Pinky was boarding the flight. She was flying for the first time. She was going abroad for her higher studies. It was a dream come true, made possible for her, by Aunty Chandni.
“My God! What a great woman”! She thought. A lady kicked and tossed by her destiny and yet stood up firmly and magnificently! All those who rebuked her, now looked at her awestruck, that too with dignity and respect. She had rightly commented ‘if a person is successful, his /her past blemishes are simply wiped out. So, don’t bother about mockery or rebukes.’
There at the airport, Shakkubai, Pinky’s mother, with her head resting on the shoulder of Chandni, was literally sobbing. With her throat choked heavily due to strong emotions, could not find words. She instantly fell at Chandni’s feet and muttered, “I see this day because of you”. Chandni comforted her. They both slowly came out. Ganpat, the rickshaw driver was waiting for them to come. He was from their own colony and was proud to escort Pinky and the two ladies to airport free of cost. All because of Chandni’s impact and inspiration!
Pinky, having settled down at her seat with her seat belt well fastened, could not resist her thoughts revolving around Chandni. Her mind kept chanting Chandni, Chandni. Her advices were afresh in Pinky’s mind and she vowed to abide by them. She vividly remembered the day when she was narrating her story, right from how she was named Chandni. Like a flashback, no, no, in fact like an unwound video clipping, it ran in her mind as though it happened today. While others in the flight had closed their eyes and dozed off, she too closed her eyes, but, went through her memories of Chandni.
Chandni was born on a ‘no moon day’ called Amavasya. That the darkness of amaavaasya should not encompass her life, she was named Chandni, emitting cool bright moonlight upon self and on others surrounding her. Being a meek shy reserved girl, she grew up as any ordinary girl with no particular event to go by. Her father was very particular that she got a proper match and was keen on getting a good guy as her husband. Mr. Jabaali’s biodata matched his requirements. He was quite amused by the name of the groom. He thought, being the name of one of the great seven seers ie., Saptarushis, Jabaali should also be extremely good and well disciplined. But little did he realize that things could be different. Jabaali was a party animal. He would certainly be there in all weekend parties. There was no question of ‘Where is the party tonight’ for him. Being a professional film technician, he had plenty of opportunities to attend. He believed, having a pretty woman by his side as wife in such parties, was adding to his pride and prestige. If she was glamorous and glittering, all the more great! So Jabaali took her to a Beauty Parlour so that she would get herself trimmed and tuned to be a modern woman. Chandni simply screamed when she was asked to get her hair cut, trim her eyebrows, go for manicure, pedicure fairness creams, lotions, and what not. Certainly she was not ‘cut’ for that. Her flat refusal to be a modern lady that too in western outfit, hurt his ego and Jabaali simply packed her up and dumped her at her parental home. Later he sent a legal notice seeking divorce. He deserted her once and for all and went in pursuit of pretty women.
Chandni’s parents were badly affected by their son in law’s crude attitude. It was a rude shock for them. Father suffered guilty complex and mother, worried about the society blaming the girl. They both felt very bad and were much worried about her bleak future. Their helplessness made them all the more sick and they passed away one by one. Chandni had nobody to look forward to and was left alone. She was worried, when her so called husband had deserted her, but her parents’ loss now, was a greater blow. Janaardhan who had come to attend her father’s funeral and other related rituals, moved by her desperate condition, took pity on her. He agreed to take her with him. As there was no other place to go, she simply clung to his offer. At the beginning itself he told her, “See Akka, it may sound odd or rude to you. But I am very frank. I am ambitious and career conscious and I may have to go where my job takes me. I cannot support you eternally. You take it as my advice or request. Better you develop some skills, get employed and stand on your own. Whatever help you need for that, I shall certainly render”.
Chandni took care of his domestic needs. When she asked him to stop his maidservant, he refused stating that the maidservant was on a long term basis arrangement whereas Chandni was there for a short period. For developing skills, she did not know what to learn or what to do. She had just a formal basic education and had no special skill in any particular field. She thought of gardening. She cleared his balcony and other open areas including the terrace, brought some flowery plants and prepared a mini garden. On one such occasion, Janaardhan too joined her and planted a small mango sapling and hibiscus – shoe flower plants of different hues. All the plants – potted or grounded, picked up well. Both brother and sister spent time talking about plants apart, from sharing their childhood memories.
