Two weeks ago, after a 3-month stay-at-home, I was desperate to have an egg roll. Being in Kolkata, and not having an egg roll over two months is, well… a sad thing for sure. So, I went around in search of a good place, but trust me the sight of the sweat on those road-side eggroll centre chefs repelled me. 😜
A 100-meter from entering my residential complex, I saw a rickshaw driver who I approached reluctantly asking if he can take me around to explore some decent eggroll centres. Unasked, I confide, how much I was craving for an egg roll, and he empathized. 😜
His name is Sushil Mandal, and he wore a mask. As he cycled through the bazaar, he joined me critiquing the folks around for not wearing masks. The way he spoke, informed me of his outlook of life. We talked of life, and challenges, Covid-19 and its impact on his financial and family life. He informs of negligible earning and dependence on INR 3000 rent.
On the way, I queried about his children and come to know of his daughter, Sathi Mondal now in standard 12. Sushil shared how he tried to get his daughter in a dancing school with INR 5000 in January 2020. But, unfortunately, the tutor cancelled with no refund citing lockdown. I could heart it. I have been there.
I offered Sushil that if his daughter needs any career counselling, he could connect with me. I’ll try to be there to answer her various curiosities related to studies, career, extra-curricular. Even if she has anything related to teenage-crisis, she may talk to me.
Sushil immediately proposed I meet his daughter. I told him that I might come across as an arrogant person because I won’t be comfortable in their house owing to social distancing. If that’s okay, I am cool. He laughed and insisted, “I get it. But, talk to my daughter.”
Sushil lives at the backside of our complex in New Town. The place is still under development. He cycled his rickshaw through ponds on either side of the narrow lane flanked by long ears of water-weed on two sides. I come to a house with two tiny rooms on the ground floor (rented out) and two small rooms on the first floor where they live. Given that I am bald, people wanted to laugh, but since they presumed I came to the house of a rickshaw driver, they held themselves.
When I met Sathi, she was on her bed, studying. She was startled as she didn’t expect a visit like this. Gradually, we start talking and the conversation takes place in the presence of her mom, dad, and a neighbour who eagerly ran up the stairs after me to check on what’s happening.
I informed her that she should never be hesitant about pursuing her dreams if she has any. To be able to support her family, she wanted to become a nurse training so that she could register with unregistered nursing facilities that provide on-demand nursing services at a very meagre fee.
I opposed it because if she can’t go through medical college, there’s no point. But given that this girl, Sathi, loves to dance, I advised her to join Rabindra Bharati University to pursue a 3-year graduation program in dancing. While she pursues it, she can earn for the family and nurture her talent.
To her parents, I advised that on earth, we are for the time being. It is just by accident that they have met to make a family. So, they should all endeavour to not hold back one another from pursuing their dreams. It is okay if they can’t leave any property to their children but never cause them to fear, feel inferior, or hate. In essence, they have to work against the prying neighbours and stand together for a better future.
I was happy to learn that despite the seeming backwardness, I did have their agreement that they would never insist their daughter on marriage and give both their kids the wings to fly. You know, by this time, I was sold out to the nicety of this little family unsure of if I could do anything, ever, for this family that could be a model to the community.
In the following days, I met Sushil’s daughter outside twice. We enjoyed long conversations. But every time, I spoke of something with reference to the Internet, Sathi would fumble and eventually withdraw. So, I finally ended her asking if she has a phone with an Internet connection? She referred to that INR 5000 investment on her dancing tuition which got cancelled without refund. Here, I learn how her parents prioritized education over a phone. I was sold out to their values for the second time.
Came home, reflected for a few days. The idea of the 2-week skills workshop at my intended location can’t be achieved anytime sooner given the progress of the fund against a goal of 2.5 lakhs. [As of 6.19.2020] Also, there are Government restrictions on mobility to commute to places otherwise labelled as tourist hubs.
Occurred to me, why don’t I begin with Sathi? And hence, I withdrew a sum of INR 10k from my Ketto Campaign to buy Sathi a smartphone and introduce her to a whole world of possibilities. With the power of the Internet, Sathi can find help with her studies, nurture her talent, and grow as a digital creator to build herself and her community. All while learning meaningful ways to earn through selling handicrafts.
Please refer to the video in which Sathi thanks all of you to be that conduit of hope. Not only Sathi, I too thank all the donors to make this possible. Many more to come.