserves. Kudos to her! And to you for being her support :)

  10. She is indeed brave and I hope both of you succeed in setting this right...atleast for now!
    All the best...

  11. Hi, I've just come over from Lilly's Life. This is inspiring, what your friend did. Stand up for human rights, don't give up the fight.

  12. WOW !!! She is just fantastic. Such courage !!! I like the way, she stayed there to make sure that everyone got their quota.

    And she wants to write a complaint letter - We shld all learn from ppl like her.

  13. Courage is sometimes visible in the underside of common life ! Not in the heady movie screens with seat wrenching dialogues !

    Her story is one such. Wonderful narration as usual !
    Its always inspiring to read such accounts and see how people can make a difference

  14. Greetings! I have found your blog through Lilly!

    What a display of not only courage, but grace and grit. Loved reading it and thank you for writing it.

  15. Kudos to S and kudos to you too. i am sure you have been her inspiration and as you say she was not afraid to learn. i'd have liked to see what the ration card officer in charge has to say in the matter.

  16. Such a wonderful post. What a great pair you are and it is very inspiring. Came over from Lillys.

  17. I bow down to this lady S. :)
    You know, UK there is certain amount of confidence in us educated lot bcos of the exposure that we get everyday. But people like S are the real courageous ones, without knowing her demands or rights as per bookish knowledge, she got what she (and everybody else in the line) deserved. :)
    I love this lady. I am proud i know her, even if virtually.

  18. I'm adding my feelings to the previous comment Suranga, I think she should stand for parliament - 'the Scottish one that is' she would win hands down hehehe... What a woman ! Please give her a hug from me - Would that be allowed ??? Great post !

    Love Kate x.

  19. Amazing lady!! Thanks for sharing her story, its so convenient for most of us to just fight for unfairness when it concerns us and then walk away but she is trying to make it right for everyone...

  20. Starry You know, 'rich' is a very loaded word. It really has nothing to do with money, but we have made it like that. Those that follow the real meaning, are the ones that protest and fight, regardless of their station in life. The rest simply equate money with education and the ability to "pay off" ....

    wordsanddreamz Some such folks have unfortunately standardized bribes; S is forced to do what she does as there are no easy ways out, and she has been brought up to respect the quality of money vis-avis the quantity aspect....growth has nothing to do with money...

    manju I guess here the shopkeeper listened because of the crowd support she had. Typically, as a woman, if you raise your voice and voice a grievance , many times the cheating chap will quietly do what you want and get rid of you;abusing you will get him into trouble.

    Lilly Yes we have so much to learn from so many around us....and thanks for the nice words...

    ArundhatiThank you

    Gopinath MavinkurveThank you

    Rain Thank you...

    AletaThank you..

    SindhuThank you...

    Rowe Thank you and welcome to the blog...

    Umsreflections Thank you. And you know, she and i have collaborated on these complaint letter things so many times...

    Kavi I feel I am lucky to have this inspirational woman in my life...

    Helen Thank you and welcome to the blog...

    HHG I doubt if the ration card officer will take any action. But just raising her voice has had a decent effect. we will however, continue with the office approach, reagrdless of how long it takes. In the meanwhile she will keep getting her full quota.

    Banoffi Thank you and welcome to the blog.

    G Bows accepted and conveyed to S ! Thank you.

    kate Thank you. S doesnt know there is a Scotland :-) and moreover the country doesnt matter as she probably thinks all such parliament and powerful types are crooks anyway...

    Sonia Thank you.