But their happy times did not last for long. Her destiny was chasing her. Janaardhan was under orders of transfer and was soon leaving. He asked her where she would go. The house owner would soon ask her to vacate. She said that she would go back to her parental house. But that was not the issue. The terrace garden and other vegetable plants nursed by them together would be ready for plucking in less than a month’s time. She was quite unwilling to leave the house and garden at that point of time. House owner was requested to allow her to be there for a short period till the gardens picked up. He said ok but with a condition. Janaardhan left home in peace. He was gone.
It was the first thought that came to her as she woke up. He was gone. And, soon, the bedroom, the house in whose eastern corner it sat, and the tiny garden outside with its gnarled old red hibiscus and the half- grown mango tree they had planted together, all those would be gone as well. It was the strangest feeling ever.
She had to prepare herself for the next round of kicking by destiny. The house owner wanted the house for himself. He did not object to having the terrace garden till harvest. He allowed Chandni to attend to gardening, but did not agree to her staying in the house. Destiny was kicking, but also opened another door. Shakkubai, the maidservant offered to share her dwelling as long as Chandni wanted, provided she had no inhibitions, to live with them. Chandni hailing from higher class in society and Shakkubai from a lower class of labour force, would be a matter of irritant for others to accept. But Chandni did not care. That was how Chandni became a member of Shakkubai’s family. That was also, how Chandni and Shakkubai’s family came closer. Shakkubai’s mother-in-law, who was sick, was to be admitted in a hospital. They were postponing it, as there was no one to run around house and the hospital. Chandni took over that responsibility now. She took care of that old lady even after discharge and won laurels from the lady. A great woman who never spoke a word of praise for any woman, much less about her daughter in law, was full of praises for Chandni!
Chandni went around the colony. The pigs and flies greeted her at many places. She saw the dirty filthy unhealthy surrounding causing sickness and spreading infections – a reason for the old lady’s prolonged sickness. She immediately sprang into action. She swept the entire colony, segregated garbage into dry-wet, degradable-non-degradable categories. Colony people laughed at her. Even Shakkubai objected. But Chandni continued in full vigour, not confined to few days, but it went on for months. Neighbours realized that she was doing the job with no strings attached. No expectation at all! Their mockery turned into admiration now. They too joined in her mission of cleaning the colony. Soon they formed a committee of members from various families, to enforce cleanliness forever. As a mark of regard and respect for her selfless service, a felicitation followed by dinner was arranged. She wholeheartedly acknowledged with gratitude, the timely help and benevolence bestowed on her by Shakkubai and her family. She who was once, homeless, but now had a home in everybody’s heart. She also said that the dinner was tastier, not by the items served, but mainly due to love and affection showered on her.
The house owner, upon self-occupation, saw that Chandni’s efforts on the terrace garden fetched her good income. So, he decided to take over and continue the garden on a larger scale and without her assistance. So a gripping activity and a source of income were closed to her. She had to try another venture. Anyway, she had to go to her village also, to know about her parents’ properties, including father’s land and building.
