Beware of Pity

Anuradha Bhosale hero of kolhapur india saves women and children

Original Marathi by: Anuradha Bhosale
English rendering: Arun Chavan

Come to think of it, the students of AVANI Residential School are the flotsam of the turbulent oceans of life. They are living embodiments of pain-filled stories and traumatic upheavals that are far beyond the tolerance thresholds of their tender souls. Having known the stories whose pathos cannot be overstated, I am predisposed to all of them in a steeply compassionate manner. Sometimes I am impelled to take a decision much against my instinctive feel, and then what follow are repercussions, stranger and trickier than one had bargained for.

The vast swathe of poverty is in a way inclusive in its sweep. It is no respecter of man made barriers like caste and religion. The discovery of dear Pallavi illustrates the point. She came into our trajectory, when? Yes I remember in 2007.

Seven years ago a social worker well known to me phoned and requested me to admit a small girl and her handicapped brother to AVANI. When Pallavi was three, her mother had killed herself due to the husband’s illness and treatment. The father of course had remarried. The step – mother, as happens in most cases, treated Pallavi and the brother Deepak very cruelly and persecuted them in many ways. The father was totally indifferent to the plight of the children. In effect they were driven to destitution by the sheer callousness of their father. They were given entrance to AVANI. My colleagues and I felt that Pallavi will make some kind of a career for herself and at the same time help Deepak to make something of his life.

Pallavi soon became very popular with the staff members. She would take part enthusiastically in every part of school management. Work in the kitchen, like the cleaning of vegetables, pounding masala and baking of bread was of particular interest to her.

Gradually as time passed Pallavi became senior most among the children, and she was treated with deference by the later entrants to AVANI. Deepak was a different and, rather a curious cup of tea. He treated younger kids harshly, became a regular truant at school. The teachers complained about his eccentric behavior in class and a time came after few weeks of school when the teacher cancelled his admission altogether. Deepak at the same time made himself scarce. Two days later we came to know of his return to his grandfather’s house. Pallavi continued her regular routine at school, but the teachers were not happy about her learning record. To me she made her dislike for formal studies amply clear.

When relatives of other boys and girls came to AVANI to take them home for holidays or when they came with packets of eats and fed the children sitting underneath the shade of the trees and bushes in the garden of the school, I have seen Pallavi’s eyes brimming with tears, because she was alone for whom no one came with things to eat.

Within my limits I tried to give special attention to her. On Diwali, the most important religious festival which heralded the winter season, I took her home, woke her up in the wee hours of dawn, gave her ritual bath, rubbing her body with strongly scented oils and a mixture of aromatic herbs and incense, decked her out in new clothes, gave her quantities of pyrotechnic stuff, and then, finally sat her before plateful of sweets and fries by the side of my two children. Withal, I have seen her enjoying the occasion to the fullest. In short, I did everything, and more, than what her mother would have done for her, if she were alive.

Pallavi, a Patil, is from the middle stratum. Once her caste, the largest single group in the State, ruled the pack because they owned most of the agricultural land and enjoyed privileges of a feudal social set – up. Now Pallavi is buried in a mud slide of misfortune which has only an economic dimension. She doesn’t suffer from any social disability. The accident of birth has guaranteed that. She is from the so-called well born antecedents. Yet her deprivation is as bad or worse than that of the socially depraved sections and hence deserves a helping hand; – and to be viewed without prejudice and with equanimity. AVANI has even – handedly accepted her and have sought to shield her from the ‘slings and arrows of fortune’.

She has a well –shaped nose, proportionate facial features, wheatish complexion, well – formed teeth, winning smile and a pleasing lilt in the voice. She looks smaller for her age, result of chronic malnutrition during early childhood. Nevertheless, in her doll – like cuteness there has sufficient aphrodisiac alchemy to raise libidinous hunger even in a casual beholder. A survey shows that 80% of rural women are anaemic. She must have been mothered by one such specimen. To what extent was she breast – fed? Or given appropriate supplements, when getting a bellyful to eat whatever foodstuff could be at hand is an endemic problem? Most rural women are seen at heavy work till the full term of pregnancy, and again fastened to the same grind after barely few weeks of ‘confinement’. Lactating mothers are seen in the work place hovering around tiny makeshift canvas shacks sheltering their litter, covered with dust and swarms of flies, when the feeding time is signalled by shrill, spasmodic cries arising from the tiny
mouths.

When she was five or six Pallavi went to other people’s farms as wage labour. After returning from a day’s toil she had to do house cleaning and cook for the whole family. The hawk – eyed step – mother just supervised or sat breast – feeding the youngest arrival. The father came to the house late at night fully drunk, gorged on the food served by Pallavi, bad – mouthing all and sundry till his meal lasted and then went out in the yard and threw himself on the mat and soon was fast asleep. Despite this harrowing childhood experience, she appears not to care that if she tries to plough her lone furrow without the life guard of some kind of education or skill training, she will be utterly vulnerable and even helpless. She has given all indications about her inclination to plunge into the family way as soon as possible. Aroused sensuality seems to be the main driving impulse clouding all other considerations like security and stability. Devil may care seems to be her instinctive response if such questions would ever nudge her mind.

… to be continued.

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Anuradha Bhosale graduated from the Tata Institute for Social Work in Mumbai and worked as an apprentice to Arun Chavan at Verala Development Society. After understanding the needs of the area she branched out on her own creating a small organization called AVANI which is a Marathi language acronym for Clothes, Food and Home for the poor children.
 
Arun Chavan was a professor of English Literature at Kolhapur University when he saw the poverty and destitution that surrounded him. He decided to give up his job and devote his life to working for the poor. He founded the Verala Development Society and has been working for the past 40 years to bring about a socio-economic change in the area.

 

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