Chandni took Pinky to her village to set right her house. She knew her father was a farmer, but he gave it up long ago due to non availability of water. She was looking for documents, showing his assets and other sources of income which had to be transferred to her name. My Goodness! He had long stretch of lands. But water? Then Pinky said a school girl like her, by name Lalita Praseeda Sripada Sairam had shown an innovative way of cleansing waste water which could be reused. For this finding, the school girl won Google’s international prize. All she did was to pass the polluted waters through different layers of corncobs which simply absorbed grease and other toxic materials and released fresh water at the other end. Chandni was quite excited by the information. She immediately sought permission of her neighbours, joined their gutters for collection of waste waters. Then she filtered the water by passing it through three layers of corncobs and further filtered the water by passing it through pebbles, charcoal and sand, an age-old indigenous system and the resultant fresh water was collected in a separate tank, which she used on a small plot of parched land on a trial basis. Initially the village folks looked at her with suspicion laughed at her and even rebuked, which and all were, not new to her. But when positive results were noticed on her land by the spread of greenery, they were really awestruck. It was an ‘eureka’ moment for her also. Soon others too joined her and followed her style. Neighbours took her very seriously and sought her advice in all matters concerning their life. She became an undeclared social activist. Very soon the entire village got transformed into a green land. She advised them to sow only those varieties of crop which were suitable to the land and quality of water. Not all traditional practices could go with the recycled water. Chandni’s words were important to them. She had tried and was successful with grass, vegetables, fodder and Jatropha. Her name spread far and wide. Shakkubai and her family kept in touch with her by their frequent visits.
In one such visit only, Pinky learnt more about Chandni and her struggles in life. Her admiration for the lady grew all the more. She even started sharing her views, opinions, thoughts, desires etc., with her. Once she expressed her desire to prosecute higher studies and if necessary go abroad, but considering her financial status, was reluctant rather afraid to speak about it to her parents. Then, Chandni consoled and assured her of all help in accomplishing her dream. All that Pinky had to do, was to study well and prove herself par excellent. These words boosted her morale and she really did well.
Chandni had to keep up her promise. She asked Pinky how much was needed and how much she could manage from parents, relatives, friends, educational loans etc., and for the shortfall, she was there, but only as a ’lender of the last resort’. Then she approached her banker with land documents and sought financial assistance. Since the once-barren-land, was now yielding well, with standing crops, its market value had considerably gone up. She could get a reasonable amount of loan on that property, but interest on the loan had to be paid regularly, which itself was quite high, considering her income from fodder and vegetables. Chandni had to weigh all pros and cons of availing the loan. The responsibility of repayment of loan with interest was on her, even though the beneficiary of such a loan was, just Pinky. After completing her studies and after getting a suitable employment, then only Pinky could afford to repay loan, which might take some years. Till such time, the entire financial burden would be on Chandni’s shoulders. Was she ready? She knew very well her destiny was never in her favour and she had to devour hard times again and again. Earlier when Jabaali ditched her, her parents supported her. After parental support was pulled out, Janaardhan lent her support. Later, he too left her half way and gone. The house owner too said his generosity was for a short period only. Then Shakkubai gave her shelter for a while. Now, Chandni is leaning on her plough and Jatropha, with the hope of tiding over the crisis. The best part of life, was that whenever there was some troubleshooting, soon there was a ray of hope and there was a savior coming up from somewhere. ‘One door closed but another one opened.’ So why should she be discouraged by the financial crisis? If she tried to be frugal herself and made Pinky also to be as miserly as possible so as to save every paisa to liquidate the loan, then together they could, maintain their financial discipline. Both Jabaali and Janaardhan threw her into doldrums earlier, but she was confident Jatropha would bale her out. Human beings might ditch, but not hard work and sincerity.
Chandni called Pinki and advised her to maintain her lifestyle to a modest minimum by giving up all luxuries. Any feast or festival, only when the loan amount was repaid fully. Such type of ‘Upwaas’, a semi-fasting, was warranted till the entire loan was liquidated. These words were like gospel to her and nailed into her deeply. Pinky, a young girl of twenties, would necessarily be inclined to spend on all fancies but now had a neutral state of mind and there was no temptation at all. After all, she was highly obliged to Chandni, who was neither in her blood relation nor any close relative. No wonder she kept chanting “Chandni, Chandni”. The air hostess, on seeing her murmuring something, came to her and asked
“What do you want? Sorry I did not hear properly. What did you say?” Pinky repeated “Chandni, Chandni…” The air hostess still remaining confused, said, “Sorry, Madam. We do not have something by that name in our Menu. Will you like to have anything else?”
Pinky replied, “Nothing. None other than Chandni.”
Air hostess still paused for a while. Then she said to herself, “These terrible Indians!” and went away. Pinky was least bothered. But her journey continued…. She had a long way to go.